Culture: UNESCO called on States to strengthen the protection of artists at risk

30 May 2023


4 May 2023

Last update: 5 May 2023

The new UNESCO publication Defending Creative Voices highlights that emergency situations – as armed conflict, unstable political contexts and natural disasters – exacerbate the pre-existing vulnerabilities. Artists face multiple threats, as online and offline harassment, brutal loss of income, legal prosecution, violence, censorship, silencing – and often lack minimal safety nets due to the precarious legal status.  

The report recommends that the international community develop tailored assistance to protect and promote artistic freedom in emergency context, built on UNESCO’s experience in protecting artists during conflicts – most recently in Iraq, Ukraine, and Yemen. It could also capitalize on best practices concerning press freedom for which a global action plan has been implemented by the Organization for more than ten years. 

The report suggests in particular: 

  1. UN-wide monitoring of the artistic freedom in emergency context, that recognizes artists as a vulnerable group in need of specific attention,
  2. A collaborative support programme for the safety of artist, and the protection of both  artworks and cultural spaces in emergency contexts,  
  3. Tailored capacity building of judicial and legal actors to protect artists through investigations and prosecutions.

Recent cases have demonstrated the importance of emergency practical measures such as trainings on artistic freedom, temporary art residencies, temporary financial assistance for culture professionals, expedited issuance of visas and prioritization of artists within evacuation and resettlement programs with specific attention to women creators. 

US$ 1 million to better protect the status of the artist

To improve the resilience of artists in emergency context, the report also recommends stronger legal frameworks, with better legal recognition of the status of the artist. In this area, UNESCO announced today the investment of an additional US$ 1 million from the UNESCO-Aschberg Programme to finance projects in over 25 countries. 13 of these projects are led by governments, the 12 others by NGOs.

Governments will benefit from technical assistance to develop laws, regulations or policies in favour of artistic freedom, decent works and enhanced status for artists and culture professionals: Argentina, Côte d’Ivoire, Chile, Djibouti, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Niger, Mongolia, Senegal, and Zimbabwe; as well as countries members of CECC-SICA (Costa Rica, Belize, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama).

Civil society organizations will benefit from financial assistance to undertake training, advocacy, monitoring or research on artistic freedom and the status of the artist: Valerian Gunia Union of Young Theatre Artists (Georgia), Instituto Pensar (Brazil), CICADA (Cambodia), PEN International (Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia), Gerar–The Creative Hub (Ethiopia), Association for the Defence of Women and Peoples (Angola), Culture-Developpement (Togo), Ikirenga Artistic Freedom Initiative (Rwanda), Meemz Arts Initiative (Yemen), Action for Hope (Sudan, South Sudan), Safe Havens (global) and Freemuse (global).

Key figures

According to the UNESCO 2022 Global Report Re|Shaping Policies for Creativity

  • Only 27% of the 152 State Parties to the UNESCO 2005 Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions has developed or supported safe spaces for artists. 
  • Just over half of the Parties to the 2005 Convention (53%) have independent bodies that receive complaints or monitor violations and restrictions to artistic freedom. 

According to Freemuse report, in 2021 

  • More than 1,200 violations of artistic freedom worldwide were documented 
  • A record number of 39 artists were reportedly killed in 12 countries 
  • 119 artists were imprisoned in 24 countries 


UNESCO 2023 Publication supported by the UNESCO-Aschberg programme for artists and cultural professionals and by the UNESCO Multi-Donor Programme on Freedom of Expression and Safety of journalists.