Cultural genocide

Cultural genocide

Cultural genocide is a term used to describe the deliberate destruction of the cultural heritage of a people or nation for political, military, religious, ideological, ethnical, or racial reasons.

Relevance to international law

As early as 1933, Raphael Lemkin proposed a cultural component to genocide, which he called "vandalism". However, the drafters of the 1948 Genocide Convention dropped that concept from their consideration. The legal definition of genocide was confined to acts of physical or biological destruction with intent to destroy a racial, religious, ethnic or national group as such.

Article 7 of the United Nations Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (26 August 1994) uses the phrase "cultural genocide" but does not define what it means. The complete article reads 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.

It should be noted that this declaration is only a draft. Were it to pass, it would be a "soft law" instrument and would not present binding legal obligations on UN parties.

Despite its lack of legal currency, the term has 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 destruction the user of the phrase disapproves of, without regard for the criterion of intent to destroy an affected group as such.

Examples of the term's usage

Cultural advocates have leveled charges of "cultural genocide" in connection with various events:

  • 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-site in Julfa, and Azerbaijan's subsequent denial that the site had ever existed, has been widely written about as being an example of cultural genocide.
  • When Turkey's Minister of Cultural Affairs opened the Aghtamar church in eastern Anatolia as a museum, critics objected to the use of its Turkified name, seeing in it a denial of the region's Armenian heritage and as a sort of "cultural genocide".
  • Some scholars have discussed whether "cultural genocide" properly describes Japan's suppression of Korean language, traditions, and names, and the teaching of Korean history during the Japanese occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945.
  • Some right-wing activists have applied the term to what they see as a downfall of Western civilization due to liberal immigration policies, diversity, and multiculturalism.
  • In March 2008 the Dalai Lama accused China of practising cultural genocide against the peoples of Tibet.

See also


External links

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