The UN Special Rapporteur on cultural rights highlights the importance of the cultural approach to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda

On 20 September the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Ms. Xanthaki presented a report to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. The document covered the role of cultural rights in the development of the 2030 Agenda. Cultural rights ensure that individuals can develop and express their humanity and worldview through their values, beliefs, and ways of life. The analysis has been carried out from the point of view of the experiences gained in this area and the weaknesses found in its implementation.

It should be noted that the 2030 Agenda is framed by human rights, more specifically by article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Both recognize the right of every person to participate freely in cultural life, to enjoy the arts and to participate in scientific progress as well as in its benefits. In addition, it also contains elements included in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples regarding the direct relationship between development and self-determination recognized in article 3.

The report was based on the premise that cultural rights should be a fundamental pillar of sustainable development and establishes that an approach based on them would be a guarantee of success for any development program. However, the report indicates that, despite their importance, cultural rights are not routinely included in poverty eradication and social development plans. In this regard, the document highlights the idea that development can only be sustainable if it incorporates cultural rights. The following elements should be taken into account:

  1. Sustainable development must include cultural development, recognizing the inherent individual and collective rights.
  2. Inclusion of inequalities and stereotypes to ensure access to information, research and resources needed to thrive.
  3. Sustainable development must be determined freely by communities. In this way it is achieved aligned with the aspirations, customs, and traditions of each group. 
  4. Resistance to the unique model. Cultural rights must be taken into account from the perspective of cultural diversity, which depends on the values and principles of each cultural identity.
  5. Looking to the future. Sustainable development must evolve constantly, enabling social transformations that are adapted to the needs of different cultural communities.

On the other hand, the report condemns situations in which development aims to eradicate the cultural identity of local communities through actions such as land grabbing or forced displacement and resettlement. Moreover, it also exposes that sustainable development can be a threat to cultural rights in the scope of nature conservation. An example of these two situations is the case of the Batwa indigenous people from Uganda, who, as a result of the construction of a national park in 1991, were forced to displace their settlement and as a ended in poverty. 

As a solution to this problem, countries such as Lithuania, Spain and Ghana have implemented tools both for consultation and citizen participation in the decision-making process on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. Thus, by ensuring the participation of civil society in cultural life, the communities’ cultural rights are protected. 

The Rapporteur concludes the report by explaining that it is essential to take cultural rights into account when developing sustainable development policies.

Blanca Torrego

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