Comments by David G. Littman, NGO Representative at the UN in Geneva:
Association for World Education and World Union for Progressive Judaism
Oral statement (from UN webcast above) reproduced verbatim below
We decided to speak out again on a “traditional practice”, whose religious links are vociferously denied, despite irrefutable UNICEF facts and figures. FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) is spreading in Europe with some migrant populations that practise it traditionally. There are now over 1,500 cases in Geneva and nearly 10,000 in Switzerland, with hundreds of thousands in European Union countries. This won’t cease until it is strongly penalized, backed by an unambiguous fatwa from the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar (Cairo) stating, unambiguously, that this ‘cultural relativism’ is forbidden by all legal traditions in Islam – unfortunately, this is unlikely. The subject is still considered taboo at the UN and an explicit mention of Sharia justification usually leads to an angry denial and rude denigrations, as we have learned from personal experience since 1993.
Written statement with background information on FGM reprinted at end
It is worthwhile comparing our recent statement on this and the minor Egyptian ‘point of order’ incident of 23 March (as recorded on the UN video above, reprinted below), which occurred on the same subject of Violence against Women as the ‘Sharia Affair’ of 16 June 2008. Then, the flamboyant, moustached Egyptian delegate Amr Roshdy Hassan succeeded in blocking the Council for 1Â¾ hours, resulting in a big scandal and wide media coverage by AFP, AP, Reuters, ATS (17-18 June 2008), with Romanian HRC President Doru Romulus Costea and former HCHR Louise Arbour, American Ambassador and Amnesty International, and our joint NGO statement being quoted at length. Our perseverance then and after appears to have been successful in this field. A follow-up You Tube video on the historic landmark ‘Sharia Affair’, with many captivating moments, is currently being prepared for Jihad Watch next week.
Shipwreck at the UN Human Rights Council: summary of 16 June 2010 event
At about 4:40pm on 16 June 2008, David G. Littman was given the floor by the HRC president to deliver a joint statement for the AWE and the International Humanist and Ethical Union, under agenda item 8: ‘Integrating the Human Rights of Women throughout the United Nations system’. Within 22 seconds he was stopped on a ‘point of order’ by the delegate of Egypt. In all, there were 12 negative points of order – 7 by Egypt, 2 by Pakistan, 2 by Iran, one by Cuba; and three positive reactions: one each from Slovenia (for the EU), Canada and Germany; and 13 explanations by the president, who gave us the floor 4 times. The proceedings of the Council were suspended for over forty minutes, and again for a second recess after the Egyptian delegate and others intervened several times before declaring provocatively: “My point is that Islam will not be crucified in this Council”. The German delegate asked the president and the Egyptian delegate whether this term was “appropriate with regard to the question of mentioning religion and its symbols.” He received no answer. Pakistan’s delegate Imran Ahmed Siddiqui, speaking for Pakistan and the OIC, declared that the statement by the NGO “will amount to spreading hatred against certain members of the Council” – all OIC countries.
When Mr. Hassan threatened to call for a vote if the speaker was not ruled ‘out of order’, the president announced another brief break to analyse “what the speaker had read.” After the 40 minute recess, there had been a capitulation to OIC demands and the president then announced that “this Council is not prepared to discuss matters religious matters in depth. Consequently we should not do it” – and that “declarations” must avoid judgments or evaluation about religion and any mention of Sharia.
Three months later (19 September 2008) we again spoke for AWE on Female Genital Mutilation; so-called “honour killings”; death by stoning; disfiguration of women by acid; marriage of female children, but avoided pronouncing the officially taboo words. A year later (19 September 2009), we used the terms ‘edict’ and ‘ruling’ – with ‘fatwa’ in brackets in our available statement – e.g: “An edict [fatwa] on the website of Dr. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, President of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, is unlikely to change this ghastly toll; only an unambiguous ruling [fatwa] from Al Azhar might help do so.”
FGM: Oral statement of 23 March 2010 / Appendix: Shafi’i fiqh / AWE Written Statement
WORLD UNION FOR PROGRESSIVE JUDAISM
ASSOCIATION FOR WORLD EDUCATION
United Nations Human Rights Council -13th session (1-26 March 2010)
Statement: David G. Littman (37TH meeting) – Tuesday. 12:30 – 23 March 2010
Item 8: Follow-up to & implementation of Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action
[The words in square brackets were not pronounced within the 2 minute time limit]
Mr. President, under item 10 [a mistake – item 8], the Vienna Declaration, we wish to raise once again the question of a barbaric “traditional or customary practice”, which is a shameful euphemism for a crime against female children. As is known from UNICEF, more than 3 million female children and girls in 32 countries – including more and more thousands in Europe from an immigration population – are still being brutally mutilated each year. Here in Geneva, it has reached 1500 and more than 10,000 in Switzerland alone, with tens of thousands in almost all the other Member States of the European Union.
