Most governments in countries where FGM is practiced have ratified international conventions and declarations that make provisions for the promotion and protection of the health of women and girls.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims the right of all human beings to live in conditions that enable them to enjoy good health and health care (art. 25). Adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 10 December 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has five articles which together form a basis to condemn FGM: article 2 on discrimination, article 3 concerning the right to security of person, article 5 on cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, article 12 on privacy, and article 25 on the right to a minimum standard of living (including adequate health care) and protection of motherhood.
Also read: Female genital mutilation (FGM): Everything you must know
The Convention relating to the Status of Refugees defines who is a refugee, what their rights are, and explains the legal obligations of states. Those fleeing the threat of FGM qualify for refugee status.
The International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights condemn discrimination on the grounds of sex and recognize the universal right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (art. 12).
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women requires State Parties to: “take all appropriate measure to modify or abolish customs and practices which constitute discrimination against women” (art. 2f) and “modify social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes” (art 5a).
General recommendation 24 (1999) of the Convention emphasizes that certain cultural or traditional practices, such as FGM, carry a high risk of death and disability and recommends that State parties should ensure laws that prohibit FGM.
General recommendation 14 (1990) recommends State parties take appropriate and effective measures to eradicate FGM; to collect and disseminate basic data on traditional practices; to support women’s organizations that work for the elimination of harmful practices; to encourage politicians, professionals, religious and community leaders to co-operate in influencing attitudes; to introduce appropriate educational and training programmes; to include appropriate strategies aimed at ending FGM into national health policies; to invite assistance, information and advice from the appropriate organization of the United Nations system; and to include in their reports to the Committee, under articles 10 and 12 of the Convention, information about measures taken to eliminate FGM.
The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment was adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly resolution 39/46 (entered into force in 1990). The Committee against Torture clearly states in General Comment No. 2 that FGM falls within its mandate. The UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and the UN Special Rapporteur on torture have both recognized that FGM can amount to torture under this Convention.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child protects against all forms of mental and physical violence and maltreatment (art 19.1); calls for freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (art 37a); and requires States to take all effective and appropriate measures to abolish traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children (art 24.3).
The Vienna Declaration and the Programme of Action of the World Conference on Human Rights expanded the international human rights agenda to include gender-based violence, including FGM.
The International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action calls for governments to “urgently take steps to stop the practice of female genital cutting and protect women and girls from all such similar unnecessary and dangerous practices.”
The Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women urges governments, international organizations and non-governmental groups to develop policies and programmes to eliminate all forms of discrimination against girls, including female genital cutting.
The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights highlights human rights. Article 4 focuses on integrity of the person, article 5 on human dignity and protection against degradation, article 16 on the right to health, and article 18 (3) on the protection of the rights of women and children.
The Addis Ababa Declaration on Violence against Women serves as an important step towards the formulation of an African charter on violence against women, providing the framework for national laws against FGM. It was adopted at the Council of Ministers during its sixty-eighth Session in July 1998 by the Organization of African Unity (OAU). The Declaration was later endorsed by the Assembly of Heads of State and Governments.
The Banjul Declaration condemns FGM and demands its elimination.
The United Nations Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee approved a resolution that calls upon States to implement national legislation and policies that prohibit traditional or customary practices that damage the health of women and girls, including FGM.
The Ouagadougou Declaration of the Regional Workshop on the Fight against Female Genital Mutilation calls for networks and mechanisms to combat FGM.
Key Actions for the Further Implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development calls for governments to promote the human rights of women and girls and ensure their freedom from coercion, discrimination and violence, including harmful practices. It also calls for governments to ensure health providers are knowledgeable and trained to serve clients who have been subjected to harmful practices.
Further Actions and Initiatives to Implement the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action recognizes the progress made in national efforts to ban FGM, and points out that discriminatory attitudes and norms continue to make girls and women vulnerable to gender-based violence, including FGM. It calls for governments to combat and eliminate violence against women.
The European Parliament adopted a resolution on female genital mutilation calling for measures to protect survivors of the practice and urging member states to recognize the right to asylum for women and girls at risk of being subject to FGM.
The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ rights, on the rights of women in Africa, also known as the Maputo Protocol calls for the “elimination of harmful practices.”
Commission on the Status of Women passed a resolution on ending FGM.
Commission of the Status of Women passed Resolution 54/7 on ending FGM .
African Union Assembly/AU/Dec. 383(XVII) produced a decision stating that “female genital mutilation (FGM) is a gross violation of the fundamental human rights of women and girls, with serious repercussions on the lives of millions of people worldwide, especially women and girls in Africa.”
The Fifty-sixth session of the Commission on the Status of Women approved a draft decision, “Ending female genital mutilation.” (E/CN.6/2012/L.1) The Secretary-General released a report, “Ending Female Genital Mutilation” summarizing progress made on the implementation of 2010 CSW resolution 54/7.
The World Health Assembly passed (resolution WHA61.16) and Progress Report 2011 (A64/26), both referring to FGM.
European Parliament Resolution of 14 June 2012 focused on ending female genital mutilation.
The United Nations General Assembly passed The Girl Child Resolution (62/140), stating it was “deeply concerned… that female genital mutilation is an irreparable, irreversible harmful practice.” The Secretary-General’s Report on the Girl Child also included a special emphasis on FGM (A/64/315, 2009 and A/66/257, 2012).
United Nations General Assembly also passed Resolution 67/146 on intensifying global efforts to eliminate FGM, reaffirmed by Resolution 69/150 in 2014 and 71/168 in 2016.
The Human Rights Council produced a resolution calling for “Intensifying global efforts and sharing good practices to effectively eliminate female genital mutilation.”
FGM is included in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) under Target 5.3, “Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.”
United Nations General Assembly adopted The Girl Child Resolution (A/RES/70/138) recognizes FGM as a form of “discrimination against the girl child and the violation of the rights of the girl child.”