The Elgar Encyclopedia of Human Rights is the most comprehensive reference work in the field of international human rights protection. Comprising over 340 entries, presented alphabetically, and available online and in print, the Encyclopedia addresses the full range of themes associated with the study and practice of human rights in the modern world. The topics range from substantive human rights to the relevant institutions, legal documents, conceptual and procedural issues of international law and a wide variety of thematic entries. The Encyclopedia has a distinct focus on international human rights law but at the same time is enriched by approaches from the broader social, sciences making it a truly unique and multi-disciplinary resource. New entries will be added every month and PDF downloads will be available once the Encyclopedia is complete.
 To understand the idea of ‘cultural rights’, one may begin by considering their purpose. First and foremost, cultural rights protect the right of individuals to have access to culture and to participate freely in cultural life. Culture is regarded as important (so important that it qualifies as a human right) because culture is integral to the development of one’s personality and personhood. Boutros-Ghali, former → United Nations (UN) Secretary General and former member of the Expert Committee on Cultural Rights, observed that:
By the right of an individual to culture, it is to be understood that every man has the right of access to knowledge, to the arts and literature of all peoples, to take part in scientific advancement and to enjoy its benefits, to make his contribution towards the enrichment of cultural life.
 This observation was inspired by a textual interpretation of the relevant provisions of the → Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in which cultural rights were first recognized at the international level. Article 22 UDHR provides that ‘[e]veryone, as a member of society [. . .] is entitled to realization [. . .] of the economic, social and cultural rights, indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality’ (emphasis added). The provisions that follow Article 22 are the steps towards fulfilling this goal. Thus, assuming that a person has a minimum level of well-being (Art 25), education (Art 26), employment (Art 23) and reasonable working hours (Art 24), Article 27(1) UDHR provides that ‘[e]veryone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits’ – an element that is necessary for the development of one’s personality (UNESCO ; Chow ).
 Within this overall framework that links cultural rights with the right of individuals to personal development, the substantive content of cultural rights developed over time as the notion of ‘culture’ in international human rights law expanded. When cultural rights were first recognized, ‘culture’ was understood more as ‘high culture’ – that is, cultural products and activities of exceptional aesthetic value and/or sophistication, such as forms of artwork and artistic performances, orchestras, architecture, poetry and so on. Having access to high culture was important, as it was the gateway to various intellectual, aesthetic, philosophical and literary pursuits. Yet, during the 1960s and 1970s the concept of culture as popular culture (such as popular, folk and contemporary music, films and other forms of creative expression of the masses) began to emerge, as the advent of mass communication (such as radio and television) drastically increased people’s access to and participation in cultural life (O’Keefe ). Along with this change, ‘access to culture’ also meant access to books, films, radio, television, newspapers and magazines, or what is generally referred to as ‘access to knowledge’ (Chow ). The preamble to the UNESCO Recommendation on Participation in Cultural Life  provides that:
culture is not merely an accumulation of works and knowledge which an elite produces, collects and conserves in order to place it within reach of all [. . .] culture is not limited to access to works of art and the humanities, but is at one and the same time the acquisition of knowledge, the demand for a way of life and the need to communicate.
 In line with this understanding, there was emphasis on mass participation in culture (as opposed to the ‘consumption’ of culture) – in formal texts, the right to ‘contribute to’ cultural life (CESCR, GC No 21: Cultural Life ). Further to this, two other important concepts emerged, which are often addressed as ‘cultural rights’: (i) the right to sports, and (ii) the right to leisure and/or recreational activities (see, e.g., Art 30 → Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD); Art 30 → Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)), as sports and recreational activities are often part of a community’s popular culture and both are essential for the development of one’s personality.
 The next important phase in the development of cultural rights involved the understanding of culture as a ‘way of life’, that is, as embedded in our daily lives and encompassing all our values and beliefs, including how a community is organized. The Mexico City Declaration provides:
In its widest sense, culture may now be said to be the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or social group. It includes not only the arts and letters, but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, traditions and beliefs.
 The UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity  further defines culture as ‘the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group [encompassing] [. . .] in addition to art and literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs’. This understanding, which is often referred to as the ‘anthropological definition’ of culture (McGoldrick ) (perhaps inappropriately, as there is no single definition of culture in anthropology (Chow )), was inspired by the increased attention on the rights of minorities and indigenous populations (→ Indigenous Peoples) in international human rights law and discourse (i.e. minority cultures) to ‘follow a way of life associated with the use of cultural goods and resources such as land, water, biodiversity, language or specific institutions’ (CESCR, GC No 21: Cultural Life  para 15(b)). For minority groups, ‘the degradation of their particular way of life may ultimately entail the loss of their cultural identity’ (Chow  at 630).
