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UN 1/7/13

January 18, 2013

This blog entry is written by members of our blogging community and expresses those experts’ views alone.

John and Douglas Carey, Editors

In this Issue:  General Assembly on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM); Security Council, Al Qaeda and Taliban sanctions procedures refined.

On December 20th, the General Assembly adopted its first-ever text, A/RES/67/146, aimed at ending female genital mutilation, concluding a determined effort by African States. By its terms, the Assembly recognized that such mutilations were an irreparable, irreversible abuse of the human rights of woman and girls, and reaffirmed it as a serious threat to their health. States were urged to condemn all such practices, whether committed within or outside a medical institution, and take measures — including legislation — to prohibit female genital mutilations, and protect women and girls from that form of violence. By other terms, the Assembly called for the continued observance of 6 February as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation.

The ghastly subject of FGM was featured at the UN on February 282012. A concert was presented in the General Assembly Hall, aimed at raising global awareness of and support for efforts to end female genital mutilation, or “female cutting”, sponsored by the Italian Government in cooperation with UNICEF and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

If anyone wants to read about the details of FGM, an article in The Atlantic issue of October 1995 will probably be an eye-opener. It is online at http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1995/10/female-circumcision-comes-to-america/6051/ The article pointed out that the practice had been outlawed in France, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, Sweden and Belgium as well as in the states of New York, Minnesota and North Dakota.

The Atlantic mentions estimates that almost half the women in Africa had been circumcised, nearly 100% in Somalia, over 90% in Ethiopia and 50% in Egypt.

At the UN on February 28, 2012, a woman named Saran Dioubate said that when her great aunt and other older women came to collect her for the operation, even though she had been young, if someone had explained to her what would happen, she would have said “no”. She now knew countless other young women who still lived with the trauma caused by the operation, as well as serious immediate and long-term health consequences, which included severe bleeding, urination problems, infections and childbirth complications.

She said that her mother had not initially given her consent, but she had eventually bowed to family pressure. Even though her experience had been difficult, Ms. Dioubate acknowledged that traditional cultural attitudes towards the practice were changing, and noted that her sister, three years her junior, had not been cut. Still, everyone must keep working, including in Africa, because “this practice has to end”, she declared.

Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the UNFPA, said it was estimated that from 100 million to 140 million girls and women had under-gone some form of genital mutilation or cutting, and at least 3 million girls were at risk of undergoing the procedure every year. “This is a clear violation of their fundamental rights, and it is extremely harmful to their health,” he said, adding that both UNFPA and UNICEF believed the practice could be brought to an end “during our lifetimes”, by working in partnership with Governments and local communities.

A Grammy-winning singer and songwriter from Benin named Kidjo said that, while many countries and communities had abandoned the practice, centuries-old behavior could not be stopped everywhere in a decade. Changing deeply ingrained social and cultural practices required both time and money. Highlighting the difficulties that might lie ahead, she said that one sensitive issue was that many of the people tasked with cutting were women; it was often their only job and that job gave them income, as well as status in their communities.  So the challenge was finding a way to replace those jobs and maintain livelihoods, while not lowering the status of the former practitioners.

She cautioned against following the traditional pattern of Western Governments telling African Governments “what, when and how to do something”. And while African countries must be a part of the solution, the diverse nature of the continent must be taken into consideration, she said, noting, as an example, that people in her country alone spoke 58 different languages.

Security Council Al-Qaida and Taliban sanctions procedures refined.

In a meeting on December 17th that lasted from 3:23 pm until 3:28 pm, the Security Council unanimously adopted two resolutions. A/RES/2083 details the criteria for designation of individuals or entities associated with Al-Qaida and extends for 30 months the mandate of the Office of the Ombudsperson to handle delisting requests and improve the regime’s transparency and fairness. A/RES/2082 applies the same measures to individuals or entities “associated with the Taliban in constituting a threat to the peace and stability of Afghanistan.” Clearly all substantive discussion of these 24-page texts had already taken place in private.

The UN Ombudsperson, Canadian Judge Kimberly Prost, had appeared in late October, just before Superstorm Sandy hit New York, at the annual meeting of the American Branch of the International Law Association. It is safe to say that those present were impressed with her legal analysis, her eloquence, her sense of fairness and her strong will.

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