The basic idea behind cultural rights is that everyone has the right to take part in the community's cultural life. One should have the opportunity to create artistic work and also take part in the experience of artistic and cultural expressions. If this right was not secured nor would man develop as citizen, and society would lose a key dimension. This assumption must be continued in our government’s efforts on culture in international development cooperation.

Also the focus must be on the individual. We have to understand the individual as the creator of culture. With a collective understanding he can rather be perceived as a prisoner of culture. This may lead to the opposite of what we perceive as human freedom. Man is not just part of a culture, we also have, as individuals, both the opportunity and the right to alter and develop it. These processes have both to be supported and protected through inclusion of the cultural rights in the upcoming white paper.

Working with human rights includes resistance of authorities abuse of creators and representatives of the cultural sector. We see repetative examples of artistic expressions and meeting places for cultural events that are restricted in the same way as freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, which in turn exclude people from taking part in and experience arts and culture.

We also see that cultural freedom is limited by pressure from other groups in society. Their attack on this freedom is based on collective arguments. In Tunisia, we have witnessed that artistic activity and people's freedom to engage in artistic experiences are threatened by agitation and violent attacks. The attacks on cultural practitioners are seen as a struggle for ideological values, and the freedom is not given protection by the authorities. The Norwegian efforts have to include a focus on protection of the cultural and artistic rights in national legislations.

Artists and cultural practitioners have taken a central place in the present human rights work. Often their creative productions give focus on the condition for groups and individuals that are suppressed in a society. We see them as well  - as key players in democracy movements around the world. They often have an established position in the population for their cultural production, and therefore undertake great risk when engaging.

Our experience is that there has traditionally been little awareness of human rights, both as basic concept and legality, within the cultural sector we know from the Middle East and Africa. This may partly be because of a largely institutionalized and specialized " human rights sector " which has not been focusing on the cultural rights. Now, we see that the leading organizations and cultural environments within arts and culture itself give priority to rights issues. It is now on the agenda on local, regional and international levels. Our organization, Mimeta, supports this work financially and academically.

We believe that the Foreign Ministry, in the white paper, should encourage cooperation between the "sectors" to increase the focus on cultural rights. This requires that civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights are considered as interdependent. An omission could be interpreted as that the Norwegian policy is unclear on this point and that in practice they do not see the rights as indivisible.

Mimeta is positive about the work that is done in St.Melding no 19 ( 20112-13 ) , where the motivation for culture and development efforts so clearly are rooted in the cultural rights. It gives the Norwegian work on the culture and development a firm direction, which also is consistent with priorities of partners Mimeta works with.

That Mimeta and other organizations associated to the cultural and development sector are invited into this policy process reinforces this policy perspective. Ministry of Foreign Affairs should also secure that the human rights perspectives are prevalent in the actual implementation of the cultural activities in Norway's international development cooperation. This anchoring also has to be communicated in international forums related to culture, development cooperation and human rights. As we read our environment, such a position will strengthen Norway's role in this area of international collaboration.

AuthorCato Litangen