Friday, February 6, 2015

#EndFGM to Protect Women’s and Girls’ Human Rights | Tanya Sukhija

Female genital mutilation is a human rights violation affecting over 125 million women and girls around the world. States must pass and enforce laws against the practice, including its performance by medical personnel, as well as protect women and girls from undergoing the practice in order to adhere to international human rights obligations.

Tasaru Ntomonok’s Initiative alternative rite of passage ceremony held December 2013 in Narok County, Kenya.
Photo Credit: Ruth Njeng'ere, Equality Now Nairobi

Today marks the thirteenth International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). FGM is an extreme form of violence and discrimination against women and girls that involves the partial or total removal of the female genitalia. FGM ranges from the partial or total removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy), to the removal of the entire clitoris and the cutting of the labia minora (excision), to its most extreme form, the removal of all external genitalia and the stitching together of the two sides of the vulva (infibulation). It is typically seen as a rite of passage into womanhood and is often an immediate precursor to child marriage.

Countries with the highest prevalence rates of FGM are on the African continent and in the Middle East region, but women and girls are also affected by the practice in some parts of Asia (e.g. Indonesia) and in countries with diaspora communities from countries with high-prevalence. In countries such as the UK or US, girls may be at risk of “vacation cutting” – being brought to their families’ home country during school vacation to undergo FGM.

FGM can have detrimental lifelong health consequences including chronic infections; severe pain during urination, menstruation, sexual intercourse and childbirth; psychological trauma; and in some cases even death. UNICEF estimates that over 125 million girls and women globally have undergone FGM, and 30 million are at risk over the next decade.

This year’s theme of Zero Tolerance Day focuses on mobilizing health personnel against FGM. It is vital that health personnel provide care rather than cause harm. The World Health Organization reports that more than 18% of all cases of FGM were performed by health personnel. UNICEF reports that in Egypt and Sudan, more than 50% of FGM procedures are performed by health personnel. Many believe when a health practitioner does the procedure it will be safer, but that is simply not true. Medicalization risks legitimizing and further entrenching the practice, and is a violation of medical ethical obligations to “do no harm.”

FGM violates various human rights under international and many countries’ national laws, including rights to equality, life, security of the person, dignity, as well as freedom from discrimination and torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa explicitly condemns FGM as a human rights violation. Treaty monitoring bodies overseeing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Convention against Torture have all interpreted FGM as a human rights violation in contravention of those treaties, with some including medicalization as well. The UN General Assembly has also condemned the practice, while today, a consortium of health bodies and other organizations joined forces to call for health personnel to be at the forefront of efforts to end FGM.

Several countries such as Kenya are setting a model example on how to address FGM. Kenya’s Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the Anti-FGM Board have been ramping up efforts to enforce the Children’s Act and the Prohibition of FGM Act, which criminalize FGM including by medical professionals. The DPP for instance, established a 20-member Anti-FGM Unit and launched a reporting hotline to prosecute cases of FGM. Effective enforcement of the law and the establishment of institutions to implement the law send a clear message that the practice will no longer be tolerated, and cases of FGM will be taken seriously and prosecuted.

In Egypt in 2014, the Attorney General filed the first case of FGM since a law was passed banning FGM in 2008 - the case of 13-year-old Soheir al-Batea, who died after a doctor performed FGM on her at the behest of her father. Equality Now and the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance advocated for Egypt to enforce its anti-FGM law. The Attorney General stated it was due to the concern and attention of governmental and international ogranizations that his office decided to prosecute Soheir’s case. On January 26, the doctor was sentenced to two years in jail for manslaughter and three months for FGM. Soheir's father received a three month suspended sentence. The doctor's clinic was also closed for one year. This is hugely important in a country which has one of the highest number of affected women and girls in the world and where more than 75% of FGM cases are performed by medical personnel.

The UK has also brought its first ever case of FGM – also charging a doctor with performing FGM – since the passage of its FGM Act in 2003. Although the doctor was acquitted, the fact that the trial took place is an important step toward deterring the practice where girls from diaspora communities continue to be at risk. It also highlights the importance of training front-line professionals how to effectively care for FGM survivors.

However, many challenges remain in addressing FGM globally. Many countries with high FGM prevalence rates still do not have laws against FGM, such as Sierra Leone, Sudan, Mali, Nigeria, Liberia, Cameroon and The Gambia. Other countries need to more effectively implement laws already on the books. For instance, while the US has established an inter-agency working group on FGM and will be releasing a new study on the number of women and girls affected by or at risk of FGM in the US, it still needs a comprehensive national action plan to implement laws and policies to end FGM. Changing attitudes toward the practice is also no easy task and is complicated further by the rise in medicalization.

