Thursday, October 3, 2013

COUNCIL OF EUROPE: Non-Medical Circumcision a Human Rights Violation

Readers must pardon me for not posting much lately, and and I must apologize for the poor quality of posts I am able to muster. My current job situation is very demanding and I don't have time to sit down and think things out anymore. There is so much happening in the world of intactivism and so much I want to comment on too.

Currently there is a lot of hullabaloo, because the Council of Europe has declared medically unnecessary circumcision to be a human rights violation. For this post, I will cut-and-paste a few comments that have appeared in my Facebook news feed, and give a few brief thoughts on it.

Yet another great step in the right direction! The German member of the Council of Europe, Marlene Rupprecht, got his draft resolution adopted today, which juxtaposes ritual boys circumcision with female circumcision as human rights violations. Thanks to Marlene Rupprecht! The resolution, which was adopted without one of the proposed adjustments (amendments, inter alia, one Turkish amendments which were aimed at removing the ritual circumcision boys from text) can be read on her profile. Europe rocks!
Here is a link to the "Children’s right to physical integrity" resolution that was just passed by the Council of Europe. (Click on "Here.")
According to Sweden's children's ombudsman, "To circumcise a child without medical reasons and without the child's consent, runs the child's human rights and the fundamental principles of medical ethics." What do you think about the Ombudsman for Children in Sweden?
So very pleased to covey this most exciting news from Strasbourg, the Council of Europe has voted to define circumcision of male children a human rights violation. The resolution and recommendation were both accepted, votes for were 77 and 78, and against 19 and 13.
Here is a link to an article from Denmark.
"As ombudsmen for children and experts in children’s health we consider circumcision of underage boys without a medical indication to be in conflict with the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, article 12, about children’s right to express their views about their own matters, and article 24, pt. 3, which says that children must be protected against traditional rituals that may be harmful to their health. In 2013, the UN Human Rights Council has urged all states to end operations that compromise the integrity and dignity of children and are prejudicial to the health of both girls and boys. We consider it central that parental rights in this matter do not have precedence over children’s right to bodily integrity. What is in children’s best interest must always come first, even if this may limit grown up persons’ right to carry out their religious or traditional rituals."
(Shared with this link.)

The Parliamentary Assembly, Council of Europe, PASSED the resolution that medically unnecessary circumcision of boys is a violation of their human rights. Many amendments were offered for religious exemption or the sincere medical beliefs of the parents, but these failed. We can mostly thank Rep. Rupprecht of Germany for this result. She is an intactivist and spoke forcefully and eloquently.

In a resolution based on a report by Marlene Rupprecht (Germany, SOC), the Assembly strongly recommends that states promote further awareness in their societies of the potential risks of some of these procedures for childrens’ physical and mental health. It calls on states to clearly define the medical, sanitary and other conditions to be ensured for practices such as the non-medically justified circumcision of young boys.

It also asks states to adopt specific legal provisions to ensure that certain operations and practices will not be carried out before a child is old enough to be consulted.

PACE also recommended that “children’s right to physical integrity” should be explicitly included in relevant Council of Europe standards.

(Shared with this link.)
Today, under the leadership of German intactivist Marlene Rupprecht, the Council of Europe (CoE) passed a recommendation number 2023 (by a vote of 78 in favor, 13 opposed, and 15 abstaining) endorsing a child's right to physical integrity and a resolution number 1952 (by a similar vote of 77 for, 19 against, and 12 abstaining) discussing the right to physical integrity in more detail and specifically supporting genital autonomy for children by opposing several practices including male circumcision, female genital mutilation, and "early childhood medical interventions in the case of intersexual chldren."

The CoE's resolution 1952 includes the following statement in paragraph 2:

The Parliamentary Assembly is particularly worried about a category of violation of the physical integrity of children, which supporters of the procedures tend to present as beneficial to the children themselves despite clear evidence to the contrary. This includes, amongst others, female genital mutilation, the circumcision of young boys for religious reasons, early childhood medical interventions in the case of intersexual children and the submission to or coercion of children into piercings, tattoos or plastic surgery.

Paragraph 7.5.2 of the resolution states that the CoE "calls on member States to... clearly define the medical, sanitary and other conditions to be ensured for practices which are today widely carried out in certain religious communities, such as the non-medically justified circumcision of young boys..."
In a groundbreaking move, the Council of Europe has told its 47 member states (including the UK) that medically unnecessary circumcision is a violation of boys’ human rights!
(Shared with this link.)
A Danish newspaper confirms that all the Nordic ombudsmen for children and numerous health experts have met and agreed in principle to work toward a ban on the circumcision of children (boys & girls) before they are old enough to understand and legally consent. This includes all circumcisions for religious reasons and naturally makes allowances for medical necessity.

