Canada's Violent Legacy

PRIF Report on Problems of Legal and Political Processing of Cultural Genocide

Photo: Paul Joseph via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

Canada made awful headlines in 2021: all across the country human remains were found on the grounds of former residential schools for Indigenous children. The news shocked the world and the Canadian public.

A Truth and Recon­ciliation Commission (TRC) had been appointed already in 2008 to investigate what happened in the men­tioned boarding schools. Since the mid-19th century, and in some cases until the 1990s, around 150,000 children of Indi­genous peoples in Canada were forced by the state to attend such schools, most of which were run by churches, and which were far away from the settle­ment areas of their families. The TRC concluded in 2015: by deli­berately alie­nating the children from their groups of origin, a "cultural genocide" had been committed.

To this day, cultural genocide is not covered by the UN Genocide Con­vention, nor is it codified as a crime in inter­national law. In this new PRIF Report, authors Sabine Mannitz and Friederike Drews offer a look at the genesis of the con­vention and show that the political interests of former colonial powers are largely to blame for this regulatory gap. Taking as an example the cultural genocide committed against Indigenous peoples in Canada, the authors demonstrate how such interests obstruct not only claims for reparations but also the develop­ment of societal dis­course and debates that could serve to process historical injustice and present-day conflicts.

Friederike Drews is pursuing Master’s studies in International Criminal Justice at the Philipps-University in Marburg. She contributed to this report during her internship at the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt. 

The report is also available in German.

Download (in English): Mannitz, Sabine/Drews, Friederike (2022): Canada's Violent Legacy. How the Processing of Cultural Genocide is Hampered by Political Deficits and Gaps in International Law, PRIF Report 3/2022.
Download (in German): Drews, Friederike/Mannitz, Sabine (2021): Probleme der Aufarbeitung kulturellen Genozids. Rechtliche Regelungslücken und politische Defizite am Beispiel Kanadas, PRIF Report 7/2021.