Passing and enforcing laws that criminalize FGM, including by health professionals, are crucial first steps toward eradicating the practice. Without such laws, women and girls have no form of recourse and states send the message they condone the practice. States must live up to their international obligations and protect women and girls from FGM, as well as provide support services for girls running away from FGM or who have already undergone FGM. States must also work with practicing communities to conduct awareness raising and education campaigns to change cultural perceptions on FGM. Furthermore, health professionals should take a leading role in eliminating the practice by refusing to perform it, educating communities about its harmful consequences and providing services for women who have undergone FGM.

Members of the ABA can also contribute to deterring the practice by calling on their governments to address FGM, and supporting cases of FGM on a pro-bono basis to seek justice for women and girls affected by the practice.

Tanya Sukhija is a lawyer, Program Officer at Equality Now in New York City, and a member of the ABA Section of International Law International Human Rights Committee. Equality Now uses legal advocacy and strategic litigation to promote and protect the human rights of women and girls globally including to prevent and address FGM.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Taliban Gunmen Storm Pakistan School, Kill Scores Including Over 130 Children

Police stand beside empty coffins at a hospital dealing with those attacked by Taliban gunmen in Peshawar, 16 December 2014. Photograph: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters

First the Pakistani Taliban bombed or burned over 1,000 schools. Then they shot Malala Yousafzai, the teenage advocate for girls’ rights. But on Tuesday, the Taliban took their war on education to a ruthless new low with an assault on a crowded school in Peshawar that killed 145 people — 132 of them uniformed schoolchildren — in the deadliest single attack in the group’s history.

During an eight-hour rampage at the Army Public School and Degree College, a team of nine Taliban gunmen stormed through the corridors and assembly hall, firing at random and throwing grenades. Some of the 1,100 students at the school were lined up and slaughtered with shots to the head. Others were gunned down as they cowered under their desks, or forced to watch as their teachers were riddled with bullets.

Their parents crowded around the school gates, praying their children would survive while listening to the explosions and gunfire as Pakistani commandos stormed the building.

With its chilling echoes of a school in Beslan, Russia, where 186 children were massacred in 2004, the terrorist attack in Peshawar traumatized a scarred city that has suffered intense Taliban violence since the insurgency erupted seven years ago. By evening, mosques were filled with mourners carrying small wooden coffins, and residents cried openly in the streets.

A Taliban spokesman said the attack had been retaliation for the continuing military operation against the group in the North Waziristan tribal region. But the image of children’s bodies on the floor of their school auditorium, some of them not yet in their teens, again demonstrated how the Pakistani Taliban’s war has often been taken out on the country’s most vulnerable citizens.

A wave of outrage crossed national boundaries, with statements of support and sympathy coming from around the world.

Witnesses in Peshawar said the assault started around 10 a.m., when nine heavily armed militants, disguised in paramilitary uniforms, slipped through a military graveyard and leapt over the back wall of the Army Public School. They rushed through the main building, shooting and flinging grenades before reaching the auditorium. There, according to one Pakistani official, a senior army official was giving a first aid course.

First they sprayed the students with bullets; then they singled out the survivors. “Our instructor asked us to duck and lie down,” a student named Zeeshan said in an interview at the hospital. “Then I saw militants walking past rows of students, shooting them in the head.”

Elsewhere in the school, teachers, realizing what was going on, abruptly canceled classes and exams and tried to protect their charges, who ranged in age from roughly 5 to 17. A 7-year-old named Afaq broke down as he described how the militants sprayed bullets as they rushed into his classroom. “They killed our teacher,” he said, his eyes welling with tears.

Although early assessments suggested that the gunmen had been intent on mounting a long siege — some were carrying stores of food, it was later discovered — a senior security official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, insisted that they had shown no intention of taking hostages. “They were there to kill, and this is what they did,” he said.

Excerpt, read entire article here.

The ABA SIL IHRC strong condemns the Taliban's attack against innocent civilians and children. The massacre of more than 140 people, including over 130 children cannot, must not be tolerated in the 21st century. We must work together to find a way to protect children both in their homes and at school. In the meantime, our hearts and thoughts go out to all of those affected by such senseless acts of violence and their love ones.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Human Rights Day 2014: Rights Violations That Matter 365 Days of the Year

Today marks Human Rights Day, observed annually on 10 December, to highlight the fundamental rights that all people are entitled to as a global community.

The day marks the United Nations General Assembly's adoption and proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the first global enunciation of human rights and one of the first major achievements of the new United Nations.

The day was first formed in 1950, when the General Assembly invited all member states and other organizations to celebrate. The theme for 2014, "Human Rights 365", is a reminder that everyone is entitled to basic rights with the same ideals and values - all year round.

"I call on states to honour their obligation to protect human rights every day of the year. I call on people to hold their governments to account," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement.

Here are some sobering facts about current human rights violations, courtesy of IBTimes UK, and why it's so vital that we strive to achieve greater equality:

★ An estimated 27 million people are currently enslaved in the human trafficking trade globally.

