International Human Rights Law and CH Protection

‘Cultural rights are fully understood as being part of the wider human rights system and therefore grounded in existing norms and principles of international human rights law, they allow for an enriched understanding of the principle of universality of human rights by taking into consideration cultural diversity’ (A/HRC/14/36, para. 3). Explicitly and implicitly, many international human rights instruments refer to cultural rights and protection of cultural heritage. 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 22: Everyone […] has the right to […] social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.
Article 27: Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

Article 1: All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely […] pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
Article 27: Minorities have the right to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, and to use their own language.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Article 1: 1. All peoples have the right [… to] freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
Article 3: The States Parties undertake to ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights
Article 15: 1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone: (a) To take part in cultural life […]
Article 15: 2. The steps to be taken by the States Parties to the present Covenant to achieve the full realization of this right shall include those necessary for the conservation, the development and the diffusion of science and culture.

UN Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights on  mandate

Resolution 33/20 Cultural rights and the protection of cultural heritage on the UNs website

Human Rights Council

HRC Resolution on Cultural rights and the protection of cultural heritage (resolution A/HRC/RES/33/20)

Intersessional seminar on cultural rights and the protection of cultural heritage (A/HRC/RES/37/17)

Read more about the HRC  cultural heritage work on

The European Court on Human Rights (ECtHR)

Regionally, although the  European Convention on Human Rights does not refer to cultural rights, the ECtHR has gradually recognised a link between certain provisions ( art.8, art.9, art.10 and art.2 Protocol 1) and the notion of ‘cultural rights’. The Court has instead never recognised the right to the protection of cultural and natural heritage. In a recent decision (Syllogos Ton Athinaion v. The United Kingdom ), the Court has indeed affirmed that ‘the applicant has failed to point to any case of this Court where it has held that Article 8 gives rise to a general right to protection of cultural heritage of the nature contended for in the present case’. However, the Court has recognized that ‘the protection of cultural heritage is a legitimate aim that the State may pursue when interfering with individual rights.’ Furthermore, in its latest judgment (Ahunbay and Others v. Turkey, decision 21.02.2019) the court declared the application incompatible (ratione materiae) as  to date there is no European consensus ' which would have made it possible to infer from the Convention’s provisions that there existed a universal individual right to the protection of one or another part of the cultural heritage'.

Read more about the ECtHR jurisprudence on ‘Cultural rights in the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights’ (Council of Europe, Research Division, January 2011) on (Case-Law / Case-Law Analysis / Research Reports).