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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.
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:
- (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 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”.
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.
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.
- 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 reference to Francoist Spain, the 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, 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: “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.“
- 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.
- 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.”
- At least one million members of China’s Muslim Uyghurs minority have been detained in mass detention camps, termed “reeducation camps“, aimed at changing the political thinking of detainees, their identities, and their religious beliefs.
- Armenian cultural heritage in Turkey
- 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.'”
- ISIL forced conversions in its territory, destruction of ancient Assyrian, Roman, Yazidi and Christian heritage and museums.
- In 2015, Beverly McLachlin, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, stated in a speech to the Global Centre for Pluralism that Canada’s historical treatment of Indigenous peoples was an attempt at cultural genocide, and “the worst stain on Canada’s human-rights record”.
- Hmong persecution in Laos
- List of destroyed heritage
- Cultural conflict
- Cultural imperialism
- Culture war
- Forced assimilation
- Language death
- Religious cleansing
- Stolen Generations
- Institutional racism
- Chen Quanguo
- Robert Jaulin (1970). La paix blanche : introduction à l’ethnocide (in French). Éditions du Seuil.
- 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.
- 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).
- Hirad Abtahi; Philippa Webb (2008). The Genocide Convention. BRILL. p. 731. ISBN 978-90-04-17399-6. Retrieved 22 February 2013.
- Lawrence Davidson (8 March 2012). Cultural Genocide. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 978-0-8135-5344-3. Retrieved 22 February 2013.
- See Prosecutor v. Krstic, Case No. IT-98-33-T (Int’l Crim. Trib. Yugo. Trial Chamber 2001), at para. 576.
- “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.
- 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.
- “United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples” (PDF). United Nations. 13 September 2007. p. 5. Retrieved 9 June 2015.
- 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.
- 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.
- Frelick, Bill (Fall 1987). “Iranian Baha’is and Genocide Early Warning”. Social Science Record. 24 (2): 35–37. Retrieved 3 March 2013.
- William Schabas, Genocide in international law: the crimes of crimes, Cambridge University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-521-78790-4, Google Print, p.179
- 1920-2008., Benet, Josep, (1978-). Catalunya sota el règim franquista (1. reedició ed.). Barcelona: Blume. ISBN 847031064X. OCLC 4777662. Check date values in:
- 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.
- Jorge Barrera (25 April 2007). “‘Genocide’ target of fed coverup: MP”. Toronto Sun. Archived from the original on 3 May 2015.
- History Today, November 2007, “Sacred Stones Silenced in Azerbaijan”
- Switzerland-Armenia Parliamentary Group, “The Destruction of Jugha”, Bern, 2006.
- 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.”
- Institut National de l’Audiovisuel (21 April 1989). Les droits de l’homme [Human rights]. Apostrophes (Videotape) (in French). Ina.fr. Retrieved 2 May 2015.
- “10th March Statements Archive”. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
- “‘Eighty killed’ in Tibetan unrest”. BBC News. 16 March 2008.
- Dr. Jean F. Brownfield, “The Dark Pits of American History” (Forward; Ch. 3)
- Cronin-Furman, Kate. “China Has Chosen Cultural Genocide in Xinjiang—For Now”. Foreign Policy. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
- “Canada’s Forced Schooling of Aboriginal Children Was ‘Cultural Genocide,’ Report Finds”. NY Times. 2 June 2015. Retrieved 2 June 2015.
- “Cultural Genocide Funds ISIS Art-for-Weapons Trade”. Charged Affairs. 7 March 2017.
- Fine, Sean (28 May 2015). “Chief Justice says Canada attempted ‘cultural genocide’ on aboriginals”. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 30 December 2018.