★ In 2012, 112 countries tortured their citizens and 101 countries repressed their people's right to freedom of expression.

★ There are 3.5 million children living in poverty in the UK today, which is around 27% of children, or more than one in four. According to UNICEF, 22,000 children worldwide die each day due to poverty.

★ More than 300,000 children under the age of 18 are being exploited as child soldiers in armed conflicts worldwide.

★ Women make up 80% of all refugees and displaced people and are at heightened risk of physical or sexual violence or trafficking.

★ Around 15 million girls are forced into child marriage around the world every year. One in three girls in the developing world are married by their 18th birthday, increasing their risk of isolation and violence, and limiting their chance to have an education.

★ The total number of child laborers remains high, with UNICEF and the International Labour Organisation acknowledging an estimated 168 million children aged five to 17 are involved worldwide.

★ Every 90 seconds, a woman dies during pregnancy or childbirth. Most of these deaths are preventable, but due to gender-based discrimination many women are not given the proper education or care they need.

★ At least 20.9 million people are victims of forced labor worldwide.

★ More than 3.2 million Syrians are currently living as refugees, in the largest displacement crisis in a generation.

Reprint: International Business Times UK

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

AUW's Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law Accepting Applications for New Human Rights Programs

The American University Washington College of Law’s Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law is accepting applications for its new LL.M. in Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Human Rights Essay Award, and a summer Program of Advanced Studies in Human Rights and Humanitarian Law.

1. LL.M. International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law
Apply to the LL.M. in International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at American University Washington College of Law. American University Washington College of Law is ranked among the top law schools in International Law and it is the only Law school in the U.S. to offer a hybrid LL.M. program in International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law with online and residential course components. This unique LL.M. is designed for practitioners and other human rights advocates with two years of experience who wish to pursue advanced studies in international human rights law and humanitarian law alongside their existing work responsibilities. AUWCL has built an outstanding reputation in this field and it is highly recognized around the world. Moreover, its unique location in Washington D.C. offers unparalleled opportunities to legal professionals from the U.S. and around the world. Students will meet world-renowned human rights experts who will become professional contacts for future work related opportunities.

The program is currently accepting new students for the Spring 2015 semester. At $1802 per unit, this program is an exceptional value. Scholarship opportunities are also available for students who qualify. Deadline is December 1, 2014. Applications will be accepted after the deadline if space is available. To learn more about the program contact us at:, 202-274-4356. LEARN MORE & APPLY

2. Program of Advanced Studies on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law - Call for Submissions
Are you interested in attending an all-expense paid 3 week summer program on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law taught by over 39 world-renowned practitioners and academics at American University Washington College of Law? Well, now is your chance! Submit an essay to the Human Rights Essay Award Competition and you could be the lucky winner to receive a scholarship to attend the 2015 Program of Advanced Studies in Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. This year’s topic is “Transitional Justice, International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law” and the deadline to submit is February 1, 2015. Participants have the flexibility to choose any subject related to the assigned topic. The best articles may be published in the American University International Law Review.

This annual competition sponsored by the Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law seeks to stimulate the production of scholarly work in international human rights law. The Academy will grant two Awards, one for the best article in English and one for the best article in Spanish. The Award in each case will consist of: a scholarship to the Academy’s Program of Advanced Studies, travel expenses to Washington D.C., housing at the university dorms and a per diem for living expenses. For detailed guidelines about the award please visit: or contact us at:

3. Program of Advanced Studies on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law – Application opens December 1, 2014
The Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law is pleased to announce that the Program of Advanced Studies on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law will be accepting applications beginning December 1, 2014. The program will take place from May 26 to June 12, 2015. This Program offers 18 courses in English and Spanish lectured by over 39 scholars of relevance in the field of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law and gathers more than 150 participants from more than 25 different countries and with different levels of professional experience. The Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law provides through this Program the unique opportunity to learn and interact with judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Special Rapporteurs of United Nations, members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and professors from all over the world. The Program is offered in three categories which include the modality of Certificate of Attendance for lawyers, law students and HR professionals of any country, ABA Credits for U.S. students and finally, the Diploma Course that is offered to a select group of 35 law professionals who fulfill the admission requirements. The application form for this program will be available at For more information please contact us at:


*DISCLAIMER: The ABA SIL IHRC is not in any way affiliated with American University Washington College of Law’s Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law or any of the program enumerated and described above. Please contact AUW College of Law directly ( if you need additional information or have any questions regarding its programs or this announcement.

Monday, November 10, 2014

ABA SIL Fall Meeting 2014: Record Number Attend IHRC's Panel Discussions

The American Bar Association, Section of International Law's 2014 Fall Meeting was held at the Buenos Aires Hilton, in Argentina. The International Human Rights Committee sponsored or co-sponsored four panel discussions. The IHRC's 2-part panel discussion on Freedom of the Press and the Law were the highest attended panels of the week! A short description of IHRC's Fall 2014 Programs is included below. Additional information on each panel, including the names of moderators and speakers, is located under the Programs' tab above.

