Get access

Do cultural diversity and human rights make a good match?


  • Dr Yvonne Donders is the Executive Director of the Amsterdam Centre for International Law and an Associate Professor of International Law of the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Her research on human rights and cultural diversity falls within the research programme on The International Rule of Law of the Amsterdam Centre for International Law.


The link between cultural diversity and human rights was clearly established by the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, adopted by the member states of UNESCO in 2001, which holds that “the defence of cultural diversity is … inseparable from respect for human dignity” and that it “ implies a commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms”. The UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, adopted in 2005, states that “cultural diversity can be protected and promoted only if human rights and fundamental freedoms … are guaranteed” (Article 2[1]). The precise relationship between cultural diversity and human rights, however, is not clarified and thus leaves room for further exploration. This contribution analyses the issues surrounding the relationship between cultural diversity and human rights, in particular cultural rights. Firstly, it addresses general human rights issues such as universality and cultural relativism and the principles of equality and non-discrimination. Secondly, it explores the scope of cultural rights, as well as the cultural dimension of human rights. Thirdly, several cases are discussed in which human rights were invoked to protect cultural interests, confirming the value of cultural diversity. Finally, some concluding remarks are presented, indicating which areas require attention in order to further improve the promotion and protection of human rights in relation to cultural diversity.