 The understanding of culture as a ‘way of life’ has important implications. First, when we view culture as a way of life, cultural rights and minority rights overlap substantially. While being able to participate in cultural life is essential for the development of one’s cultural identity and personhood, it is also essential for ‘ensuring the survival and continued development of the cultural, religious and social identity of the minorities concerned, thus enriching the fabric of society as a whole’; the latter rationale underlies the purpose of minority rights (HRCttee, GC No 23: Minorities  para 9). The phrase ‘minority cultural rights’ refers to the rights of national and/or cultural minorities to use their language, profess their religion and engage in their cultural traditions – as opposed to the broader notion of minority rights, which may also include, inter alia, the right to political participation and (in so far as minorities also constitute a ‘people’) → self-determination (Barth ).
 Second, culture as a way of life further emphasizes the need to protect the intangible → cultural heritage of groups and communities and the diversity of cultural expressions. Yet, this aspect of cultural rights also poses difficulties for international human rights law. For example, the traditions of certain ethno-religious groups may be deemed incompatible with human rights, especially rights of → women. The extent to which such practices may or may not be tolerated within the framework of international human rights law is sometimes addressed in terms of limitations on cultural rights (Chow ).
 Third, literature on cultural rights which views culture as a distinctive way of life also addresses the question of whether economic development, privatization activities, trade and → globalization will reduce the diversity of cultural expressions (such as in the form of traditional knowledge, natural medicines and so on) and thus the relationship between cultural rights and international trade and economic law (UNESCO ; CESCR, GC No 21: Cultural Life  para 50(b)(c)).
 Fourth, the way of life of an indigenous population often depends on the protection of the natural environment in which that population lives. This is the area where the right to participate in cultural life intersects with environmental rights (→ Environment, Right to) and issues concerning → climate change. General Comment No 21 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), for instance, calls upon state parties to ensure the availability of ‘nature’s gifts, such as seas, lakes, rivers, mountains, forests and nature reserves, including the flora and fauna found there, which give nations their character and biodiversity’ (CESCR, GC No 21: Cultural Life  para 16(a)).
 Fifth, extending the concept of ‘culture’ to include the way in which indigenous populations interact with the environment prompted an understanding of culture as ‘a space of socioeconomic, spiritual and cultural anchorage’ (Gilbert  at 35). The idea of a ‘cultural space’ further influenced later developments of the law that see culture (especially in cities) as the interactions of individuals in and with public space, and stress community engagement in the planning and design of shared open spaces (Interarts ). It calls for the deregulation of public space, as a forum that enables cultural, leisure and other recreational activities to take place (in the form of street arts and performances, parades and so on; see CESCR, GC No 21: Cultural Life  para 16), thereby allowing for interaction among creative expressions in all their diversity. Providing access to public space for → persons with disabilities is, for instance, part of their cultural rights (Chow et al ).
 Finally, culture is important because it gives us meaning. In this respect there is always a symbolic/meaningful aspect to culture. For instance, objects are culturally significant only because of the symbolic meaning that they represent. Similarly, intangible forms of cultural heritage (such as traditions, customs and dance performances) embody certain cultural meanings which render them culturally significant acts (Chow ). The spiritual relationship between indigenous communities and their land is often part of their heritage that is passed down from generation to generation and speaks to their ancestry, identity and collective life, remembered and shared as a form of cultural knowledge (Silverman and Ruggles ). From this perspective, what is meant by ‘culture’, in short, are those cultural narratives sustained in a community’s memory that are lived and actively practised (Bonnell and Hunt ; Arizpe ; Chow ). Such collective memories assume ‘practical meaning for the present, enabling individuals and communities to develop a sense of identity and continuity as well as to position themselves through their pasts’ (Chow  at 193). The CESCR remarked in 2009:
[C]ulture is a broad, inclusive concept encompassing all manifestations of human existence. The expression ‘cultural life’ is an explicit reference to culture as a living process, historical, dynamic and evolving, with a past, a present and a future [. . .] The concept of culture must be seen not as a series of isolated manifestations or hermetic compartments, but as an interactive process whereby individuals and communities, while preserving their specificities and purposes, give expression to the culture of humanity.
 By understanding the multiple aspects of culture/cultural life, we can apprehend how cultural rights interact with other rights. For instance, certain aspects of the → right to education overlap with cultural rights, as they both address aspects of personal development (Szabó ); Article 29 of the CRC, for example, provides that a child’s right to education should be directed to ‘[t]he development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for [. . .] the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own’. The right of minorities to establish educational institutions, furthermore, is an essential cultural right (PCIJ, Minority Schools in Albania ). The right to → freedom of opinion and expression is important for artistic creation, and all the more so in the contexts of, for instance, protest arts and parodies directed at governments. Cultural rights thus not only encompass a broad range of activities; they also intersect with many other rights in different contexts.
