Ethnocide is a concept related to genocide. Primarily, the term, close to cultural genocide, is used to describe the destruction of a culture of a people, as opposed to the people themselves. It may involve a linguicide, phenomenons of acculturation, etc. Furthermore, by contrast with a genocide, an ethnocide is not necessarily intentional. However, unlike genocide, which has entered into international law, ethnocide remains primarily the province of ethnologists, who have not yet settled on a single cohesive meaning for the term.

Origin of the word

Raphael Lemkin, the linguist and lawyer who coined "genocide" in 1943 as the union of "the Greek word "genos" (race, tribe) and the Latin "cide" (killing)", also suggested "ethnocide" as an alternative form representing the same concept, using the Greek "ethnos" (nation) in place of "genos". [Lemkin, Raphael. [ Acts Constituting a General (Transnational) Danger Considered as Offences Against the Law of Nations] . Published 14 October, 1933. Accessed 21 May, 2007.] . It does not appear to have entered into wide usage at the time.

Subsequently, ethnocide has been used by some ethnologists to refer to a sub-type of genocide. While the United Nations' 1951 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as acts committed against "national, ethnical, racial or religious" groups, ethnocide, taken in this context, would refer only to crimes motivated by ethnicity.

Another definition in use in some writings suggests that ethnocide could refer to actions which do not lead directly to death or harm of living members of a group, but instead have the long-term effect of reducing birthrates, interfering with education or transmission of culture to future generations of a group, or erasing the group's existence or practices from the historical record. This usage is commonly found in discussions of oppressed indigenous peoples and is sometimes referred to as "culturecide". Under the UN Convention, some of these practices could also overlap with legal definitions of genocide, such as prevention of births within a group or forcibly transferring the children of one ethnic group to another group.

Although international genocide law focuses primarily on direct violent and repressive actions, it is worth noting that Lemkin, in his writings, considered genocide to be a crime above all others not only because of the numbers of persons killed or injured, but because genocide carried with it the intent to render entire, irreplaceable cultures extinct. The broader definition of ethnocide may be useful in addressing perceived shortcomings and restrictions of genocide law and in identifying cultural destruction when it occurs by less violent and less visible means.

UN Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (1994)

Article 7 of the United Nations Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (26 August 1994) [ [ 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.] uses the phrase "cultural genocide" but does not define what it means. It states that:

: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 Declaration is currently only a draft. Were it to pass, it would be a "soft law" instrument and would not present binding legal obligations on UN parties.


Like its related term cultural genocide, the etymology of ethnocide is seen by some as inflammatory weaselword. Those who believe that directly killing, intentionally causing the death of, or physically harming members of a group make genocide unique among crimes may see parallel use of language as an attempt to equate what they consider to be lesser offenses, thereby watering down the particular horrors invoked by the term "genocide".

Robert Jaulin and ethnocide

The French ethnologist Robert Jaulin (1928-1996) redefined the concept of ethnocide in 1970 with his ground-breaking "La paix blanche : introduction à l’ethnocide" ("White Peace: Introduction to Ethnocide"). This capital work, which remains to be translated into English, gives a detailed account of the ethnocide-in-motion suffered by the Bari, an Indian people living on the border between Venezuela and Colombia, in the second half of the sixties, as witnessed by Robert Jaulin himself. Whether conflicting or collaborating among themselves, multiple vectors of ethnocide in place (the Catholic Church and other Christian confessions, the Venezuelan and the Colombian armies, the American oil company Colpet, and all the “little colonists” as Jaulin calls them) converged to the relentless disavowal and destruction of Bari’s culture and society.

In Jaulin’s understanding of the notion, it is not the "means" but the "ends" that define ethnocide. Accordingly, the ethnocide would be the systematic destruction of the thought and the way of life of people different from those who carry out this enterprise of destruction. Whereas the genocide assassinates the people in their body, the ethnocide kills them in their spirit.

Collective and arbitrary murder, systematic abduction of children to raise them away from their parent’s culture, active and degrading religious propaganda, forced work, expulsion from the homeland or compulsory abandonment of cultural habits and social structure, all these practices, described by Robert Jaulin, have in common a deep despise for the other man and woman as representatives of a different cultural world.

