The United Nation human rights experts has called for stronger measures to prevent and penalize female genital mutilation in Sierra Leone, following criminal proceedings on the death of a 21-year-old student who was subjected to the brutal practice in the Bonthe District.
“Female genital mutilation is 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 subjected to torture or other cruel treatment and to life, sexual and reproductive health,” the experts said.
“Discriminatory customs are entrenched in social norms and configurations of power, tied to one’s status and place in communities. Much like other harmful practices of similar nature, female genital mutilation reflects and perpetuates a broader trend of gender inequality,” they said.
“Female genital mutilation can neither be normalised nor used as a justification to invoke sociocultural and religious customs to the detriment of the wellbeing of women and girls,” the experts said. “They must be construed in line with the broader trend of gender-based violence, which simply cannot continue with impunity.”
According to reports, the criminal proceedings against one of the alleged perpetrators charged with performing the 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 criminalises 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 Government of Sierra Leone 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 female genital mutilation for all age groups.
They welcomed the President’s announcement to support a bill on risk-free motherhood, which would 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 Government’s response to female genital mutilation will be a testament to whether such commitment can extend to women’s rights,” the experts said.
The UN experts have been in official communication with the Government of Sierra Leone to address these allegations and clarify its obligations under international law.
The experts: 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; Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity