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Cultural Genocide and Key International Instruments: Framing the Indigenous Experience

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Since its introduction by Raphael Lemkin during the Second World War, cultural genocide has served as a conceptual framework for the non-physical destruction of a group. Following a vigorous debate over the legitimacy of the concept by states fearing prosecution for ethnocidal acts, namely Australia, the United States, Sweden and Canada, cultural genocide/ethnocide was abrogated from the 1948 Genocide Convention. This pivotal move has shifted the frame of analysis and has sparked a contentious debate about the distinguishing elements of the physical destruction of a people and their cultural dissipation. The achievements of the indigenous peoples’ movement throughout the 1980s reignited the debate surrounding cultural genocide within the international arena. This article is both a survey of cultural genocide of indigenous populations of North America, South America and Australia, as well as the role of indigenous social movements within the international arena. It analyzes the development of cultural genocide within international law by Raphael Lemkin, its subsequent debate by the United Nations’ Ad Hoc Committee on Genocide, its omission from the Genocide Convention, and its reintroduction by indigenous peoples’ mobilization to the international arena. The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (Philippines), the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the various findings of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia relating to cultural genocide, the conference findings of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe relating to minorities, along with Lemkin’s original reference to the term will be used as frameworks for illuminating the extent and gravity of such crimes.

Affiliations: 1: PhD Candidate, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK


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