ETHNOCIDE (© Stuart D Stein. To be published in Encyclopedia of Race and Ethnic Studies, edited by Ellis Cashmore, Routledge, 2003)
The term ethnocide is generally taken to refer to the destruction of members of a group, in whole or in part, identified in terms of their ethnicity. Its use is conceptually and theoretically closely linked with the term genocide.
The term genocide was introduced by Raphäel Lemkin in his Axis Rule in Occupied Europe (1944), as follows: “By ‘genocide’ we mean the destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group. This new word…is made from the Greek word genos (race, tribe) and the Latin cide (killing).” (p.79) In a footnote to this section he notes that: “Another term could be used for the same idea, namely, ethnocide, consisting of the Greek word ‘ethnos’–nation–and the Latin word ‘cide’.”
Although the term has been employed by a number of authorities, its close affinity with the concept genocide, and the somewhat varied and confused amplification of its meaning without adequate reference to the derivative attributions of the Genocide Convention 1948, or Lemkin’s work, tends to render it superfluous for both analytic and descriptive purposes. The genocide convention stipulates quite clearly that the acts associated with it apply to ethnical groups, as well as those demarcated by race, nationality or religion. Accordingly, inasmuch as ethnocide is used to refer to the destruction of members of a group, in whole or in part, on the basis of their ethnicity, this practice would simultaneously constitute genocide.
A contextual examination of some of its referents indicates that the term is often being used to refer to a sub-type of genocide, or to indicate processes that were excluded from inclusion in the 1948 convention on genocide. It is most frequently used in connection with the plight of indigenous peoples. Israel Charny prefers to employ “a specific category of ethnocide for major processes that prohibit or interfere with the natural cycles of reproduction and continuity of a culture or nation, but not to include this type of murderous oppression directly under the generic concept of genocide,” which he prefers to reserve for “actual mass murders that end the lives of people.” In other words, Charny’s use of ethnocide, is homologous with the use of the word culturecide by other authorities, namely, processes that contribute to the disappearance of a culture without necessarily entailing the immediate physical destruction of its bearers.
The close relationship between ethnocide and culturecide is evident in Beardsley’s specification that it refers to the “commission of acts of specified sorts with the intention to extinguish utterly or in substantial part, a culture. Among such ethnocidal acts are the deprivation of the opportunity to use a language, practice a religion, create art in customary ways, maintain basic social institutions, preserve memories and traditions, work in cooperation toward social goals.” The connection with genocide is explicitly developed in his contention that the extermination or dispersion of the sole bearers of a culture “is to commit both genocide and ethnocide.” (Italics added) Other authorities have also commented on the fact that writers have conflated the two terms. Leo Kuper, one of the early writers on genocide, noted that although culturecide was excluded as a crime from inclusion in the 1948 convention, “it is commonly treated as such in much contemporary writing where it is described as ethnocide.”
Given that each authority, or agency, tends to have a somewhat unique notion of what the concept subsumes, and as embellishment is an ongoing characteristics of social scientific work, it is unlikely that the term will prove systematically useful for analytical purposes in the future.
Axis Rule in Occupied Europe by Raphäel Lemkin (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1944)
Genocide, by Leo Kuper (Penguin Books, 1981)“Reflections on Genocide and Ethnocide,” by M C Beardsley, (in R Arens (ed.) Genocide in Paraguay, Temple University Press, 1976)
“Toward a Generic Definition of Genocide,” by Israel W Charny (in G J Andreopoulos (ed.) Genocide: Conceptual and Historical Dimensions, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994)