Published online by Cambridge University Press: 07 October 2011
Responses to linguistic, religious, cultural and ethnic group differences have traditionally been treated from a non-discrimination standpoint (i.e. treating individuals as equal bearers of rights regardless of group belonging). However, this solution has proved insufficient and the approach, necessarily and progressively, has shifted, as Kymlicka states, ‘to supplement traditional human rights with minority rights’. Yet due to the inherent relationship between culture and identity, the special status awarded to minorities still falls short of achieving group identity protection. Assertion and realisation of a group's cultural rights requires a further step, through access to power, decision making and participation in political life (i.e. the fulfilment of civil and political rights).
In this chapter we delve into the fact that international instruments are designed to protect cultural rights, yet in a certain way they detach culture from any type of political expectation in order to avoid, in part, any aspirations to self-determination. Moreover, these instruments confer ‘special’ rights upon individuals only as members of groups, so, in a way, they risk fostering a multiplicity of ‘minority cultures’, focusing more on the ‘minority’ element, than on the ‘culture’ one. We need to ask if the implementation of the existing international instruments on cultural rights builds upon the notion of cohesion and collectiveness, or if it emphasises a disconnection between culture and the identity of the group, even if both of them are social and political concepts defined by the groups themselves. On the other hand, how valid is the definition of each group? How and on what grounds are the cultural definitions accepted, if we deprive them of any political determination and standpoint? In this chapter we analyse the risks of implementing cultural rights as abstract concepts divorced from the realm of politics. We also approach the fact that, if cultural individual rights make no sense, and are thus not fully realised or protected outside the realm of group rights, the question of who defines ‘the group’ and how it is defined, determines the whole basis on which the enjoyment of these rights rests.