Cultural genocide

Cultural genocide or cultural cleansing is a concept which was distinguished by lawyer Raphael Lemkin in 1944 as a component of genocide.[1] Though the precise definition of cultural genocide remains contested, the Armenian Genocide Museum defines it as "acts and measures undertaken to destroy nations' or ethnic groups' culture through spiritual, national, and cultural destruction."[2]

Some ethnologists, such as Robert Jaulin, use the term ethnocide as a substitute for cultural genocide,[3] although this usage has been criticized as risking the confusion between ethnicity and culture.[4] Juxtaposed next to ethnocide, cultural genocide was considered in the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; however, it was removed in the final document and simply replaced with "genocide."


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.[5]

As such, cultural genocide involves the eradication and destruction of cultural artifacts, such as books, artworks, and structures, as well as the suppression of cultural activities that do not conform to the destroyer's notion of what is appropriate.[6]

Among many other potential reasons, cultural genocide may be committed for religious motives (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 notion of 'cultural genocide' has been acknowledged as early as 1944, when lawyer Raphael Lemkin distinguished a cultural component of genocide. The term itself would not emerge until later.[7] 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.[8] The Dalai Lama would later use the term in 1993[9] and he would use it again in 2008.[10]

Proposed inclusion in the UN's DRIPEdit

Those who drafted the 1948 Genocide Convention initially considered using of the term, but later dropped it from inclusion.[11][12][13]

Article 7 of a 1994 draft of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIP) uses the phrase "cultural genocide" but does not define what it means.[14] 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:
(a) Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities;
(b) Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources;
(c) Any form of population transfer which has the aim or effect of violating or undermining any of their rights;
(d) Any form of assimilation or integration by other cultures or ways of life imposed on them by legislative, administrative or other measures;
(e) Any form of propaganda directed against them.

This wording only ever appeared in a draft. The DRIP—which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly during its 62nd session at UN Headquarters in New York City on 13 September 2007—only makes reference to genocide once, when it mentions "genocide, or any other act of violence" in Article 7. Though the concept of "ethnocide" and "cultural genocide" was removed in the version adopted by the General Assembly, the sub-points from the draft noted above were retained (with slightly expanded wording) in Article 8 that speaks to "the right not to be subject to forced assimilation."[15]

List of cultural genocidesEdit

The term has been used to describe the destruction of cultural heritage in connection with various events listed mainly from the 20th century:


  • In reference to the Axis powers (primarily, Nazi Germany)'s policies towards some nations during World War II (ex. the German occupation of Poland & the destruction of Polish culture).[16] [17]
  • In the Bosnian War during the Siege of Sarajevo, cultural genocide was committed by Bosnian Serb forces. The National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina was specifically targeted and besieged by cannons positioned all around the city. The National Library was completely destroyed in the fire, along with 80 percent of its contents. Some 3 million books were destroyed, along with hundreds of original documents from the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian monarchy.[18]
  • 2004 unrest in Kosovo.[19] In an urgent appeal,[20] issued on 18 March by the extraordinary session of the Expanded Convocation of the Holy Synod of Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC), it was reported that a number of Serbian churches and shrines in Kosovo had been damaged or destroyed by rioters. At least 30 sites were completely destroyed, more or less destroyed, or further destroyed (sites that had been previously damaged).[21]
  • After the Greek Civil War, Greek authorities had conducted a cultural genocide upon Slavic Macedonians in Northern Greece through prohibition of communication in Slavic languages, renaming of cities, towns and villages (Lerin/Лерин to Florina etc.), deportation of Slavic Macedonians, particularly women and children, as well as many other actions intended to marginalize and oppress the Slavic Macedonians residing in Northern Greece. While some of these actions had been motivated by political ideology, as many of the Slavic Macedonians had sided with the defeated communists, the majority of actions were committed in order to wipe out any traces of Slavic Macedonians or their culture in Northern Greece.[22][23][24]
  • Francoist Spain: the alleged prohibition of the use of minority languages such as Catalan in the public space, from schools to shops, public transport, or even in the streets, the banning of the use of Catalan birth names for children, the persecution and destruction of books in Catalan language,[citation needed] renaming of cities, streets and all toponyms from Catalan to Spanish, and the abolition of government and all cultural institutions in Catalonia, with the goal of total cultural suppression and assimilation.[25]
    • John D. Hargreaves writes that "A policy of cultural genocide was implemented: the Catalan language and key symbols of Catalan independent identity and nationhood, such as the flag (the senyera), the national hymn ('Els Segadors') and the national dance (the sardana), were proscribed. Any sign of independence or opposition, in fact, was brutally suppressed. Catalan identity and consequently the Catalan nation were threatened with extinction."[26]
    • Although Josep Pla and other Catalan authors published books in Catalan in the 1950s, and even there were prizes of Catalan Literature during Francoism like the Premi Sant Jordi de novel·la, editorial production in Catalan never recovered the peak levels it had reached before Spanish Civil War [27] [1]. A prominent case of popularization of Catalan was Joan Manuel Serrat: although he could compose Catalan songs and gained certain notoriety, he was not allowed to sing in Catalan in the Eurovision contest its La, la, la. theme, and was replaced by Spanish singer Massiel, who won the Eurovision contest [2]. Overall, despite some tolerance as Franco's regime relaxed in the late 60s and early 70s, Catalan and the rest of minority languages of Spain were strictly banned from higher education, administration and all official endeavors, thus being in practice confined to the private sphere and domestic uses (see Language policies of Francoist Spain).
  • Ireland has been described as enduring cultural genocide under British rule, which aimed to eradicate the Irish language, Irish culture, and the Catholic faith.[28][29][30] Ireland's cultural genocide is discussed in the Dictionary of Genocide (2007), as well as by Christopher Murray (1997) in reference to the suppression of the Irish language;[31] Hilary M. Carey (1997) in reference to the transportation of Irish convicts to Australia;[32] and by Tomás Mac Síomóin (2018).[33]



North AmericaEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Bilsky, Leora; Klagsbrun, Rachel (23 July 2018). "The Return of Cultural Genocide?". European Journal of International Law. 29 (2): 373–396. doi:10.1093/ejil/chy025. ISSN 0938-5428. Retrieved 2 May 2020.
  2. ^ "Genocide Museum | The Armenian Genocide Museum-institute". Retrieved 10 October 2019.
  3. ^ Robert Jaulin (1970). La paix blanche : introduction à l'ethnocide (in French). Éditions du Seuil.
  4. ^ Gerard Delanty; Krishan Kumar (29 June 2006). The SAGE Handbook of Nations and Nationalism. SAGE. p. 326. ISBN 978-1-4129-0101-7. Retrieved 28 February 2013. The term 'ethnocide' has in the past been used as a replacement for cultural genocide (Palmer 1992; Smith 1991:30-3), with the obvious risk of confusing ethnicity and culture.
  5. ^ "Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article 2, 78 U.N.T.S. 277". 9 December 1948. Archived from the original on 8 April 2000.
  6. ^ "Cultural Genocide, Stolen Lives: The Indigenous Peoples of Canada and the Indian Residential Schools". Facing History and Ourselves. Facing History and Ourselves. Retrieved 3 December 2019.
  7. ^ Raphael Lemkin, Acts Constituting a General (Transnational) Danger Considered as Offences Against the Law of Nations (J. Fussell trans., 2000) (1933); Raphael Lemkin, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, p. 91 (1944).
  8. ^ Institut National de l'Audiovisuel (21 April 1989). Les droits de l'homme [Human rights]. Apostrophes (Videotape) (in French). Retrieved 2 May 2015.
  9. ^ "10th March Statements Archive". Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  10. ^ "'Eighty killed' in Tibetan unrest". BBC News. 16 March 2008.
  11. ^ Hirad Abtahi; Philippa Webb (2008). The Genocide Convention. BRILL. p. 731. ISBN 978-90-04-17399-6. Retrieved 22 February 2013.
  12. ^ Lawrence Davidson (8 March 2012). Cultural Genocide. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 978-0-8135-5344-3. Retrieved 22 February 2013.
  13. ^ See Prosecutor v. Krstic, Case No. IT-98-33-T (Int'l Crim. Trib. Yugo. Trial Chamber 2001), at para. 576.
  14. ^ Draft United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples drafted by The Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities Recalling resolutions 1985/22 of 29 August 1985, 1991/30 of 29 August 1991, 1992/33 of 27 August 1992, 1993/46 of 26 August 1993, presented to the Commission on Human Rights and the Economic and Social Council at 36th meeting 26 August 1994 and adopted without a vote.
  15. ^ "United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples" (PDF). United Nations. 13 September 2007. p. 10. Retrieved 9 June 2015.
  16. ^ William Schabas, Genocide in international law: the crimes of crimes, Cambridge University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-521-78790-4, Google Print, p.179
  17. ^ a b CGS 1st Workshop: "Cultural Genocide" and the Japanese Occupation of Korea (archive) "During Germany's occupation of Poland (1939-1945) and Japan's occupation of Korea (1910-1945), the prohibition of use of the native tongue, the renaming of people and places, the removal of indigenous people from institutions of higher education, the destruction of cultural facilities, the denial of freedom of religious faith, and the changing of cultural education all took place. The instances of German cultural genocide, which Lemkin took as his basis, cannot be ignored when conducting comparative research.""One of the most striking features of Japan's occupation of Korea is the absence of an awareness of Korea as a "colony", and the absence of an awareness of Koreans as a "separate ethnicity". As a result, it is difficult to prove whether or not the leaders of Japan aimed for the eradication of the Korean race."
  18. ^ Welle (, Deutsche. "Burned library symbolizes multiethnic Sarajevo | DW | 25 August 2012". Deutsche Welle.
  19. ^ J̌овић, Саво Б. (2007). Етничко чишћење и културни геноцид на Косову и Метохији: Сведочанства о страдању Српске православне цркве и српског народа од 1945. до 2005. год (in Serbian). Информативно-издавачка установа Српске православне цркве. ISBN 978-86-7758-016-2.
