It has been suggested that this article be merged with Ethnocide. (Discuss) Proposed since June 2024.
Looting of Polish artwork at the Zachęta building by German forces during the Occupation of Poland, 1944

Cultural genocide or culturicide is a concept described by Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin in 1944, in the same book that coined the term genocide.[1] The destruction of culture was a central component in Lemkin's formulation of genocide.[1] Though the precise definition of cultural genocide remains contested, the United Nations makes it clear that genocide is "the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group... it does not include political groups or so called 'cultural genocide'" and that "Cultural destruction does not suffice, nor does an intention to simply disperse a group" thus this is what "makes the crime of genocide so unique".[2] While the Armenian Genocide Museum defines culturicide as "acts and measures undertaken to destroy nations' or ethnic groups' culture through spiritual, national, and cultural destruction",[3] which appears to be essentially the same as ethnocide. The drafters of the 1948 Genocide Convention initially considered using the term, but later dropped it from inclusion.[4][5][6]

Culturicide involves the eradication and destruction of cultural artifacts, such as books, artworks, and structures.[7] The issue is addressed in multiple international treaties, including the Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute, which define war crimes associated with the destruction of culture. 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] Among many other potential reasons, cultural genocide may be committed for religious motives (e.g., iconoclasm which is based on aniconism); as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing in an attempt 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".

Some ethnologists, such as Robert Jaulin, use the term ethnocide as a substitute for cultural genocide,[8] although this usage has been criticized as risking the confusion between ethnicity and culture.[9]

The term "cultural genocide" has been considered in various draft United Nations declarations, but it is not used by the UN Genocide Convention.[8]



The notion of 'cultural genocide' was acknowledged as early as 1944, when lawyer Raphael Lemkin distinguished a cultural component of genocide.[10] 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.[11] The Dalai Lama would later use the term in 1993[12] and again in 2008.[13]

Proposed inclusion in the UN's DRIP

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

The concept of cultural genocide was originally included in drafts of the 1948 Genocide Convention[4][5][6] but was later dropped due to vetoing by France and Great Britain.[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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  6. ^ a b See Prosecutor v. Krstic, Case No. IT-98-33-T (Int'l Crim. Trib. Yugo. Trial Chamber 2001), at para. 576.
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  10. ^ 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).
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  15. ^ 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.
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Further reading