Sir, of these 32 countries, 29 are Members of the OIC and in many of them it is the Shafi’i fiqh ruling on female excision that helps explain why the FGM figure in Egypt remains at over 95% [every year], despite the law of 1994 ; and in [North] Sudan over 90%. We have here the Arabic and the English translation of that law [the speaker raises the page in his left hand – see this text below].
We feel it would be well to consult in document A/HRC/33/67, the report of Mona Zulficar* where she explains, under the heading:
Defense of the Ministry of Health decree of 1996 banning female genital mutilation:
[This was a challenge before the Administrative Courts brought by a group of fundamental doctors against the decree by the Ministry of Health banning female genital cutting, on grounds that such a decree was a violation of Sharia law. She joined the defense of this decree on behalf of three NGOs, including Women’s Health Improvement Association which she currently chairs and succeeded to help obtain a court judgment upholding the decree in 1998]
That: Female genital cutting is now banned by law and the relevant decree became immune to any challenges – in 2007, in response to the death of a girl child [while undergoing circumcision, the Minister of Health issued a further decree prohibiting this practice in absolute terms…]
This is correct, sir, but we believe, and have said it now for at least 18 years, that until an Al-Azhar fatwa is passed by the Grand Sheikh, this terrible barbarism will continue because the law doesn’t stop it.
Thank you Mr. Chairman [Gavel by vice-president, just as the speaker had stopped after 2 min. 12 sec.]
Vice-President: There’s a point of order. Egypt, you have the floor.
Egypt (lady delegate): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Not only is the issue that the speaker’s talking about completely outside of the item of the debate – it’s completely baseless… although… I don’t feel that I’m in any position or requirement to answer what he’s saying, but I think it’s quite obvious to the Council what kind of measures are being taken in the [inaudible], so that I would please request him to please remain focused on the item under debate. Thank you.
* Mona Zulficar is an expert lawyer nominated by Egypt in January 2010 as a Member of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee. For her Biographical Data, A/HRC/13/67, Annex, pp. 4-12 (on Human Rights) 5.1 (a)
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Economic and Social Council
15 July 2005
COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights Fifty-seventh session
Item 6 (a) of the provisional agenda: Special Human Rights Issues: Women and Human Rights
Written statement* submitted by the Association for World Education, a nongovernmental
organization on the Roster: The Secretary-General has received the following written statement which is circulated in accordance with Economic and Social Council resolution 1996/31. [4 July 2005]
‘Traditional or Customary Practices’: Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
1. ECOSOC first raised this grave matter of “traditional or customary practices” in a request to the World World Health Organisation (WHO), where it was rejected in 1959 on the grounds that the “ritual operation in question are based on social and cultural backgrounds, the study of which is outside the competence of the WHO.” Due to NGO pressures – such as that by the late Edmund Kaiser, founder of Terre des Hommes, who launched the first campaign against these “traditional practices” – WHO organised a seminar in Khartoum in 1979 when the unambiguous term FGM was first coined. The Inter-African Committee (IAC) came into existence at that time and subsequently many useful studies were organised by WHO and UNESCO. By its resolution 1983/1, the Sub-Commission “began the process of drawing world attention” to this then taboo subject – which had rarely treated it seriously in public until then.
2. In 1996, WHO called “for the prevention and elimination of FGM and other traditional practices harmful to health as soon as possible, preferably before the year 2000.” In September 1997, the organisation for African Unity (OAC), the Inter-African Committee (IAC), and the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) organised a symposium at which a crucial declaration was adopted that referred to FGM as “a form of violence against women,” and called on Governments to take effective action for its elimination. In its resolution 1998/52, the CHR called upon States: “to condemn violence against women and not invoke custom, tradition or practices in the name of religion to avoid their obligations to eliminate such violence (9c); it also calling upon States, “to eradicate traditional or customary practices, particularly female genital mutilation that are harmful to or discriminate against women…” (11)
3. We first raised the question of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), as an NGO at the Commission on Human Rights 12 years ago, following contacts with Edmund Kaiser (and in an appeal published in the International Herald Tribune on 21 December 1993, and again on 28 August 1996). At that time, measures of a legal nature had been taken in the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, and in Switzerland; and then by the United States, Canada and Australia, who joined the growing list of Western countries determined to legislate against FGM – since followed by most African countries.