  20. ^ Appeal from the extraordinary session of the Expanded Convocation of the Holy Synod of Serbian Orthodox Church
  21. ^ ERP KiM Info 2004.
  22. ^ "Denying Ethnic Identity". Human Rights Watch. 1 May 1994. Retrieved 10 May 2021.
  23. ^ "Greece's invisible minority - the Macedonian Slavs". BBC News. 24 February 2019. Retrieved 10 May 2021.
  24. ^ wmca2017 (21 June 2017). "Macedonian Genocide by Greeks | World Macedonian Congress -Australia". World Macedonian Congress - Australia. Retrieved 10 May 2021.
  25. ^ 1920-2008., Benet, Josep (1978). Catalunya sota el règim franquista (1. reedició ed.). Barcelona: Blume. ISBN 847031064X. OCLC 4777662.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  26. ^ R.), Hargreaves, John (John E. (2000). Freedom for Catalonia? : Catalan nationalism, Spanish identity, and the Barcelona Olympic Games. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521586153. OCLC 51028883.
  27. ^ Benet, Josep (1979). Cataluña bajo el régimen franquista (1. ed.). Barcelona: Blume. ISBN 84-7031-144-1. OCLC 7188603.
  28. ^ "Cultural genocide: The Broken Harp, Identity and Language in Modern Ireland, by Tomás Mac Síomóin". The Irish Times.
  29. ^ "The Guardian view on... cultural genocide". openDemocracy.
  30. ^ Jeggit (20 February 2018). "Bad Language: Gaelic and Britain's Cultural Genocide".
  31. ^ Murray, Christopher (6 June 2019). Twentieth-Century Irish Drama: Mirror Up to Nation. Syracuse University Press. ISBN 9780815606437 – via Google Books.
  32. ^ Carey, Hilary M. (1 July 1996). Believing in Australia: A cultural history of religions. Allen & Unwin. ISBN 9781742696577 – via Google Books.
  33. ^ Totten, Samuel; Bartrop, Paul Robert; Jacobs, Steven L. (6 June 2019). Dictionary of Genocide. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9780313346422 – via Google Books.
  34. ^ Ghanea-Hercock, Nazila (1997). "Review of secondary literature in English on recent persecutions of Bahá'ís in Iran". Bahá'í Studies Review. Association for Baha'i Studies English-Speaking Europe. 7. Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  35. ^ Nader Saiedi (1 May 2008). Gate of the Heart: Understanding the Writings of the Báb. Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press. p. 377. ISBN 978-1-55458-035-4. Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  36. ^ Frelick, Bill (Fall 1987). "Iranian Baha'is and Genocide Early Warning". Social Science Record. 24 (2): 35–37. Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  37. ^ History Today, November 2007, "Sacred Stones Silenced in Azerbaijan"
  38. ^ Switzerland-Armenia Parliamentary Group, "The Destruction of Jugha", Bern, 2006.
  39. ^ "Genocide Museum | The Armenian Genocide Museum-institute". Retrieved 10 October 2019.
  40. ^ "Cultural Genocide Funds ISIS Art-for-Weapons Trade". Charged Affairs. 7 March 2017.
  41. ^ Cronin-Furman, Kate. "China Has Chosen Cultural Genocide in Xinjiang—For Now". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  42. ^ Kuo, Lily (7 May 2019). "Revealed: new evidence of China's mission to raze the mosques of Xinjiang". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 May 2019.
  43. ^ Wilkie, Meredith (April 1997). "Bringing them Home: report of the national inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families - Chapter 13". Australian Human Rights Commission. Retrieved 29 April 2021. The Australian practice of Indigenous child removal involved both systematic racial discrimination and genocide as defined by international law
  44. ^ Jorge Barrera (25 April 2007). "'Genocide' target of fed coverup: MP". Toronto Sun. Archived from the original on 3 May 2015.
  45. ^ "Canada's Forced Schooling of Aboriginal Children Was 'Cultural Genocide,' Report Finds". The New York Times. 2 June 2015. Retrieved 2 June 2015.
  46. ^ Fine, Sean (28 May 2015). "Chief Justice says Canada attempted 'cultural genocide' on aboriginals". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 30 December 2018.