Freedom of Expression, Including Artistic Expression, is a Right Enshrined in ICCPR

Item 3: General Debate

Statement by the Delegation of the United States of America
28th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

As Delivered by Ambassador Keith Harper

March 13, 2015 – Geneva

Thank you, Mr. President.

The United States expresses our concern‎ over aspects of the Joint Inspection Unit report, especially those which could, if implemented, impinge on the independence of the High Commissioner and his Office. We reiterate that the High Commissioner and his Office are indivisible. OHCHR’s unique mission of promoting respect for human rights in all states makes it especially important that Member States have a limited oversight role. While we support fiscal principles in UN agencies, we question why a resolution on the composition of OHCHR staff should launch broad inquiries about the office’s strategic vision, the relationship between OHCHR and Member States, and the Secretary General’s Rights Up Front Report.

In addition, the United States would like to discuss the rights of freedom of opinion and expression, ‎particularly focusing on artistic expression and creativity.

Artistic expression and creativity as a form of freedom of expression is fundamental to the development of vibrant cultures and the functioning of democratic societies.  Artistic expression has given us some of the great social commentary on humanity and the human condition.  We are a richer human race for having the genius of Shakespeare, Shostakovich, Rumi, Octavio Paz, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Frida Kahlo, Chinua Achebe, and Nadine Gordimer,– just to name a few.  Today, contemporary artists like Ai Weiwei and Salif Keita are inspiring and challenging us.

The right to freedom of expression, including artistic and creative expression, is enshrined under article 19 of the ICCPR.  States Parties to the ICESCR recognize the right, under Article 15, to benefit from the protection of interests resulting from one’s artistic production.  Artistic expression is critical to the human spirit.  At HRC-23, we welcomed the report by the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, which addressed the right to freedom of expression and creativity.

Artistic expressions and creations have come under particular attack because they convey specific messages and articulate symbolic values in a powerful way.  A satirist provoking laughter and derision is as powerful as a writer urging change.  It is little wonder that dictators seek to silence art.

Freedom of opinion and expression is enshrined in the UDHR and the ICCPR, and the United States defends this right vigorously wherever it is threatened.  Likewise, the United States takes seriously any threats to the right to freedom of expression, including artistic and creative expression, and we look forward to engaging on this issue further.

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