The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone:
(a)To take part in cultural life;
(b)To enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications;
(c)To benefit from the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.
The steps to be taken by the State Parties to the present Covenant to achieve the full realization for this right shall include those necessary for the conservation, the development and the diffusion of science and culture.
The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to respect the freedom indispensable for scientific research and creative activity.
The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the benefits to be derived from the encouragement and development of international contacts and co-operation in the scientific and cultural fields.
 Article 15 ICESCR therefore contains three substantive rights: (i) the right to cultural participation (Art 15(1)(a)); (ii) the right to benefit from scientific advances (Art 15(1)(b)); and (iii) the right to benefit from the protection of intellectual property (Art 15(1)(c)) (→ Intellectual Property Rights). The provision of culture and science in one article may appear awkward at first. As cultural rights are aimed at enabling all forms of artistic and intellectual pursuit, culture and science under Articles 15(1)(a) and (b) are not construed as opposites, but are meant to complement each other as two pathways to self-fulfilment, as they ‘[b]oth relate to the pursuit of knowledge and understanding and to human creativity in a constantly changing world’ (HRC, Report of the Special Rapporteur ). Article 15(1)(c) was incorporated to acknowledge the inherent value in the creation of scientific innovation and artwork for the author of such work and for the progress of society as a whole (CESCR, GC No 17: Intellectual Property ). The reference to ‘moral interest’ in Article 15(1)(c) is to ‘proclaim the intrinsically personal character of every creation of human mind and the ensuing durable link between creators and their creations’ (CESCR, GC No 17: Intellectual Property  para 12), while the reference to ‘material interest’ ‘reflects the close linkage of this provision with the right to own property’ (CESCR, GC No 17: Intellectual Property  para 15). Articles 15(2) to 15(4) provide for the supporting freedoms (i.e. academic and creative freedom) and supporting means (i.e. international cooperation on the conservation, development and diffusion of science and culture) to attain these rights.
In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language.
 Similar to the right to take part in cultural life, provisions that protect minority cultural rights are scattered throughout various conventions (e.g. Art 30 CRC) and are also differently worded so as to highlight the specific needs of the groups that the treaty wishes to protect. Article 31(1) ICMW, for example, provides that ‘States Parties shall ensure respect for the cultural identity of migrant workers and members of their families and shall not prevent them from maintaining their cultural links with their State of origin’.
 The above challenge aside, one important trend pertains to subsequent attempts in the discourse on cultural rights which sought to articulate the importance of memorialization processes in post-divided societies (HRC, Report of the Special Rapporteur ). Acts of remembrance and public memorialization activities during and after gross human rights violations are fundamental to the dignity of the oppressed community and should therefore not be prohibited. Moreover, the history of past human rights abuses against a group often forms an essential part of that group’s identity.
 Nevertheless, the question of cultural rights can be highly controversial, as it impinges upon the topic of history and the teaching of history (UNGA, Report of the Special Rapporteur ). As noted above, the right to take part in cultural life includes the right to learn about one’s culture. Yet, historical narratives are malleable and may be utilized for political purposes, such as to incite hatred and create divisions within a society or between societies (Logan ). Memory laws are enacted in some states with the obvious intention of preventing denials of gross and systematic violations of human rights (such as Holocaust denials), but they remain controversial, as they may stifle academic research and debates/arguments in relation to history that are conducted and made in good faith (Chow ).
 Lastly, an emerging area of research concerns the cultural rights of persons with disabilities – a neglected category of rights of a neglected category of people (Chow et al ). The right to take part in cultural life is an extremely important right for persons with disabilities. Opportunities to engage in culture promote their social inclusion (Singleton and Darcy ) and provide a valuable channel for them to express their thoughts, values and identities in physical and cyber domains (Blanck ). Engaging in cultural activities is a means to challenge stereotypes, such as through disability arts (Ellis ) and disability sports, and enables them to pursue their self-realization. Engagement in culture, sports and other activities provides an important arena where their abilities can be properly recognized (Hall ). As all of the above are critical for the development of their personality, examining the rights of persons with disabilities offers a chance for us to rediscover and reaffirm the very purposes of protecting cultural rights.
 This entry has explained the idea of cultural rights through the right to take part in cultural life, which is the broadest and arguably the most important of all cultural rights. Culture/cultural life is, for everyone, an inherent part of being human and a necessary manifestation of all communities (Holder ). The concept of culture/cultural life in human rights law is not ethnocentric; rather, it is broad and encompasses multiple dimensions: material (the availability of cultural goods and products), temporal (as a process of development with a past, present and future), spatial (the cultural environment) and symbolic (providing us with meaning). The right to take part in cultural life represents the freedom to pursue one’s artistic, spiritual and intellectual realization, as well as to develop one’s character, identity and personality.
