On Tuesday, September 29, 2015 the office assisted to the “Cultural Rights and Vulnerable Groups” side event held by the UNESCO Basque Country Centre, UNESCO Etxea, and the International Catholic Centre of Geneva (CCIG).
The panel consisted of Mylène Bidault. Human Rights Officer at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Gemma Carbó, Director of the UNESCO Chair in Cultural Policies and Cooperation at the University of Girona and Beatriz Barreiro, Professor of Public International Law and International Relations at the Rey Juan Carlos University.
The panelists discussed how cultural rights are an integral part of human rights and how culture is a pillar of sociocultural development.
Mylène Bidault spoke about women´s rights and the struggle they still go through to obtain them. She spoke for Farida Shaheed from Pakistan, a sociologist, women’s rights activist and a special rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, who couldn´t be present. Ms. Bidault presented following concepts:
1.      Cultural diversity should not be confused with cultural relativism. Relativism is a politic; Cultural diversity grounds the universality of human rights.
2.       Not all cultural practices can be protected under cultural law.
3.       The exercise of cultural rights might be limited in certain circumstances. All cultural rights should be necessarily based on the law and should also be proportional.
Identifying which cultural issues are contrary to human rights is not easy. We have to create the conditions for an open debate within societies and communities in order to protect the rights of people and not cultural rights per say.
In many cultures, power relations exist and women are kept subordinated although women have equal rights as men do. Some discrimination against women is permitted even though it would never be allowed if it were based on color.
Therefore women need to actively participate in the recognition of cultural heritage, to decide which practices to modify and which ones to discard. Their participation in the interpretation of religious texts is also much required in order to influence the communities’ self-understanding.
Ms. Gemma Carbó spoke about the youth and the important role they play in enhancing and conserving human rights.
The improvement of one right helps the advancement of the other, and this works the other way around. Few young people think about human rights and they don’t associate them with their own situation or the ones they know.
Children are bearers and transmitters of cultural values from generation to generation. Education creates global citizenship; thus, it must be culturally appropriate and it should include human rights education to enable children to develop their personality and cultural identity. Education can promote understanding of each one’s cultural identity, cultural values and good practices within the community everyone belong to and other communities. The right to education constitutes a cultural right.
Globalization can be either positive or negative. For this reason, States should take appropriate steps to avoid its adverse consequences on the right to take part in cultural life, particularly for the most disadvantage and marginalized groups and individuals.
Beatriz Barreiro spoke about indigenous rights. She brought to the attention the fact that the concept of culture implies the coexistence of different cultures.
Cultural rights cover the right to act collectively to develop and maintain cultural heritage as well as the right of land. The access and enjoyment of cultural rights also includes the participation in the creation and implementation of policies and programs. It is of great importance to introduce cultural rights as a general and not as a specific, side category.
A problem we are facing nowadays with the World Heritage Committee is its composition: there should be more indigenous people participating. A proposal to create a Committee of Indigenous people was presented but sadly the States voted against its creation. The dialogue between UNESCO and United Nations mechanisms seems urgent in order to uphold human rights.