- Old cultures never die? Cultural genocide in international law
- Book title
- Human rights and conflicts: essays in honour of Bas de Gaay Fortman
- Pages (from-to)
- Cambridge-Antwerp-Portland: Intersentia
- Document type
- Faculty of Law (FdR)
- Amsterdam Center for International Law (ACIL)
In March 2008, the Dalai Lama made a statement on the situation in Tibet, arguing that "whether intentionally or unintentionally, some kind of cultural genocide is taking place", because "the ancient nation of Tibet with its ancient cultural heritage is dying". He made this statement in relation to the crackdown by the Chinese authorities of protests by Tibetans. Other situations in the world, such as that of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories and of the native peoples in the USA, Canada and Australia, have also been called cultural genocides.
But what is cultural genocide? What does this concept mean in legal terms? How does it relate to ‘ordinary genocide’? Genocide is a well-known term in international law. The prohibition of genocide is a norm of ius cogens, which means that it cannot be derogated from and can only be altered by a subsequent norm of ius cogens. It can also be found in many international legal instruments, most well-known of which is the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention).
What could be the legal meaning of cultural genocide? To what extent can the prohibition of cultural genocide be considered a norm of international law? Is it also a norm of ius cogens or perhaps international customary law? Where can evidence of such a norm be found? Cultural genocide as such is not included in any international legal instrument. However, several draft international instruments have referenced cultural genocide. In addition, aspects of a ban on cultural genocide can be found in various other international legal instruments. This contribution explores the status of cultural genocide in international law, including its scope and normative content.