17 November 2015 – The United Nations Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Karima Bennoune, denounced in the strongest possible terms the 13 November terrorist attacks in Paris, saying they may constitute a crime against humanity in which people were targeted “simply for participating in cultural life.”
“These attacks may constitute a crime against humanity and certainly one which viciously and deliberately targeted sites of arts and leisure where people come together to enjoy their cultural rights,” said Ms. Bennoune in a press release.
She noted that in a statement claiming responsibility for the 13 November attacks, the language used by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – labelling rock fans at the Bataclan theatre “pagans” and the city of Paris the “capital of prostitution and vice” – demonstrated the hateful worldview motivating this violence.
Ms. Bennoune stressed that shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is Great) at the outset of the Bataclan massacre, as has been reported, “grossly misuses a religious pronouncement sacred to hundreds of millions of Muslim believers around the world who abhor such bloodshed, and increases the likelihood of hate and discrimination against them in response.”
Noting that Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Grand Mosque in Paris, called for national unity in the face of the terrible ordeal, Ms. Bennoune echoed his words in expressing her “total compassion” for the victims and their families, adding “International unity will likewise be critical in responding to such threats to culture and to those coming together to make and share it.”
“I extend my solidarity and condolences to the people of Paris and hope they will soon experience a return to security as well as to an environment in which they can fully enjoy their rights and freedoms,” the human rights expert said.
Ms. Bennoune also called on the international community to urgently take all steps needed to assist French authorities in ensuring that any perpetrators still at large were brought to justice in accordance with international law.
“We must all cooperate to protect those around the world who face similar attacks from such gangs of death simply for participating in cultural life,” she stated.
The Special Rapporteur appealed to civil society around the world “to unite in exposing and opposing the fundamentalist ideology motivating such atrocities, as many have done in Muslim majority countries for years, and to support those resisting such fundamentalist assaults on cultural life on the frontlines from West Africa to South Asia and beyond.”
She also expressed her deep personal concern about other recent terrorist attacks that raise grave human rights issues largely beyond the scope of her mandate, such as in Beirut on 12 November and the Russian plane crash in Egypt last month.
“I would like to emphasize the global equality of victims and the unavoidably international nature of the struggle against those who seek to deliberately kill civilians and culture itself, and above all to divide the human family,” the UN rights expert concluded.