Looting of Polish artwork at the Zachęta building by German forces during the Occupation of Poland, 1944

Cultural genocide or culturicide is a concept which was proposed 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".


Among many other potential reasons, cultural genocide may be committed for religious motives (e.g., iconoclasm); as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing 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".

Binding international law

Cultural property

See also: Banner of Peace and Blue Shield International

Cultural genocide involves the eradication and destruction of cultural artifacts, such as books, artworks, and structures.[5]

Intangible cultural heritage

Cultural genocide may also involve forced assimilation, as well as the suppression of a language or cultural activities that do not conform to the destroyer's notion of what is appropriate.[7]



The notion of 'cultural genocide' was acknowledged as early as 1944, when lawyer Raphael Lemkin distinguished a cultural component of genocide. The term itself did not emerge until later.[8] 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.[9] The Dalai Lama would later use the term in 1993[10] and he would use it again in 2008.[11]

Proposed inclusion in the UN's DRIP

See also: United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Those who drafted the 1948 Genocide Convention initially considered using of the term, but later dropped it from inclusion.[12][13][14]

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.[15] 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."[16]

List of cultural genocides

The term has been used to describe the destruction of cultural heritage in connection with various events which mostly occurred during the 20th century:


When at the mid-19th century, primary school is made compulsory all across the State, it is also made clear that only French will be taught, and the teachers will severely punish any pupil speaking in patois. The aim of the French educational system will consequently not be to dignify the pupils' natural humanity, developing their culture and teaching them to write their language, but rather to humiliate them and morally degrade them for the simple fact of being what tradition and their nature made them. The self-proclaimed country of the "human rights" will then ignore one of man's most fundamental rights, the right to be himself and speak the language of his nation. And with that attitude France, the "grande France" that calls itself the champion of liberty, will pass the 20th century, indifferent to the timid protest movements of the various linguistic communities it submitted and the literary prestige they may have given birth to.


France, that under Franco's reign was seen here [in Catalonia] as the safe haven of freedom, has the miserable honour of being the [only] State of Europe—and probably the world – that succeeded best in the diabolical task of destroying its own ethnic and linguistic patrimony and moreover, of destroying human family bonds: many parents and children, or grandparents and grandchildren, have different languages, and the latter feel ashamed of the first because they speak a despicable patois, and no element of the grandparents' culture has been transmitted to the younger generation, as if they were born out of a completely new world. This is the French State that has just entered the 21st century, a country where stone monuments and natural landscapes are preserved and respected, but where many centuries of popular creation expressed in different tongues are on the brink of extinction. The "gloire" and the "grandeur" built on a genocide. No liberty, no equality, no fraternity: just cultural extermination, this is the real motto of the French Republic.



North America

See also: Cultural genocide in the United States and Trail of Tears

See also


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  2. ^ a b "Genocide Museum | The Armenian genocide Museum-institute". www.genocide-museum.am. Retrieved 10 October 2019.
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  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.
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Further reading