When Human Rights Abuses Masquerade as Culture: #FGM

Photo Credit: UN Photo: UNICEF/Catherine Ntabadde: Woman holding a knife in FGM

From female genital mutilation to ingrained bias, the rationale often is culture, religion or even patriotism to deflect criticism.  However, if we were to accept such rationalizations human sacrifices would still be accepted and slavery sanctioned.  Obviously the choices are not so simple but neither should inertia be the guide to moving forward the human family toward greater mutual respect of diversity and human rights for all global citizens.

No Culture, Religion or Society is Immune to Abuse?

Liberia is not often cited as a country with pervasive human rights abuses. In Africa and the globe as a whole unfortunately there are worse violators, some embedded as culture and at other times standing to promote political authoritarianism while exploiting rationale of societal cohesion or even state security.  Consequently, it may surprise that Liberia has been cited recently by the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

It should neither be seen as citing Liberia as the most culpable. Rather, this is an indication of how deeply rooted such practices can become and consequently camouflaged within even countries seeking a more progressive human rights record – this applies to Christian, Buddhist, Hindu animist as well as predominantly Muslim states. (Liberia is a predominantly Christian country with many resettled US slaves from the 19th century and significant animist and Muslim populations.)  Below are excerpts from a Report just issued by the Liberia office of the UN’s Human Rights Commissioner:

A Glimpse into Liberia, FMG & even Ritual Killing

“Some 58 per cent of Liberian women and girls have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) – generally without anesthesia – a practice widely used by a secret society called Sande and affecting poor households twice as much as wealthy ones. “In addition to the extreme pain…the lack of medically sterilized equipment and facilities increases the likelihood of infection and lasting physical damage, and may even lead to death. (The Report) also documents abductions, forced initiations, torture and rape by members of another secret society called Poro. Non-members considered to have transgressed its rules, for instance by ‘trespassing’ on its sacred ground or remaining outdoors during Poro activities, have also at times been forcefully initiated, tortured and, in two documented cases, gang-raped.“Accusations of witchcraft are common in Liberia, and often have devastating consequences for the accused, who may be subjected to trial by ordeal, ‘cleansing’ or ‘exorcism’ rituals, expulsion, ostracization, and even death,” the study reported, also citing many cases of trial by ordeal that amounted to physical and psychological torture, and in some cases even led to death. “The authorities often hesitate to investigate or prosecute cases involving trial by ordeal, due to the perceived cultural dimensions of the practice,” it noted. “This has generated widespread culture of impunity among traditional actors.” The Report documents nine cases of suspected ritualistic killings, including three last August and September, in one of which a motorcycle driver in Ganta was killed, allegedly for ritualistic purposes. This sparked riots during which a man accused of this alleged ritual murder was killed by an angry mob. (See –  “Liberia: UN Report calls for ending sometimes Deadly Culture that Violates Human Rights.”)


How About Ritual Killing of Animals, Abuse Hunting or Degradation of our Shared Earth/Environment?

Persons are not the only victims but animals and our environment are perhaps even more likely to suffer. The “Yulin Dog Meat Festival” in China or slaughter of whales and sea mammals in some Scandinavian locals have been attributed to culture, (although Yulin was a most recent invention in region where dogs and cats have been consumed and killed in more brutally inhumane fashion).  Sport hunting  though may also not escape scrutiny and  ritual slaughter  by some traditional Jewish and Muslim societies may come under scrutiny. In almost every society there are practices that harm earth, environment and/or animal that may bring tolerance, economics and human rights as well as evolving notions of animal welfare/rights into apparent contradiction. However, such discourse is also part of diversity of views and tolerance for those with different views as well as our evolving scientific knowledge and empathy for all, from human being to animal to earth.  (See: “Should Crimes against the Environment & Animals Deserve International Prosecution?“)

Are Women the Most Frequent Victims of Tradition?

We are not bound to live by inertia or define the future by only change. The role of women and girls in society has been one of the most contested and awkward at times just as change takes root while in some areas tradition is presumably protected by threatening death to girls seeking education as in the case of Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai.  Regardless, one point that we must emphasize is that women/girls must not only be the subject but the primary participants in the conversation and ultimately control their futures as equal partners in societies which were overwhelmingly paternalistic in defining and translation culture, religion and patriotism.   (See Diplomat Artist – Student Diplomats – “Five Most Dangerous Countries for Women.”)


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