Abu-LughodL, ‘Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others’ (2002) 104American Anthropologist783
Abu-LughodL, ‘Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others’ (2002) 104 American Anthropologist 783)| false
AliSS, ‘Women’s Rights, CEDAW, and International Human Rights Debates: Toward Empowerment?’ in ParpartJL, RaiSM and StaudtKA (eds), Rethinking Empowerment: Gender and Development in a Global/Local World (Routledge2002)
AliSS, ‘Women’s Rights, CEDAW, and International Human Rights Debates: Toward Empowerment?’ in ParpartJL, RaiSM and StaudtKA (eds), Rethinking Empowerment: Gender and Development in a Global/Local World (Routledge2002))| false
id., ‘Memory Denied: A Commentary on the Reports of the UN Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights on Historical and Memorial Narratives in Divided Societies’ (2015) 48The International Lawyer191
id., ‘Memory Denied: A Commentary on the Reports of the UN Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights on Historical and Memorial Narratives in Divided Societies’ (2015) 48 The International Lawyer 191)| false
id., BantekasI, KarapapaS and PolymenopoulouE, ‘Article 30: Participation in Cultural Life, Recreation, Leisure and Sport’ in BantekasI, SteinMA and AnastasiouD (eds), The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: A Commentary (OUP2018)
id., BantekasI, KarapapaS and PolymenopoulouE, ‘Article 30: Participation in Cultural Life, Recreation, Leisure and Sport’ in BantekasI, SteinMA and AnastasiouD (eds), The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: A Commentary (OUP2018))| false
EriksenTH, ‘Between Universalism and Relativism: A Critique of the UNESCO Concept of Culture’ in CowanJK, DembourMB and WilsonRA (eds), Culture and Rights: Anthropological Perspectives (CUP2001)
EriksenTH, ‘Between Universalism and Relativism: A Critique of the UNESCO Concept of Culture’ in CowanJK, DembourMB and WilsonRA (eds), Culture and Rights: Anthropological Perspectives (CUP2001))| false
GilbertJ, ‘Custodians of the Land: Indigenous Peoples, Human Rights and Cultural Integrity’ in LangfieldM, LoganW and Nic CraithM (eds), Cultural Diversity, Heritage and Human Rights: Intersections in Theory and Practice (Routledge2010)
GilbertJ, ‘Custodians of the Land: Indigenous Peoples, Human Rights and Cultural Integrity’ in LangfieldM, LoganW and Nic CraithM (eds), Cultural Diversity, Heritage and Human Rights: Intersections in Theory and Practice (Routledge2010))| false
NiecH, ‘Casting the Foundation for the Implementation of Cultural Rights’ in NiecH (ed), Cultural Rights and Wrongs: A Collection of Essays in Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNESCO1998)
NiecH, ‘Casting the Foundation for the Implementation of Cultural Rights’ in NiecH (ed), Cultural Rights and Wrongs: A Collection of Essays in Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNESCO1998))| false
CESCR ‘General Comment No 17: The Right of Everyone to Benefit from the Protection of the Moral and Material Interests Resulting from Any Scientific, Literary or Artistic Production of which He or She Is the Author’ (12January2006) UN Doc E/C.12/GC/17 (Intellectual Property)
CESCR ‘General Comment No 17: The Right of Everyone to Benefit from the Protection of the Moral and Material Interests Resulting from Any Scientific, Literary or Artistic Production of which He or She Is the Author’ (12January2006) UN Doc E/C.12/GC/17 (Intellectual Property))| false
CESCR ‘Guidelines on Treaty-Specific Documents to Be Submitted by States Parties under Articles 16 and 17 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’ (24March2009) UN Doc E/C.12/2008/2
CESCR ‘Guidelines on Treaty-Specific Documents to Be Submitted by States Parties under Articles 16 and 17 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’ (24March2009) UN Doc E/C.12/2008/2)| false
CESCR ‘Revised Guidelines regarding the Form and Contents of Reports to Be Submitted by States Parties under Articles 16 and 17 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’ (1991) UN Doc E/C.12/1990/8, Annex IV
CRC Committee ‘Concluding Observations: Democratic Republic of the Congo’ (23July2001) UN Doc CRC/C/108 at 31
CRC Committee ‘Concluding Observations: Democratic Republic of the Congo’ (23July2001) UN Doc CRC/C/108 at 31)| false
UNESCO ‘Recommendation on Participation by the People at Large in Cultural Life and Their Contribution to It’, General Conference 19th Session (Nairobi 26 October–30 November 1976) (1977) 19 C/Resolutions + CORR, Annex 1 at 29
UNESCO ‘Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity’, General Conference 31st Session (Paris 15 October–3 November 2001) (2002) 31 C/Resolutions + CORR at 61.