Norway's work for cultural rights

Everyone has the right – and need – to freely express their identity, values, culture and ideas. This should be offered on an equal basis and without discrimination.

Cultural rights include freedom of artistic expression, access to cultural heritage and world heritage, access to and participation in cultural life, and protection of copyright. These rights are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In addition, as a State Party, Norway is committed to UNESCO's six cultural conventions. The best known of these are the World Heritage Convention (1972) and the Convention for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005). The Government gives priority to promoting artistic freedom of expression and cultural heritage.

Artistic freedom of expression

In parts of the world, cultural rights and artistic freedom of expression are under pressure. Whether politically motivated or citing tradition and religion, leaders in many countries are tightening their grip on art and culture to increase control. Artistic expression and meeting places for dissemination are restricted on an equal footing with freedom of expression and - assembly. Both performers and audiences are prevented from taking part in cultural life.

Art and culture are important spheres for innovation and critical thinking. Artists often stand on the barricades against injustice and oppression. Many artists are human rights defenders and must be recognized for, and protected as, such. Persecution, discrimination and censorship affect filmmakers, writers, musicians and other artists. Female artists and artists with minority backgrounds, including LGBT+ people, are particularly affected.

Norway gives high priority to promoting freedom of expression, which includes artistic freedom. The strategy for freedom of expression in development and foreign policy includes special measures aimed at vulnerable artists. Our largest partner in the work for artistic freedom of expression is UNESCO. We also cooperate with other parts of the UN system and with civil society organisations.

Cultural heritage and world heritage

Access to cultural heritage is a human right. "It is impossible to separate a people's cultural heritage from the people themselves and their rights," said UN Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights (2015-21), Karima Bennoune. Tangible and intangible cultural heritage is part of our human and social memory that is passed on to new generations. Through the documented past, we can understand our present, for example through material from archives, libraries and museums. The collective memory also consists of skills handed down through intangible cultural heritage such as dance and crafts, food traditions and rituals. Cultural heritage is important for people's identity formation and belonging. Cultural heritage can also be a resource for other human rights - such as freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, as well as economic rights, for example related to tourism.

In armed conflict, cultural heritage often becomes targets that are deliberately attacked and destroyed, e.g. to erode the sense of identity and endurance of the people attacked. Archives and museums are being looted and irreplaceable cultural objects are traded illegally, often through criminal networks linked to human trafficking and drugs. Norway is working to prevent this through our cooperation with UNESCO.

A World Heritage site is a place of outstanding universal value to humanity. It represents a unique cultural or natural historical environment that says something important about the history of the earth or of humanity. UNESCO's World Heritage Convention (1972) states that States Parties have a common moral and economic responsibility to preserve World Heritage for the future. The UNESCO World Heritage List belongs to this agreement. The World Heritage Committee administers the World Heritage List and the associated World Heritage Fund. African natural and cultural heritage are underrepresented on the World Heritage List and are vulnerable in terms of pressures and management capacity. Therefore, Norway gives priority to protecting Africa's World Heritage.

Our focus areas

  • Support UNESCO's programmes and funds to strengthen artistic freedom of expression.
  • Protect vulnerable artists and cultural workers, especially through residency schemes and cities of refuge networks.
  • Support efforts to strengthen the conditions for artists and cultural workers, including through UNESCO's Aschberg Programme.
  • Use the United Nations Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) country reviews to make recommendations related to the implementation of cultural rights.
  • Support the work of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre to strengthen and protect cultural and natural heritage, with priority given to natural heritage.
  • Support the African World Heritage Fund's efforts to protect and strengthen World Heritage in Africa.
  • Protect and preserve cultural and natural heritage in danger or under destruction through Unesco's Heritage Emergency Fund. The fund's experts can respond to natural disasters or war/conflict. The fund also includes measures to stop the illegal sale of stolen cultural objects.