United Nations Report on Strengthening the Protection of Women from Torture
Monday, February 25, 2008 11:18 AM

Manfred Nowak, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, this year focused his report on strengthening the protection of women from torture. With this in mind, the Special Rapporteur referred to the specific needs of women in detention, which are often overlooked.

The Special Rapporteur also discussed Female genital mutilation (FGM). Like torture, FGM involves the deliberate infliction of severe pain and suffering. It is clear that even if a law authorizes the practice, any act of FGM would amount to torture and the existence of the law by itself would constitute consent or acquiescence by the State. The “medicalisation” of FGM, whereby girls are cut by trained personnel rather than by traditional practitioners is on the rise in some African countries. The Special Rapporteur stresses that from a human rights perspective, medicalisation does not in any way make the practice more acceptable. Even in contexts where FGM has been recognized as a criminal offence, but where public hospitals offer this “service”, it constitutes torture or ill-treatment. Also in cases where FGM is performed in private clinics and physicians carrying out the procedure are not being prosecuted, the State de facto consents to the practice and is therefore accountable.

Many special procedures have found that female genital mutilation may constitute torture and that States have the responsibility to take all the necessary measures to eradicate it. The Special Rapporteur on torture considers FGM a violation falling within his mandate, and has welcomed the adoption of legislation prohibiting female genital mutilation after his visits to Nigeria and Togo in 2007. At the same time, he regretted that the practice and social acceptance of female genital mutilation persist, and that effective mechanisms to enforce prohibition are absent. The Committee against Torture has expressed concern regarding the lack of domestic legislation outlawing female genital mutilation in specific countries. Furthermore, the Human Rights Committee has stated that female genital mutilation is in breach of article 7 of the ICCPR and has raised concerns regarding its persistence.


Published in:Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” Catherine Weston, Reports from the 7th Session of the Human Rights Council, Child Rights Information Network (CRIN), 25 February 2008.