What do the arts have to do with human rights?

The arts are a powerful means of expression and have often been used effectively to advocate for political, social and human rights concerns. Individuals can be deeply moved, and communities can be galvanized through music, film or the visual arts. As audiences learned when they attended the 1913 premiere of The Rite of Spring, art has the power to confront.

Learn more about the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as other organizations that work for the expression of human rights in the arts:

The UN: Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) works to offer the best expertise and support to the different human rights monitoring mechanisms in the United Nations system : UN Charter-based bodies, including the Human Rights Council, and bodies created under the international human rights treaties and made up of independent experts mandated to monitor State parties' compliance with their treaty obligations. Learn more about efforts of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at their website.

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Artists for Human Rights


Artists for Human Rights (AFHR) was formed as a non-profit organization with the purpose of promoting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and thus raising human rights awareness around the world by knowing them, demanding them, and defending them.

According to Ann Archer, actress and founder of the organization, "Artists have the ability to touch the society so profoundly that positive change can come about as a direct result. Our greatest thinkers throughout history have always thought outside the box. Artists have always been the greatest advocates of human rights because they know so well how vital it is that the individual's freedom of self-expression is protected. Because artists have the ability to elevate the culture, we as artists, uniting to make known the human rights of all people of the world, can bring about greater peace and tolerance."

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Art Works Projects

Art Works Projects’ mission is to use design and the arts to raise awareness of and educate the public about significant human rights and environmental issues.  Art Works Projects (AWP) provides visual advocacy tools which produce action on human rights crises at the grassroots, media, and policy levels. Conceptualized and created in conjunction with established humanitarian and human rights advocacy organizations, AWP’s art and design exhibitions, books, recordings, films, and other initiatives provide opportunities for large numbers of the general population to engage in ending major human rights violations.

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Musicians for Human Rights

Musicians for Human Rights is a worldwide network of musicians and people working in the field of music who promote a culture of human rights and social change. The organization was founded in 2009 in Rome, Italy, by world-renowned horn player Alessio Allegrini and a group of fellow classical musicians, organizations and humanists active in grassroots efforts on four continents.

The mission of Musicians for Human Rights is to promote a culture of human rights and contribute to social change and to improve the lives of individuals and communities in need through building a global network of musicians and others participating in the world of music.  The first major initiative of the organization is the Human Rights Orchestra (HRO).

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The International Coalition for Arts, Human Rights & Social Justice

The International Coalition for Arts, Human Rights & Social Justice is a network of aligned people and organizations who represent social and cultural movements, human rights organizations, artist collectives and associations, artist residencies, host cities and communities of conscience.

This networking website states "We seek to create an international pluralistic, intersectoral network to exchange ideas and enhance capacity, and to achieve both joint and individual concrete actions within a common vision and strategy and according to common principles.  In keeping with these principles, we will raise awareness of the power of the Arts and Human Rights and Social Justice collaboration/cooperation; strengthen and develop existing projects committed to the Arts, Human Rights and Social Justice; and actively lobby for defined objectives and opportunities jointly or individually identified by coalition members."

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The Advocates for Human Rights

The Advocates for Human Rights helps individuals fully realize their human rights in the United States and around the world. For over 30 years, The Advocates’ programming has touched the lives of refugees and immigrants, women, ethnic and religious minorities, children, and other marginalized communities whose rights are at risk. The Advocates strengthens accountability mechanisms, raises awareness, and fosters tolerance. Adapting traditional human rights methodologies to conduct cutting-edge research, The Advocates has documented human rights practices in 25 countries.

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