The Physical, Biological and Cultural Dimensions of Genocide: An Expansive Interpretation of the Crime?


  • Pablo Gavira Díaz International Nuremberg Principles Academy



genocide, cultural genocide, persecution, war crime, protected groups, genocide convention


This paper deconstructs the definition of genocide provided for by Article II of the Genocide Convention with a view to assessing whether an expanding scope of the crime is possible. The current definition of genocide does not seem to correspond with the original conception of the term, which finds its roots in Raphael Lemkin’s writings, the “father” of the Genocide Convention. Lemkin envisaged three forms of genocide, namely physical, biological, and cultural, so as to convey a concrete idea of the number of faces that genocide could show over time. The drafters of the Genocide Convention largely discussed the three-dimensional structure of genocide, which, in the end, did not reach a consensus when pondering the inclusion of a cultural component within the so-called crime of crimes. This notwithstanding, there are still some remnants of the cultural dimension within the current definition of genocide, although it reads differently as initially envisioned.

In addition, this paper introduces the reader to some of the examples that in recent years have dealt explicitly or implicitly with the question of ‘cultural genocide’, whose definition has never been clearly determined. This is certainly problematic inasmuch as there is no unanimity in the scope of the term, as was evidenced throughout the discussions which preceded the adoption of the Genocide Convention. Broadly speaking, the notion of ‘cultural genocide’ appears to refer to an intent to destroy, entirely, or partially, the cultural traits which characterise the modus vivendi of a certain group, encompassing both tangible and intangible attributes. In this regard, this article also considers different alternatives which might circumvent the strict definition of genocide in order to subsume similar offences against the cultural characteristics of a group within other serious crimes under international law.




How to Cite

Gavira Díaz, P. (2022). The Physical, Biological and Cultural Dimensions of Genocide: An Expansive Interpretation of the Crime?. Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe, 21(1), 111–151.