UN report: Impact of fundamentalism and extremism on the enjoyment of cultural rights
In her second report to the Human Rights Council, Karima Bennoune – the United Nations Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights – considers how the rise of fundamentalism and extremism, in diverse forms, represent major threats to human rights worldwide.
Fundamentalism and extremism represent a growing challenge that must be faced with urgency, using a human rights approach, writes Karima Bennoune. The report maps how such threats gravely undermine the enjoyment of cultural rights and stresses the centrality of cultural rights in combating them.
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Report of the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights
Rising tides of fundamentalism and extremism, in diverse forms, today represent major threats to human rights worldwide and are growing challenges that must be faced with urgency, using a human rights approach. In the present report, the Special Rapporteur maps how such threats gravely undermine the enjoyment of cultural rights and stresses the centrality of cultural rights in combating them. It employs the term “fundamentalism” for actors using a putatively religious discourse and “extremism” for movements with other bases. Methodologically, it highlights analysis of experts and civil society actors who have confronted these problems for decades to ensure their words are heard in the United Nations. A follow up report to the General Assembly will provide further detail.
We face a worldwide struggle to defend intellectual freedom and the rationality on which it is based. Moreover, at the heart of the fundamentalist and extremist paradigms are rejections of equality and universality of human rights, making unwavering defence of those principles the touchstone of the human rights response.
There are common themes across fundamentalist and extremist abuses of cultural rights. Such abuses often involve attempts at cultural engineering aimed at redesigning culture based on monolithic world views, focused on “purity” and enmity toward “the other”, policing “honour” and “modesty”, claiming cultural and moral superiority, imposing a claimed “true religion” or “authentic culture” along with dress and behaviour codes often alien to the lived cultures of local populations, stifling freedom of artistic expression and curtailing scientific freedom. They also aim to limit the enjoyment of women’s human rights and restrict the sexual and reproductive rights of all. Fundamentalist and extremist groups often seek to quash the expression of cultural opposition to their own agenda. Diverse religious fundamentalists have sought to punish cultural expression antithetical to their interpretations of religion through blasphemy laws, gender discriminatory family laws, campaigns of harassment, education that does not conform to human rights standards, human rights abuses and outright violence. Extremists often harass and target members of minority groups and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons as they seek to enjoy their equal cultural rights (see A/HRC/29/23 and A/HRC/19/41).