Puneet Varma (Editor)

Cultural genocide

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit

Cultural genocide or cultural cleansing is a concept that lawyer Raphael Lemkin distinguished in 1944 as a component of genocide. The term was considered in the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and juxtaposed next to the term "ethnocide," but it was removed in the final document, and simply replaced with "genocide." The precise definition of "cultural genocide" remains unclear. Some ethnologists, such as Robert Jaulin, use the term "ethnocide" as a substitute for "cultural genocide", although this usage has been criticized as engendering a risk of confusing ethnicity with culture.



As early as 1944, lawyer Raphael Lemkin distinguished a cultural component of genocide, which since then has become known as "cultural genocide". The term has since acquired rhetorical value as a phrase that is used to protest against the destruction of cultural heritage. It is also often misused as a catchphrase to condemn any form of destruction which the speaker disapproves of, without regard for the criterion of intent to destroy an affected group as such.

Proposed usage

The drafters of the 1948 Genocide Convention considered the use of the term, but later dropped it from their consideration. The legal definition of genocide is unspecific about the exact way in which genocide is committed, only stating that it is destruction with the intent to destroy a racial, religious, ethnic or national group as such.

Article 7 of a 1994 draft of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples used the phrase "cultural genocide" but did not define what it meant. The complete article in the draft read as follows:

Indigenous peoples have the collective and individual right not to be subjected to ethnocide and cultural genocide, including prevention of and redress for:

This wording only appeared in a draft. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly during its 62nd session at UN Headquarters in New York City on 13 September 2007, but only mentions "genocide, or any other act of violence" in Article 7 (the only reference to genocide in the document). The concept of "ethnocide" and "cultural genocide" was removed in the version adopted by the General Assembly, but the sub-points noted above from the draft were retained (with slightly expanded wording) in Article 8 that speaks to "the right not to be subject to forced assimilation".

In practice

It involves the eradication and destruction of cultural artifacts, such as books, artworks, and structures, and the suppression of cultural activities that do not conform to the destroyer's notion of what is appropriate. Motives may include religious ones (e.g., iconoclasm), as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing in order to remove the evidence of a people from a specific locale or history, as part of an effort to implement a Year Zero, in which the past and its associated culture is deleted and history is "reset", the suppression of an indigenous culture by invaders and colonisers, along with many other potential reasons.

From 2014 to 2015, in areas that it controls, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has carried out a campaign of cultural cleansing, destroying artifacts and historical sites in a campaign of iconoclasm waged against what it believes is idolatry. Included in this campaign of destruction are Shi'ite Islamic sites, including shrines and mosques, and artifacts that do not conform to ISIL's interpretation of Islam.

Examples of the term's usage

The term has been used to describe the destruction of cultural heritage in connection with various events:

  • The persecution of Bahá'ís in Iran as a case of religious persecution has been called a cultural genocide by some scholars.
  • In reference to the Axis powers (primarily, Nazi Germany)'s policies towards some nations during World War II (ex. the destruction of Polish culture)
  • In 2007, a Canadian Member of Parliament criticized the Ministry of Indian Affairs' destruction of documents regarding the treatment of First Nations members as "cultural genocide."
  • The destruction by Azerbaijan of thousands of medieval Armenian gravestones at a cemetery in Julfa, and Azerbaijan's subsequent denial that the site had ever existed, has been cited as an example of cultural genocide by some scholars.
  • Branch of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, the German occupation of Poland and the Japanese occupation of Korea have also been cited as cases of cultural genocide.
  • In 1989, Robert Badinter, a French criminal lawyer known for his stance against the death penalty, used the term "cultural genocide" on a television show to describe what he said was the disappearance of Tibetan culture in the presence of the 14th Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama would later use the term himself in 1993 and again in 2008.
  • Historian Jean Brownfield cited the 1638 Treaty of Hartford as a "clear and explicit historical example of a cultural genocide, in which the Pequot language and name were outlawed and there was a clearly stated intention that this cultural entity would simply cease to exist."
  • Existing attempts by the Chinese Communist Party to suppress the usage of Cantonese
  • The Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada concluded that the Canadian Indian residential school system "can best be described as 'cultural genocide.'"
  • References

    Cultural genocide Wikipedia

    Similar Topics
    T Bird Gang
    Mohamed Makhzangi
    Steve McKevitt