The oral intervention, delivered by Humanists International’s Director of Advocacy, Elizabeth O’Casey and signed by 16 other organizations – including Artists at Risk Connection, Freemuse, Minority Rights Group, and PEN International – thanked Dr Bennoune for her work and commended her for highlighting the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on culture and cultural rights worldwide. It also welcomed her highlighting the positive potential of cultures and cultural rights to enhance rights-respecting solutions and build resilience.
The statement noted, “Unfortunately, just at the moment when the benefits culture provides as means of comfort, catharsis and communication were most keenly in evidence, arts practitioners found their working conditions increasingly difficult and stifling.
“We have seen a marked increase in censorship, arrests, detentions and even deaths of artists and cultural rights defenders […] whose work addresses the pandemic and the measures take against it.”
It concluded that, “Cultural freedom is not a luxury; instead, it needs to be at the heart of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
In her report, the Special Rapporteur urged states to take urgent, effective action to guarantee cultural rights, “when these rights are so central to human well-being, resilience and development.” She also highlighted many cases of artists and cultural rights defenders, as well as doctors and scientists, who have been threatened, suffered violence or been detained for whistleblowing or criticizing government action in reaction to the pandemic.