This symposium provides a critical opportunity for international legal scholars to engage with the value and power of certain aspects of culture. The successive holders of the UN mandate on cultural rights have declined to define culture, instead taking a holistic, inclusive approach to its meanings, including inter alia diverse forms of artistic and cultural expressions, languages, worldviews, practices, and cultural heritage. Cultural rights—including the right to take part in cultural life without discrimination, the right to access and enjoy cultural heritage, and freedom of artistic expression—are a core part of the universal human rights framework. They are vital in and of themselves and protect key aspects of the human experience, but they have also been increasingly recognized as important elements of accessing justice and responding to atrocities and as “fundamental to creating and maintaining peaceful and just societies and to promoting enjoyment of other universal human rights.” The artistic and cultural expressions which result from the exercise of these rights likewise have inherent value and can also play significant roles in achieving basic goals of international law and human rights. As I noted in a report to the UN Human Rights Council in my capacity as UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights:
Humanity dignifies, restores and reimagines itself through creating, performing, preserving and revising its cultural and artistic life . . . . Cultural heritage, cultural practices and the arts are resources for marshalling attention to urgent concerns, addressing conflicts, reconciling former enemies, resisting oppression, memorializing the past, and imagining and giving substance to a more rights-friendly future.