Along with a detailed description and analysis of Bari’s case, "La paix blanche" is also a broad reflection on Western civilization’s tendency to disacknowledge, lower and destroy other cultural worlds as it comes in touch with them, while extending its own domain, bringing the focus of the discussion back from the frontiers of Western civilization to its core and its history. As he takes his inquiry back in time, Jaulin shows that the way the West relates to other civilizations is a continuation of the way it has always related to its own inner cultural diversity, from the monotheistic exclusion of the representatives of different and differing cultural spaces (the “other” gods, divinities, entities, etc.) to its reinstatement under the successive garments of Reason, Revolution, Progress or Science.

A long reflection on the dynamics that led to worldwide ethnocide, its different “masks”, its history and, according to him, one of its earliest manifestations, monotheism, led Robert Jaulin to a complete reappraisal of the phenomenal and conceptual fields polarized by the notion of ethnocide.

This reassessment took its final shape in the 1995’s work, "L’univers des totalitarismes : Essai d’ethnologie du “non-être”" (in free translation: "The Universe of Totalitarianisms: An Ethnological Essay on “Non-Being”"). In this book, the notion of “totalitarianism” (which should not be mistaken for Hannah Arendt’s concept of totalitarianism) depicts the underlying dynamics of which ethnocide becomes a manifestation among others.

Robert Jaulin defines totalitarianism as an abstract "scheme" or "machine" of non-relation to cultural otherness characterized by the expansion of "oneself " ("soi") through an election/exclusion logic. The totalitarian machine operates by splitting the universe into its own “agents” on the one side, and its “objects” on the other, whether they be individuals, families, groups, societies or whole civilizations. It proceeds by depriving the later of their quality of "cultural subjects" through the erosion and finally the suppression of their space of tradition and cultural invention, which mediates their relation with themselves, i.e. their reflexivity. With the mutilation of their “field of cultural potentialities”, as Jaulin calls it, the totalitarian dynamics transforms its “objects” into new “agents” of expansion, reduced to a mock self-relation defined by the horizon of a potential "election". However, to become actual this election needs to articulate with a pole of "exclusion"; thus the need of a new expansion of this universe of non-relation, the "universe of totalitarianisms", by definition an endlessly expanding universe whose theoretical limits paradoxically coincide with its own self-destruction.

The election/exclusion logics works by means of pairs of contradictory and, therefore, mutually exclusive terms. Their content may be as varied as the different semantic domains invested by the totalitarian machine: chosen/doomed, religion/magic, truth/falseness, literate/illiterate, savage/civilized, subject/object, intellectual/manual, proletarians/capitalists, science/illusion, subjectivity/objectivity, etc. In all these contradictory pairs, one of the poles “means” to occupy the whole field; but at the same time, its own meaning and “existence” depends on the virtually excluded pole.

According to Robert Jaulin, the asymmetrical relation portrayed by these pairs is but the starting point of totalitarian movement, its static and temporary position. Its dynamics derives from the “wished for” or prospective "inversion" of the relation between its two poles. This may happen through the totalitarian pair defining the pre-existing situation, the design of a new one or, more often, through recovery and adaptation of old formulas.

The recovery of the Marxist proletarian/capitalistic contradictory pair or the even older monotheistic chosen/doomed couple by many Independence or Prophetic Movements in the former European colonies as a means of inverting the pre-existing totalitarian field is an instance of the shifts through which the “totalitarian trajectory” reinvents itself. This example also shows the place of ethnocide within the overall totalitarian dynamics as the dialectical alternate to totalitarian inversion.

Such an inexorable and elementary logic, with its ability to migrate to, pervade and finally destroy ever-differing cultural and social worlds, accounts for the endlessly restarted trajectory of totalitarianism’s two-pole field through time and space.


ee also

*Ethnic cleansing
*Cultural genocide
*Language death

External links

* [ Ethnocide]
* [ Ethnocide] entry in the French "Encyclopædia Universalis", written by Pierre Clastres

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