Libraries not only depend on human rights to deliver their services – they actively contribute to their realisation. The values of libraries and many aspects of their missions are interlinked with ensuring access to information and freedom of expression. Both of these fundamental freedoms are also aspects of cultural rights. For their many actions to enable participation in cultural life, libraries can be considered cultural rights defenders.

Bringing greater viability to cultural rights, as well as attention to the violation of these rights, is the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for Cultural Rights. Working within the Office for the High Commissioner on Human Rights, this Special Rapporteur monitors key issues related to cultural rights and works to foster a greater understanding of why they are critical to sustainable peace, equality, and development.

2023 Report: Cultural Rights of Migrants

The current mandate holder, Dr Alexandra Xanthaki, presented her most recent report to the Human Rights Council on 15 March. This report focusses on the right of migrants to take part in cultural life – both that of their home and present countries.

Read the report here. It is available in all official UN languages.

To inform this report, IFLA provided a consultation which highlighted how libraries around the world help uphold the rights of displaced people. This consultation drew heavily on the work being carried out by IFLA’s Library Services for People with Special Needs Section towards the creation of the International Guidelines for Library Services to Displaced Persons. Examples of good practices collected from a survey and in-depth interviews carried out in the process of creating these Guidelines were also shared with the Special Rapporteur.

IFLA’s consultation can be accessed below.

IFLA Consultation on Cultural Rights and Migration

This consultation was provided by IFLA in response to a call for input from the Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights on the topic of Cultural Rights and Migration. It has informed a report of the Special Rapporteur presented to the Human Rights Council in March 2023.

Report Highlights

The Special Rapporteur stressed that international human rights law protects cultural rights, regardless of the legal status of migrants. This means that individuals are not required to be legal residents of a country in order to enjoy their right to cultural participation.

She noted how important accessing information is for newly arrived migrants. In terms of cultural rights, this especially pertains to communicating information on the creation, production, and dissemination of cultural expressions.

Overall, the report stresses that, although other aspects of human rights law take more urgent precedence, the cultural rights of migrants must not be forgotten. The benefits of upholding cultural rights reaches beyond vulnerable groups and benefits society more broadly.

Common Public Spaces

The Special Rapporteur highlighted the important role that intercultural exchange and interaction have in diverse and democratic societies.

The cultural expressions of displaced people and minority groups therefore cannot be allowed to exist only in separate, closed off spaces. The positive effect that migration can have on society can only be realized through shared public spaces.

“Creating shared public spaces where interactions happen organically is essential.”

For libraries, especially public libraries, this is a call to action for decisionmakers to support their work in providing free-to-access public spaces that benefit all – including displaced populations. IFLA and UNESCO have equally recognised this importance in the 2022 IFLA-UNESCO Public Library Manifesto.

Library Examples

Although the State bears the responsibility for upholding human rights, civil society actors and institutions like libraries also have a critical role to play in delivering services directly.

The report highlights examples of how libraries offer specific services to help migrants access information and navigate their new homes, while also offering community and support networks and additional integration, education, and cultural enrichment programmes.

Beyond services targeted to migrants, the report also mentions how libraries help record memory and experiences. This both integrates migrant experiences in national memory and helps the local population understand the experiences of newcomers.

The example included here is the two-year intercultural storytelling project, Refugee Lives: a Million Stories, initiated and led by Roskilde Libraries [Denmark], in collaboration with Malmö [Sweden] and Cologne [Germany] public libraries and the Future Library in Athens [Greece].


The report ends with a number of recommendations for States to improve provisions for upholding the cultural rights of migrants. Some of these recommendations pertain directly to libraries, or otherwise could be interpreted to include libraries of all kinds.

Directly relevant is the recommendation for decisionmakers to integrate services for people on the move into the mission statement of libraries. In this, it is recommended that the mission statement emphasizes cooperation with multicultural communities as well as ensuring equitable access for all to opportunities for support, learning, and connection.

States are encouraged to review their current cultural frameworks. Notably, the extent to which migrants can access the right to information, including through their access to cultural institutions and the Internet.

The report recommends that States review the existence of common public spaces, and continues to nurtures such spaces. They are encouraged to remove any barriers, restrictions, and obstacles to these spaces to enable meaningful interculturalism.

States are recommended to review how migrants are represented in their communities and cultural institutions. They should take steps to enhance the presence of cultural diversity in education and provide educators with material and resources that represent the history and memory of migration and migrant groups.

From a lifelong learning approach, programmes in cultural and memory institutions should be devises to help host populations learn about the histories, realities and cultures of migrants. Diversity should also be considered in staffing and decision-making of public institutions.

For libraries, their impact on these recommendations can help further advocacy efforts to establish, support, and grow initiatives that support their users – including those from displaced populations.

IFLA encourages libraries to refer to reports such as this from the Special Rapporteur for Cultural Rights in advocating for the transversal impact of libraries on defending human rights for all.