The years of internal empowerment
From 2011-2013, we held internal workshops to share knowledge of the relevant fields and thus raise the group’s own capacities, as well as to identify actions to support. We presented the work of the group to potential political allies and culminated our first two years by organising a presentation in the European Parliament by the UN Special Rapporteur for Cultural Rights, Farida Shaheed, of her UN Report, “The Right to Freedom of Creative Expression”.
ARJ and the UN
The United Nations Commission on Human Rights both needs and welcomes input from civil society groups and artists’ organisations are among those helping to inform and formulate strategy. Several organisations working on freedom of expression in the arts hold consultative status at the UN enabling them to participate in meetings and submit reports. These include Freemuse, Article 19 and PEN International. Some of which have had member status with ARJ, and all of them are close allies.
The UN’s Special Rapporteur in the field of Cultural Rights is the central UN contact for arts freedom organisations. ARJ members were among the consultative group that contributed to the first ever UN report on freedom of artistic expression published in 2013. In October that year, the then Rapporteur, Farida Shaheed, presented her report to the European Parliament at an event organised by the ARJ. It included a panel debate that included writer Chenjerai Hove, Zimbabwe, filmmaker Vahid Evazzadeh, Iran and rapper Khaled Harara, Palestine.
ARJ presented its own demands, based on the Shaheed Report, to the 68 participants there, including EP, EC and other important delegates. For this event, ARJ gathered 11 two-minute videos by artists illustrating the importance of support for artists whose work speaks truth to power and upholds social justice, and they dangers they face. You can find these here.
When Ms Shaheed’s term expired, ARJ members drew up a ‘checklist’ of attributes necessary as a guide to the UN in selecting her successor to ensure the best possible candidate. ARJ was delighted to welcome Karima Bennoune who took up the post in 2015 and continues to work closely with us.
The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, currently David Kaye, is another natural ally for artistic freedom of expression who has frequently worked alongside the Rapporteur on Culture, issuing joint statements and interventions. In January 2015, he was a key participant in an Article 19 panel discussion held in the UN Palais des Nations where artists from Malaysia, Denmark, Cameroon and Belarus spoke of the challenges they face. Unusual for the UN, participants were given paper and crayons to contribute their own creative responses to the discussions.
In January 2015 ARJ members alerted the rapporteurs on culture to the threats made in Thailand against the B-Floor Theatre Group’s production Bang La Merd. The theatre company credits the response of human rights groups, including representatives of the UN in enabling to continue with the performance.
“Learning to Act” — creating tools for the sector
Throughout 2015 and 2016, we intensified our mutual learning by producing a regular newsfeed collecting artists rights violations around the world to nurture our understanding of the harm done in the field, and to discuss the large variety of cases. This helped the membership to increasingly substantiate their programming in artists rights matters, and to collaborate more strongly with the human rights allies.
By the end of 2016, ARJ decided to enter a new phase where it would, enriched through the years of internal learning, look more outwards and involve the arts sector more directly.
ARJ has written a Public Toolkit in 2015 for artists, cultural workers and organisations facing violations of artistic freedom, and for arts associations, networks and cultural organisations that may already have or want to have a role in protecting artists and artistic freedom, as well as for human rights and free speech NGOs that are working on protecting artists and artistic freedom.
The Companion to the Public Toolkit was written in 2016; it works alongside the toolkit, providing cases that illustrate many of the issues and ideas raised as an aid to readers and trainers. There are examples of artists and artworks that have been censored that show the many forms of censorship of the arts globally, with a special focus on Europe. It highlights initiatives by Arts Rights Justice members and other arts, human rights and freedom of expression organisations to tackle repression of freedom of artistic expression and production. Illustrations include advocacy and publicity campaigns, work with international mechanisms such as the United Nations, lobbying to change legislation, and guides for artists at risk, among others.
The Toolkit and Companion together aim to help build competence and know-how within the arts and culture sector on how to exercise their rights and to support our collaborative partners; to support and encourage arts organisations and cultural workers to protect and defend artists and cultural operators facing censorship wherever they may be; and to encourage better collaboration between the arts, culture, free speech and the human rights sectors.
In the next few years, we will test these tools in the field by supporting the sector’s understanding of artists rights through workshops and projects.
Read more about the changing landscape of organisations that invest in artists rights by MaryAnn DeVlieg HERE
For current projects, 2017-20, read here.