4. The term “traditional or customary practices” is a shameful euphemism for a crime against females. FGM has no religious or hygienic justification, yet over two million female children and girls in more than 30 countries – including more and more thousands in Europe from an immigrant population – are being brutally mutilated each year. The goal of outlawing this ageless child torture by 2010, as announced at the 6 February 2004 International Day of Zero Tolerance of FGM – still seems a pious
hope. Over the last 50 years (as in past centuries), about 10% of the world’s female population has already been thus mutilated in childhood, and this sober realisation should prompt all world leaders – whether secular or spiritual – and UN bodies to initiate positive education at an early age in schools, including in religious schools.
5. We wish to reiterate that the 2003 Cairo Consultation sponsored by the European Union on the theme, ‘STOP FGM,’ which took place in the presence of Al-Azhar’s Grand Sheikh Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi and two Coptic spiritual leaders did not remove religious justifications or responsibilities in
this domain. UN Special Rapporteur (UNSR) Halima Warzazi, had already implied in her Report in 2003 that this ‘event’ had removed all doubts as to any religious justification for FGM – and this was reiterated in her 2004 Report, albeit in another context, under Â§67.
6. The FGM figure for Egypt was then, and remains today a deadly 97%, despite the Government’s 1997 legislation, in which it is considered as a physical mutilation and therefore is punished under the Penal Law; the Council of State decided on 28 December 1997: “to ban the practice of excision, even when the consent of either child or her parents is given.” In Sudan, a law against infibulation was enacted in 1946 by the colonial power, but since this law was imposed by the British, it was never enforced. According to the UNSR’s Report of 2004 (E/CN.4/Sub.2/2004/41, Â§24): “Almost 90% of the female population in the north of the Sudan undergoes FGM which, in many cases, is practised in its most extreme form, known as infibulation.”
7. This fact speaks volumes, especially as Egypt’s population has nearly quadrupled since 1950, and FGM for northern Sudan is near 90% and the high percentage in thirty other countries – most Islamic – is known to the experts. In her 2004 report, UNSR Warzazi correctly referred to FGM as reflecting male domination, and the importance of “strengthening the status of women in society from the earliest age” – however she noted in her conclusions that “harmful traditional practices cannot be eliminated overnight with a wave of a magic wand,” and criticised the British Government for introducing stringent legislation to punish severely anyone performing FGM in the UK (“even outside the country”). The UNSR (Â§67) referred to a conference on Islam and FGM at the Islamic University of Rotterdam, after which the university released a statement asserting that there is no connection between FGM and Islam.
8. On this overall theme of ‘traditional practices,’ we wish to draw general attention to a pertinent analysis of “cultural relativism” in the final Commission Report of 2003 by former Special Rapporteur Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, who occupied that post with distinction for nine years. Under section VII: Religious Extremism and Harmful Traditional Practices, Â§ 61 & 62 (E/CN.4/2003/75), she provides a pertinent analysis, which will be our Conclusion:
“In 1994, as well as today, the greatest challenge to women’s rights and the elimination of discriminatory laws and harmful practices comes from the doctrine of cultural relativism. While in the public sphere, where men dominate, the Internet and modern forms of economic and social globalization are destroying citadels of cultural exclusivism, in the area of women’s rights, especially in matters concerning the home and the family, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is challenged as being a cultural imposition from the outside. This is made worse by the policies adopted since 11 September 2001 by many groups and societies that feel threatened & under siege.” (Â§61)
“Cultural relativism is the belief that no universal legal or moral standard exists against
which human practices can be judged. It is argued that human rights discourse is not
universal but a product of the European enlightenment, and its particular cultural
development, and thus a cultural imposition of one part of the globe upon another.
Ironically, despite these claims, States sign international human rights instruments and
agree to abide by their principles. It could therefore be argued that States have
consented to be bound by certain universal principles. Human rights have become
universal in scope and application…” (Â§62)
9. The Association for World Education remains convinced that a dramatic change might occur in Egypt, followed by other Muslim countries, if Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh Sayyed Tantawi could be persuaded by a consensus of religious authorities, and the Egyptian Government to issue a fatwa that would effectively clarify or replace the three previous fatwas from Al-Azhar (1949, 1951, and especially that of 29 January 1981 by the then senior Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh). (1) Although no religious backing was given then for FGM, parents were advised not to avoid “parental responsibilities.” It is known
that most parents, a majority of whom are illiterate, would automatically choose an Al-Azhar ruling or advice, rather than a secular law of the Egyptian Government.
10. This AWE request should be considered by the Special Rapporteur Halima Embarek Warzazi and the Sub-Commission, and formulated and included in its resolution on Harmful traditional practices affecting the health of women and the girl child.
1 Gad-al-Haq: Khitan al banat, pp. 3119-3125, in Sami A. Aldeeb, Mutiler, in the Institut Suisse de Droit ComparÃ©, 1993, p. 191.
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* This written text was prepared by David G. Littman for the AWE
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