Ethnic cleansing

Other Names:
Cultural apartheid
Purification of culture

The implementation of procedures, usually by government, to ensure the physical resettlement or elimination of minority groups of different racial or ethnic background.


The term was first specifically applied to the treatment of Muslims in Bosnia by the Serbs in 1991-3. As such, a UN resolution in 1992 recognized that as such it constituted a form of genocide. The process however has a long history under other labels. It may be applied to many forms of forced resettlement, but notably those practised by colonial powers in their treatment of indigenous populations.

In the USA, South Africa and Australia, for example, resettlement of indigenous populations on reservations during the 19th century was undertaken in order to free land for those of essentially Caucasian background. Bounty-hunting, resulting in the death of stray natives, was tacitly or explicitly approved by governments of the time. Subsequently the apartheid policy of South Africa came to take one form of ethnic cleansing to free areas for white habitation. The partition of India, resulting in the creation of Pakistan as separate Muslim state can be considered as a form of ethnic cleansing. The treatment of the Jews, gypsies, and other "non-Aryan" groups by the Nazi regime can also be considered as a form of ethnic cleansing. In 1994 it was argued that some proposed solutions to the crisis in Northern Ireland would result in a form of ethnic cleansing.

Since its seizure of the historic Iraqi city of Mosul in early 2014, Islamic State has pillaged and demolished mosques, shrines, churches and other sacred sites across the region. The group continues to launch “cultural cleansing” operations from Tikrit to Tripoli.

Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 4: Quality EducationGOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
Problem Type:
D: Detailed problems
Date of last update
04.10.2020 – 22:48 CEST