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September 17 2017

ARTWATCH AFRICA AT THE ARTS RIGHTS JUSTICE ACADEMY 2017 | GERMANY

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For a better understanding and synergy for advocates of artistic freedom

From the 24th to the 30th of August 2017, Arterial Network participated in the first edition of the Arts Rights Justice Academy at the University of Hildesheim in Germany. Arterial Network, represented by Diana Ramarohetra (Project Manager - Artwatch Africa), also participated in the Arts Rights Justice Forum held in Berlin on the 31st of August 2017.

Arts Rights Justice Academy
More than 40 participants representing 30 nationalities took part in the first academy that aimed to strengthen and expand structures for the promotion and protection of artistic freedom.

During the training, participants were able to examine the issues of self-censorship by taking into account the socio-cultural contexts of other countries as comparisons. This open engagement offered a way of understanding individual perception and the nuanced definitions of Freedom of Expression and censorship, and above all, how it is lived, experienced and applied in different contexts. Even if everyone works to defend their freedom, each individual is aware of their own limitations, and their responsibility to the collective society within which they work, but also their responsibility to themselves as artists with integrity.

In the face of growing repression, what advocacy actions, what mechanisms, and what structures are in place so that artistic freedom can be guaranteed? Through group work, the participants were able to elaborate on common solutions, especially when it comes to local support of artists in exile who sometimes struggle with integration.

Abazar, a Sudanese singer, shared his experience of living in exile: "I had to flee the Sudan and after being in Egypt for some time, I am now settled in Norway. Like most refugees, I dream of being able to return to my own country, but unfortunately, for now, I cannot. People do not necessarily understand it, but living in a totally different environment from mine is not so simple. At home, I had an audience. Here, I have to start from scratch, learn to adapt, to understand. This is why the continued accompaniment of artists at risk is important.”

While the issue of relocation appears to be a valid solution, other mechanisms of support were also presented by (among others) Farida Shaheed, the first UN Special Rapporteur in the field of Cultural Rights. As she rightly pointed out, Cultural Rights remains an often misunderstood subject given the varying definition of Culture. During her presentation, she explained that, "Cultural Rights include the concepts of participation and non-participation, access and contribution," before continuing to show the various protection mechanisms used by the United Nations. This presented a valuable opportunity to understand the role of the Special Rapporteur, the differences between recommended mechanisms, the content of various alternative reports (such as the Universal Periodic Review) and other documents that can be used for advocacy campaigns.

Advocacy and networking are key elements in terms of artistic freedom. Beyond simply raising awareness, practice and action on the ground are paramount in order to shift perceptions and make significant, long term change. While some of the participants in the Arts Rights Justice Academy do not define themselves as advocates, their work and acts of mobilisation make them actors for change nonetheless.

Over the course of the Academy programme, African participants from Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Sudan, Rwanda, Cameroon, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Madagascar made contact in order to federate their work in the protection and defense of the rights of artists, while promoting actions specifically adapted to the context of the continent. The cities of Abidjan, Tunis, Kampala and Johannesburg have been chosen as host cities for artists at risk through the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN).

As evoked by Julia Farrington (Index on Censorship), one of the main principles in terms of the protection of freedom of artistic expression is to have structures-institutions-platforms that are willing and able to take risks to defend this freedom. Arterial Network, through its Artwatch Africa project, has done a lot of work in this area through training and advocacy through the arts. Its approach is based on the premise of artist rights as human rights, and the integration of other skilled professionals from across the continent (such as lawyers) demonstrates this open, collaborative commitment to change. This model has made the Artwatch Africa project a global reference point for information regarding artists rights violations across Africa.





Arts Rights Justice Forum
On Thursday the 31st of August, the Arts Rights Justice Forum was held in Berlin. The forum was an opportunity for the participants of the Academy to present the results of their work and to discuss the issue of artists rights.

The volume of restrictions on freedom of artistic expression and creation are growing across the globe. Specific threats are made against artists and human rights defenders engaged in processes of social transformation. The present situation demonstrates the important role of the artist in societies and the extent to which their freedoms are at risk. During the forum, Professor Wolfgang-Uwe Friedrich (President of the University of Hildesheim) emphasised the importance of involving political decision-makers in order to establish a conducive legal environment (with regards to cultural policy in particular) that will guarantee that the rights of artists are upheld.

Written by Diana Ramarohetra, Arterial Network
Translation: Marie-Louise Rouget, Arterial Network

PHOTOS: 
Diana Ramarohetra

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