Tag Archives: United Nations

Art and freedom of expression

28 Mar

Our consideration of the human rights in any country should include the freedom of artists to express their heart, writes Deeyah Khan – a critically acclaimed music producer, composer and an Emmy award-winning documentary film director – in this statement she submitted to the United Nations in March 2014.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=lnAL5dvvS34]

Art is a powerful form of communication which has a unique ability to transcend cultural and linguistic boundaries, an exploration of what it means to be human. Art can be brash or sublime, basic or intricate, and is one of the first forms of human expression and which remains rooted in the creative potential for innovation and transformation. It has an extraordinary capacity to express resistance and rebellion; protest and hope. It can start conversations; it can bring subjects into the public sphere, expose abuses and to point towards new worlds: to touch people in a deeper and more affecting way than academic and political discourse, to move us to tears, to laughter and to action. There is a reason why artists, intellectuals and women are usually the first targets of oppressive regimes, of fundamentalist groups and of reactionaries of all stripes, who cannot bear any positions that threaten their perceived monopoly on truth or which expose their corruption and cruelty.

So, where art is transgressive, it is decried as immoral, seditious or contrary to religious rules. Artists are silenced by many means, from harassment to imprisonment, from censorship to accusations of blasphemy; which can itself be a death sentence. This precious human resource is formed from deep continuities with our artistic traditions with the fertile exploration of new forms to make up the glorious potential of creativity: surely one of the pinnacles of human achievement and experience. The English radical poet Shelley considered poets to be the unacknowledged legislators of the world: the future is in the present as the plant lies in the seed, he said; and art has the potential to realise this future, a future of equality, diversity and unity. In this sense, artists should be considered providing a vital, but under-appreciated contribution to the functioning of civil society.

Artists everywhere, and in all periods, have taken a role in standing up for human rights and human dignity through their explorations of the human condition, particularly in times of unrest, oppression and chaos. It is no wonder that its liberating and unbounded potential to speak truth to power is feared by those who remain invested in the suppression of the human spirit. Where the media is controlled, art becomes the last voice of freedom; more trusted than official outlets, a channel for dissidence, a telling of alternate histories, alternate futures. Where women’s voices are silenced, women’s self-expression is an act of defiance, of refusal of the strict limitations of gender roles. Where societies are based in fear and oppression, art is a seed of hope for a better world. The creative process itself generates a sense of inner liberation which lays the seeds for calling for broader liberties. Art is a form of expression which is often one of the most available, even to the poorest individual: the tools required can be as simple as a voice, a pencil or a humble drum.

The potential for change that art can bring is shown by the extraordinary means taken to crush it: such as attacks by militant religious extremists on artistic expressions and artists in countries such as Mali and Pakistan. Last year almost 20 artists were killed. Thousands more were censored, or persecuted. Many incidents are never made publicly known – those who experience daily threats from fundamentalists in Northern Mali, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan or who are victimized by the internal conflicts of Syria or Sudan, amongst many other assaults upon artistic freedoms the world over.

When musicians, who are questioning political repression and corruption through their music, are imprisoned in Russia, Turkey, Vietnam or Tunisia, it is an attempt to silence voices, which can document oppression and express hope, and dictators wish to conceal their oppressions as much as they wish to stamp out hope. During the early days of the uprisings in the Middle East, for instance, musicians – like ‘El General’ of Tunisia – played an essential role as truth-tellers, exposing political and financial corruption as well as providing rallying anthems, providing a sense of solidarity and unity to those on the street. In the words of a rapper from Gaza, who has since been forced into accepting protection by Gothenburg City Council: “I am the CNN of the street”.

The first ever UN report on freedom on artistic expression and creativity published by the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of culture last spring was a long-awaited achievement, raising many crucial questions, calling upon governments to take action; and for violations to be recorded. However, international reports on violations of human rights tend to focus on media freedom, to the exclusion of other forms of expression. The vitality of artistic creativity is necessary for the development of vibrant, plural cultures. Artists – in the words of the Special Rapporteur – “have proven their ability to bring counterweights to existing power centres in many developing countries and inspire millions of people to discuss, reflect and mobilise”.

Organisations such as Freemuse, Arterial Network and the National Coalition Against Censorship have been established to document violations, but in comparison to the numerous organisations documenting and defending freedom of expression for journalists and more conventional political activists, artists have few organisations to monitor violations worldwide, and to provide support to people at risk, and to lobby for the changes in laws which limit the freedom of expression and for the changes in policy which would make states take responsibility for the protection of artists and of artistic freedoms.

