An independent United Nations human rights expert today called on Russia to ensure better protections so that everyone can fully participate in the cultural life of the country.
“There is an urgent need to respond to the desire of all persons to access, participate in and contribute to cultural life without discrimination and to promote everyone’s right to access and enjoy cultural heritage,” said the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Farida Shaheed.
In a press release issued in Moscow following a 12-day mission, Ms. Shaheed noted that artistic life is vibrant in Russian society. However, she said she was “disturbed” by reports of social art activists being harassed by the police, and being prosecuted and convicted for provocative artistic expressions. Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, serve in an unpaid capacity and are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme.
“Fulfilling the right to participate in cultural life,” the expert stressed, “requires respecting the right to discuss and challenge religious symbols and dominant values including through the medium of artistic expression.”
She noted a number of “excellent initiatives” to promote cultural rights, including the “bibliobus” mobile libraries, opening museums at night and contests to promote participation in creative activities.
She was also interested to hear about initiatives encouraging people to research and document their own histories. “I hope, however, that more can be done to ensure that history is interpreted in a multifaceted way, allowing for the expression of different perspectives, including from various communities.”
During her mission, Ms. Shaheed visited Moscow, St. Petersburg, Altai Krai and Tatarstan, where she met with government officials at the federal and regional levels, as well as representatives of public institutions and academic and research institutes in the field of cultural policies, cultural heritage and cultural rights. She also held talks with representatives of minorities and indigenous peoples, and civil society organizations.
A particular focus of the Special Rapporteur’s visit was the enjoyment of cultural rights by specific categories of the population, such as children, persons with disabilities, women, indigenous peoples and minorities.
She applauded the official decision to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Since its adoption in 2006, the Convention has been regarded as a landmark document for the political rights of persons with disabilities, with article 29 requiring States to take appropriate steps to promote and enable an environment in which they can run for office, vote, and fully take part in public affairs.