Following criminal proceedings over the death of a 21-year-old student who was subject to the brutal practice in the Bonthe District, three Special Rapporteurs issued a statement condemning female genital mutilation as “a grave form of violence against women and girls that amounts to torture”.
“It violates the fundamental rights of its victims, including their physical integrity and rights not to be subject to torture or other cruel treatment and to life, sexual and reproductive health,” they said.
Discriminatory customs are entrenched in social norms and configurations of power, inevitably tied to one’s status and place in communities, the experts said.
“Much like other harmful practices of similar nature, female genital mutilation reflects and perpetuates a broader trend of gender inequality”.
The three stressed that female genital mutilation can neither be normalized nor used as a justification to invoke sociocultural and religious customs to the detriment of the wellbeing of women and girls.
“They must be construed in line with the broader trend of gender-based violence, which simply cannot continue with impunity,” spelled out the Special Rapporteurs.
Judicial justice needed
According to reports, the criminal proceedings against one of the perpetrators charged with female genital mutilation that led to the victim’s death have been impeded by the systemic failure to protect women and girls.
“The lack of a dedicated and enforceable legislation that expressly criminalizes and punishes female genital mutilation is hindering judicial or other investigation into and persecution of these harmful practices and unlawful killings,” the experts said.
“Laws and policies need to provide clear accountability frameworks and disciplinary sanctions with respect to female genital mutilation,” they said.
The UN experts urged the Sierra Leone Government to establish a comprehensive set of legal prohibitions, including through strengthening the memoranda of understanding with local practitioners and amending the Child Rights Act to explicitly prohibit the performance of female genital mutilation to girls under the age of 18.
In the meantime, they welcomed the President’s announcement of his intention to support a bill on risk-free motherhood, which will help improve access to sexual and reproductive health services for women and girls.
“Sierra Leone is taking concrete and meaningful steps towards advancing human rights, including through the recent abolition of capital punishment,” the experts said.
The Government’s response to female genital mutilation will be a testament to whether such commitment can extend to women’s rights”.
About the experts
The experts who signed the statement are Reem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences; Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; and Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not paid for their work.