The freedom of expression has become a focal point of clashes between groups in society, reflecting internal conflicts whether these are religious, cultural or political conflicts in nature. Pavlos Fyssas, known as Killah P, an activist against fascism, used his rap music career to criticise the rise of the Golden Dawn neo-Nazi party, in Greece. He was stabbed to death by a party member. While the attention of the international media has focussed on the restrictions upon Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and the imprisonment of punk activists Pussy Riot, somewhat out of the media eye, several of Mali’s world famous musicians joined forces in creating awareness of the cultural disaster of the country.

It should not be the case that only the persecution of famous artists raises outrage: a barely literate Afghan wedding musician threatened by the Taliban deserves the same support and the same attention as globally known artists, even though these rarely attract the same diplomatic attention. In a world which fears women’s participation, and women’s voices, being a woman and an artist is itself a political act, an act of resistance against the strict gender roles and limitations placed women in our world. For more than 30 years, Iranian women have not been permitted to sing solo, nor to perform before mixed audiences. We also need to recognise that it is not necessarily only the state or fundamentalists who pose a threat to free expression: for some, particularly women, the threat against their safety comes from their own relatives. Pashtu singers like Ghazala Javed, killed by her husband after she filed for divorce; Shamim Aiman Udas, killed by her brothers in a so-called ‘honour’ killing at a time when Pashtun militants were engaged in a campaign of harassment of musicians.

The marginalization of women artists, the censorship of free expression, the harassment of artists, has effects beyond those who are victimised and their families, it impoverishes debate, and delimits some of the most profound expressions of the human spirit. I believe that art is as necessary to democracy as a free press. And yet it is suppressed across the world, sometimes in more discreet ways than through the violence expressed against individuals in Mali and Afghanistan. Art is suppressed through the institution of blasphemy laws, through the high pressure tactics of special interest groups who consider their own sentiments more valid than freedom of speech, leading to subtle and devastating self-censorship; where those who distribute and market art, through galleries, publishing houses and concert venues, are rendered fearful of the implications of the most iconoclastic forms of art, which are often the most generative.

Art and freedom of expression are vital elements of any functioning democracy, and priceless human treasures. Our consideration of the human rights in any country should include the freedom of artists to express their heart. The persecution of artists must be recognized as political rather than as a facet of tradition or faith: as acts of repression against dissidents, differing from more overt political activism only in the method of expression; methods which are as old as humanity and deeply engrained into every culture and tradition, which have moved, inspired and unified people for generations. As a woman, and an artist, I believe in the power of art to bring about social change, and I believe that it is in our common interest as human beings to ensure that artists have the freedom to speak out; to release the plant from the seed.

Deeyah Khan wrote this statement about the role of art and artists in civil society for her presentation at the United Nations Human Right Council in March 2014. But, as it can be seen on the video above, because of time constraints and personal preference, Deeyah eventually decided to leave the manuscript and just speak from the heart.

» We recommend you also read this compelling and well-written story about Deeyah’s life as an artist:
Rebel filmmaker & music producer Deeyah shares life on International Women’s Day

via Arts Freedom


UN observers visit Syria (video)

16 Apr
[youtube http://youtu.be/3Wgb9aVd1-g]

The first six UN observers arrived in Damascus late on Sunday to oversee a shaky ceasefire, and another 24 are expected to follow over the coming days.

The ceasefire was declared on Thursday, but Syrian opposition forces claim they’re still under attack – and the government has warned it will take action against “terrorists”.

The Syrian government has also said it cannot guarantee the safety of the observers, unless they coordinate every step with the authorities.

The ceasefire is part of a six-point peace plan brokered by UN-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan.

The year-long conflict has claimed the lives of 9,000 people, according to the UN.

Observers are tasked with establishing contact with both sides in the conflict, and reporting on ceasefire compliance until a full mission is deployed.

The United Nations Security Council is expected to approve an observer mission of about 250 people next week.

Damascus residents are hoping their arrival will help defuse the situation.

“All Syrians pray for peace”, said resident Raeed Deeb.

Political analyst Kamel Sager said the observers need to remain neutral if their mission is to succeed.

“They have to remain neutral no matter what nationality they have.”

The public has been quite supportive of the international observers, but they hope finding the truth remains their top priority.

“I welcome the international observers … I hope these observers tell the truth and the rest of the world will believe them”, said a Syrian citizen.

Others fear that the Syrian government will be solely blamed for any of the failures during the implementation of the peace plan.

