Delegates at the first cultural rights symposium for the Pacific were told yesterday that their cultural rights are enshrined in a number of international human rights conventions. Despite this, these rights continue to go unrecognised.

Speaking at the opening of the three-day symposium, which is being held at the same time as the 11th Festival of Pacific Arts in Honiara, Solomon Islands, Ms Farida Shaheed, a United Nations Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights said, 'The concept of cultural rights is enshrined in the International Bill of Human Rights of the United Nations (which includes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.' She also noted, 'The declaration says everyone has the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community.'

In addition, Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights addresses the rights of minorities in particular to enjoy their own culture; profess and practice their own religion; and use their own language. Ms Shaheed said the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has expanded on this, stating that the ideal of free human beings enjoying freedom from fear and want can only become a reality when everyone can enjoy their economic, social and cultural rights as well as their civil and political rights. She said that 'Article 1 [of this convention] speaks about the right to freely pursue economic, social and cultural development while Article 15 specifies the right of everyone to participate in cultural life.'

Miss Shaheed summarised cultural rights as: 1) The right to take part in cultural life; 2) The right to language; 3) The right to education; and 4) The right to artistic expression.

The symposium, which brings together several of the region's forward-thinkers on culture to discuss cultural rights in the Pacific context (and in relation to other human rights), as well as intellectual property and traditional knowledge, was organised by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community in collaboration with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and the World Intellectual Property Organization.