The intactivist movement was represented for the first time this year at the three-week-long 52nd annual meeting of the United Nations’ Sub-Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (“Sub-Commission”). Acting pursuant to the UN Roster status of NOCIRC, and with assistance from team members Tina Kimmel and Ken Drabik who each worked with me on site for part of the session, I traveled to Geneva to work with the Sub-Commission. We arranged and attended personal meetings with a number of Sub-Commissioners and I presented each of the 26 Sub-Commissioners with a range of donated material including a videotape and a CD-ROM depicting a circumcision, books, and Jacqueline Smith’s article about circumcision as a human rights violation. Thank you to all the folks who helped make this possible through cash or in-kind donations that supported the project. Special thanks to Dan Stranjord and Lawrence Barichello for the videotapes (and to Ken Drabik for transporting them), to Lawrence and Geoffrey Falk for the CD’s, and to Tina Kimmel for the books.

On August 9, 2001, I presented a written “intervention” or petition to the Sub-Commission. On August 14, 2001, I gave an oral address to a session of the Sub-Commission. Present in the audience, along with the Sub-Commissioners, were a number of governmental mission members, representatives of inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations, and credentialed observers. Both the written and oral “interventions” will become part of the UN’s official records and at least in theory will be reviewed and considered by each Sub-Commissioner. (The text of my oral “intervention” appears at the end of this report.) While a wide range of protections have been instituted by the UN to help stop female genital mutilation, male circumcision has never been addressed by any UN body, including the Sub-Commission. This is true despite the fact that Sub-Commissioners, in written reports, have themselves advised the Sub-Commission that sex discrimination against males violates international law.

Initially we had some very interesting meetings with several Sub-Commissioners. Apart from Mrs. Warzazi, as discussed in the next paragraph, the Sub-Commissioners who did actually meet with us were very receptive. Some of them indicated their support of our work but none of them seemed inclined to pursue the issue further within the Sub-Commission.

I asked in both my oral and written interventions that the Sub-Commission restore the mandate of Sub-Commissioner Mrs. Halima Embarek Warzazi, its Special Rapporteur on Traditional Practices Affecting Women and the Girl Child (formerly “Women and Children”), to again encompass practices affecting male children. Four years ago, in an apparent violation of the Sub-Commission’s normal procedural rules, the reduction of Mrs. Warzazi’s mandate was effected without official pronouncement or substantive discussion of the reasons for the change. In Geneva, Mrs. Warzazi met with us but soon became quite confrontational. She suggested that our position was based on the fact that we are not Muslims or Jews. When we responded by noting that many members of these religions are involved in the movement against circumcision (including one who was present in Geneva, Tina Kimmel), Mrs. Warzazi then claimed that it would violate her religion even to discuss with us the issue of male circumcision. We were able to give her a copy of Jacqueline Smith’s human rights article before she abruptly ended the meeting.

Already the UN has recognized that circumcision can under certain circumstances constitute a human rights violation, and we were, among other things, seeking to obtain a general statement to that effect. The United Nations bureaucracy and the Sub-Commission members and employees always treated us with respect. But clearly they talked among themselves and learned what our issue was. Evidently they were not—with some exceptions—seriously considering our claims. Eventually Sub-Commissioners and their staff members started to regularly avoid scheduled meetings with us, without canceling the meetings or contacting us in any way, not even in response to our follow-up contacts.

PRNet (then called FaxNet) graciously distributed ARC’s press release on August 15, 2001 entitled “United Nations Criticized for Sex Discrimination Against Males.” This press release was picked up and published by Mensactivism.Org, NoSpank.Net, BirthLove.Com, and Everyman, October/November 2001, p. 57.

During my time in Geneva, I also arranged meetings with representatives of NGO’s from such diverse countries as the United States, Lesotho, and Bolivia. The NGO representatives with whom I spoke tended to support our work but were reluctant to participate directly given their organizations’ focus on other issues. Given the recent passage of a Swedish law regulating circumcision, I worked very closely with Swedish representatives in both Geneva and Stockholm, including several Swedish legislators who were very influential in the floor debate over the new Swedish law, and I also met with representatives of the Swedish mission to the United Nations. In preparation for the “interventions,” I performed extensive research regarding human rights aspects of male and female genital mutilation at the United Nations and the World Health Organization. I also met with reporter Jonathan Rapoport, who provided some useful Swedish contacts, and with representatives of the International Service for Human Rights.

Thanks again to everyone who helped make this effort possible and particularly to Marilyn Milos of NOCIRC whose permission for us to proceed under NOCIRC’s Roster status made the venture possible. Plans are already being prepared for a return engagement next year, probably in concert with representatives of other credentialed organizations. The Sub-Commission will see that male circumcision is an issue that must be addressed.

J. Steven Svoboda
Executive Director
Attorneys for the Rights of the Child

Related Content:
Written Statement to the United Nations
Oral Intervention with United Nations regarding Male Circumcision
Comparative Legal Analysis of Body Mutilation Practices on Children