“The situation at hand does not affect just the government of Syria. Pressure must be placed on the armed opposition as well and the neighboring counties that support the opposition to adhere to Annan’s peace plan,” political scientist Maad Muhammad told RT.

A Syrian official escorting the team at a Damascus hotel told Reuters that more observers were expected to arrive on Monday, but offered no details. Under the U.N. plan, two dozen more observers are due to enter Syria in coming days.

As the monitors prepared to embark on their mission, violence persisted on the ground.

One activist said the city of Homs, one of the hotbeds of opposition to Assad, was bombarded on Sunday by government forces at a rate of “one shell per minute”.

Other activist sources said that six people had been killed on Sunday, and four bodies had been found.

Casting further doubt on whether the ceasefire would hold, Syria said it would stop what it called “terrorist groups” from committing criminal acts, state television reported.

Annan, joint special envoy of the United Nations and Arab League, brokered the six-point peace plan in March as part of international efforts to stop 13 months of violence.

The plan calls for the start of political dialogue, the delivery of humanitarian assistance, the release of prisoners including those involved in peaceful protests, freedom of movement for journalists to work throughout Syria.

The U.N. Security Council authorized the deployment of up to 30 unarmed observers on Saturday in the first resolution on Syria the 15-nation council managed to approve unanimously since the uprising erupted in March 2011.


Syria blames the violence on what it says are terrorists seeking to topple Assad. It has denied journalists access to the country, making it impossible to independently verify reports.

On Sunday, the Syrian state news agency SANA said a “terrorist group” ambushed armed forces in Idlib province, killing a soldier and wounding three others.

“Since the announcement of an end to military operations, terrorist attacks have increased by dozens, causing a large loss of life,” SANA added.

“(Security forces), based on their duty to protect civilians and the country, will stop terrorist groups from continuing their criminals acts and the killing of civilians,” SANA said.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was concerned about the shelling of Homs and urged the Syrian government to refrain from any escalation of violence.

“While we welcome the cessation of violence at this time I warn that the whole world is watching with skeptical eyes whether this will be sustainable,” he said. “It is important the Syrian government takes all the measures to keep the cessation of violence.”

Annan’s spokesman said the mission could be expanded to 250 or more but that would require another resolution.

Syrian government spokeswoman Bouthaina Shaaban said Syria could not be responsible for the safety of the monitors unless it was involved in “all steps on the ground”.

On the eve of the mission, Syrian forces pounded Homs, activists said. “Early this morning we saw a helicopter and a spotter plane fly overhead. Ten minutes later, there was heavy shelling,” said Walid al-Fares, a local activist.

Activist video footage, reportedly from Khalidiya, shows an explosion shortly after the sound of a missile flying through the air. Another whiz follows, and the cameraman, standing in a nearby building, pans across to show a ball of flames and smoke rising into the air.

Iran should be REMOVED from UN Commission on the Status of Women

2 May


Type:  Causes – Protest

Date:  Monday, 03 May 2010

Location:  Accept Invite to Attend This VIRTUAL Event

Iranian Regime should be REMOVED from UN Commission on the Status of Women

علیه عضویت ایران در سازمان ملل متحد کمیته حقوق زنان


United Nations Has Betrayed Women by Appointing IRI

Not one week after Ayatollah Sedigh signaled that the regime is paving the road to fresh crackdowns on women, we hear the news. We hear that the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women, which touts itself as being “dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women,” has chosen to freely bestow one of its seats upon the virulently misogynistic Islamic regime. It has made a mockery of itself. It has betrayed women worldwide with the unkindest of actions.

The Commission dares to do this while hundreds of our sisters suffer in prison because they stood up for their own rights. the UN Commission on the Status of Women dares to stand against them by allowing the Islamic regime a seat at the table.

By refusing to respond to the demands of the justice- and freedom-seeking citizens of the world, by showing clear animosity towards the women of Iran, the UN Commission on the Status of Women has undermined itself and its legitimacy in the eyes of the global public.

Iranian women have paid and continue to pay far too high a price for a fraction of the liberation that is their birthright. We recognize their struggles and honor their sacrifices, even if the international organizations that are meant to advocate for women’s interests fail to.

The UN is now responsible alongside the Islamic regime in all atrocities committed against Iranian women, a party to rape, imprisonment, torture and stoning and hangings of Iranian women.

We stand with women in Iran. And we stand against IRI as a member of the UN and its Commission on the Status of Women for as long as it takes to see justice done: the Islamic regime must be removed from the Commission.


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