ZIFF International Festival / Zanzibar (16-21 June 2014)

Human Rights, along with cultural and artistic rights, seem initially simple to consider. However, a lot of these rights are regularly infringed, most notably the « liberty of artistic and creative expression ». Even if freedom of expression is invoked in article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in article 9 of the African Charter, its cultural and artistic natures aren’t as explicit. Yet, Culture is defined by UNESCO as « in its broader meaning, the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or social group. It includes not only arts and letters, but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, traditions and beliefs." Cultural and artistic rights cannot therefore be restricted to one article only but encompass different liberties affecting individuals and their dignity.

During the Artwatch Africa training that took place from 15 to 21 June in Zanzibar, 17 participants representing the five African regions deepened their understanding of Human Rights thanks to a highly dynamic and rigorous methodology that was far from the formal clichés of academic training.  It was a unique opportunity for these human rights, legal and artistic practitioners to share their experiences and create the basis for a mutual understanding of what constitutes freedom of artistic and creative expression, a significant issue in Africa where many artists still suffer all kinds of repression.

Lead by Simone Andrade, and supported by Basma El Husseiny and Joy Mboya, this training was the kickstart of Arterial Network’s project, Artwatch Africa. The primary aim of the projects is to defend and raise awareness around freedom of artistic and creative expression, and in this process it is essential to acquire the fundamental basics of the matter, to develop a strong lobbying approach understood by all.

Artists are often considered as “entertaining and amusing” individuals, yet they exercise a key function in society and should enjoy the rights of any other citizens. Commentators and witnesses to the world they evolve in, cultural practitioners and artists are often discriminated against by public authorities or by society itself. However, it is in the State’s duty to protect them, as a signatory of these very conventions and treaties; Article 28 of the African Charter states: “Every individual shall have the duty to respect and consider his fellow beings without discrimination, and to maintain relations aimed at promoting, safeguarding and reinforcing mutual respect and tolerance.” 

But respect is achieved through understanding. And to this day, freedom of artistic and creative expression remains misunderstood. This training allowed for a focused and renewed reading of the challenges at stake in the Artwatch Africa Project.  The participants came out more alert and assertive regarding the role they can play for a transparent Africa.

« Back in the office and still trying to process all that I learned and felt during last week's workshop on human rights, freedom of expression, and artistic freedom hosted by Arterial Network and the ArtWatch Africa project. It was so inspiring to be with human rights advocates, artists, and cultural activists from all over Africa. I feel both empowered and intimidated by the knowledge we've gained and the responsibilities that come with it. One thing I know is that our voices are stronger together. » Rebecca Corey, Zanzibar.

“When a person decides to lead a struggle, he or she claims ownership of it and I intend to do the same. Defending freedom of creative expression is a duty…” Jean Pierre Moudjalou, Gabon.

“We have been inoculated with the vaccine of human rights and have seen how to adapt the contents of the workshop to the contexts in our respective countries” Jason Kibiswa, DRC