Special Thanks to IHRC CO-CHAIRS Elizabeth "Liz" Turchi and Joseph "Joe" Federici; IHRC VICE CHAIRS Gregory MacKenzie (Moderator) and Catherine "Cathy" Vernon (Speaker); OTHER SPEAKERS & MODERATORS Marissa Farsi, Kevin Fandl, Anamaria Dutceac Segesten, Gonzalo Smith, Thomas A. Valenti, Robert Cox, Andres D'Alessandro, Daniel Seckman, John Folks, Muria Gonzalez, Leila Mooney, Gerardo Noto, and William Black; and everyone else who help coordinate and/or participate in the ABA SIL Fall Meeting 2014. Without you, none of it would have been possible.


Buenos Aires Hilton, Argentina (Oct 21- 25) 

Being the Good Global Corporate Citizen: Dealing with the Current Business Guidelines and Standards of Conduct for Multinational Corporations

Thursday, October 23 at 9:00 am – 10:30 am


With the recent development and adoption of guidelines and standards of conduct regulating business conduct with respect to human trafficking, labor rights, privacy, etc., including UN Guidelines, it is clear that the rules are changing for multinational corporations operating in disparate jurisdictions. The panel will present and clarify this new order of business responsibility and conduct, the risks and the best practices for dealing with the current business and regulatory environment.

Primary Sponsoring Committee: International Corporate Counsel Forum

Co-Sponsoring Committees: Corporate Social Responsibility Committee, International Ethics Committee, International Human Rights Committee, International Trade Committee, Latin American and Caribbean Committee, Transnational Legal Practice Committee, UN & International Organizations Committee

Undoing Business in Latin America: Rule of Law and the Informal Economy

Friday, October 24 at 9:00 am – 10:30 am


Rule of law programs aimed at strengthening legal institutions in developing countries capture only one segment of the business community—the formal segment. The informal economy—often referred to as the gray market—is often left behind. New ‘formalization’ programs have attempted to bring informal enterprises into the legal fold but have thus far been unsuccessful. The panelists will present their research on rule of law and the informal economy in Latin America using case studies of the Colombian gray market, including an analysis of the newly enacted formalization law in Colombia.

Primary Sponsoring Committee: International Human Rights Committee

Co-Sponsoring Committees: Africa Committee, NGO and Not-for-Profit Organizations Committee

Freedom of the Press and the Law, Part I: The Prosecution of Journalists

Friday, October 24 at 2:30 pm – 4:00 pm


The killing and prosecution of journalists and human rights defenders has reached alarming proportions. The problem threatens freedom everywhere. The world has seen journalists murdered while covering the Syrian conflict; threatened and killed while covering Mexican drug cartels; and imprisoned in Sub-Saharan Africa for exposing corrupt government activities. Our experts will address the dangers journalists encounter in these regions. In particular, our experts will discuss the prosecution of journalists in Argentina during the “dirty war” and the prosecution and harassment of journalists in South America and the Middle East, among other regions. Through a moderator question and answer format, these case studies will allow the audience to develop an understanding of the legal rights and protections afforded to journalists under domestic, regional and international law.

Primary Sponsoring Committee: International Human Rights Committee

Co-Sponsoring Committees: Middle East Committee

Freedom of the Press and the Law, Part II: Freedom of Expression in a Post-9/11 World 

Friday, October 24 at 4:30 pm – 6:00 pm


This panel of experts will explore the protections afforded to journalists under law. In particular, our experts will discuss foundational international instruments securing the Freedom of Expression and other relevant rights, the scope of those freedoms and a State’s ability to derogate therefrom. Our panel will discuss the impact of 9/11 on the Freedom of Expression and recommend what measures the legal community must take to ensure that journalists are able to function without illegal constraint. This panel will look at the freedoms of speech and press and the precarious balance struck by different legal systems when looking at government claims of national security, and will discuss the importance of a free and robust press to democratic societies and how, in the 21st century, that freedom-and the freedom of speech-have become increasingly vulnerable to manipulation, influence and censorship without the heavy-handed repression associated with totalitarian regimes of the past. The program will be presented in a moderated question and answer format.

Primary Sponsoring Committee: U.S. Lawyers Practicing Abroad

Co-Sponsoring Committees: International Courts Committee, International Human Rights Committee, International Judicial Affairs Committee, Latin American and Caribbean Committee, Women’s Interest Network (WIN), Young Lawyers Interest Network (YIN)

❃ ABA SIL Fall 2014 Meeting (Complete Program Guide). 

Visit our Programs page for more information.