Two Danish political parties have already agreed to add a ban on religious circumcision to their platforms.

Nordic includes Scandinavia plus Finland and Iceland. Specifically (west to east): Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland.


Also, the Council of Europe held a debate today, which I watched live on the web, regarding a resolution that, among other things, declared religious circumcision of minors to be a traditional practice injurious to the rights and welfare of children.

There were numerous amendments offered, specifically trying to label circumcision as "beneficial" and "not harmful", or to take out any language from the bill relating to male circumcision. These failed. In the end, the resolution was adopted! It passed 78-13, with 15 abstentions. The author is Marlene Rupprecht from Germany.


Overall, this has been a remarkable day for progress in protecting boys from unnecessary and harmful genital cutting.

My thoughts:
As much as I think laws against circumcision sound great, I'm not holding my breath.

Don't get me wrong. I am against the forced genital cutting of healthy, non-consenting individuals. There is nothing that I would like to see more than to have the practice of circumcising healthy, non-consenting children abolished, and that the individuals that do this be put in jail and/or taken to court by the men who resent this violation upon their bodies.

It is inspiring that somebody has drafted a resolution calling the forced circumcision of healthy, non-consenting minors the human rights violation that it is, that it was proposed to the Council of Europe, and that it actually PASSED . The last time anything like this has happened was when a proposition to ban non-medical genital mutilation in infants was put on the ballot in the city of San Francisco.

In my opinion, however, we've got a long way to go.

Even today, it is rather taboo to talk about circumcision, especially in Europe, where questioning circumcision automatically gets you labeled an "anti-Semite." The ethics of performing needless surgery on a healthy, non consenting individual are never addressed. Rather, advocates of circumcision want to talk about how any attempt to scrutinize infant circumcision harkens back to the days of the Holocaust. Already, Jewish media outlets are trying to dismiss Europeans who oppose the non-medical circumcision of healthy minors as "left-wing secularists and right-wingers who fear the influence of immigration from Muslim countries." (Yes, because people don't actually see the forced genital mutilation of healthy, non-consenting minors as a deliberate human rights violation. You see, they actually just woke up one day and thought to themselves "Today is a good day to hate a Muslim.")

On the one hand, it's exciting for me to learn that there is actually legal progress being made concerning the rights of healthy, non-consenting minors. Social change never happened because people sat around wishin' and a-hopin'. Human rights issues have been addressed because somebody had the courage to stand up and question the status quo and to challenge social constructs and expectations. Just imagine what would have never changed if people had never taken action; slavery, women's rights, gay rights etc.

On the other hand though, I think the ban in Europe will ultimately, and ought to, fail. I'm not sure there is any country ready to handle the fallout of an actual ban on the non-medical circumcision of healthy, non-consenting minors. Too many parents see this as their parental or religious "right," and the state would have to deal with the logistics of arresting and prosecuting countless renegade mohels and doctors. Who knows what ruckus it would cause with religious organizations, or even countries where circumcision is a norm, who have relations with European countries. Perhaps this is what the Bundestag was thinking in their response to the Cologne ruling? (Incidentally, in another very recent case, a court in Hamm in North Rhine-Westphalia has forbidden a woman from having her six-year old son circumcised because of a risk of psychological damage, this despite the Bundestag's resolution to keep circumcision legal.)

I think we have to admit to ourselves that, at least for now, it could never actually work. Human rights activists shouldn't be surprised or disappointed if and when others manage to dismantle such a ban. Rather, we should be thankful for the opportunity to further our cause and keep fighting. We've got a long way to go, and I think it's a mistake to think that our fight would end, would that an actual ban on the forced genital mutilation of all sexes were enacted.

Don't get me wrong; we shouldn't give up the ship just yet. We need to fight to be heard. We should persevere until the very end. But let's keep our feet on the ground; current society is not ready for a ban against circumcision. Expect for religious groups and charlatans with a feigned interest in public health to cry foul, and expect for attempts to ban the forced, non-medical circumcision of healthy, non-consenting minors to be stopped before people even get to vote on them. In countries where bans may actually be instated, expect renegade circumcision advocates to defy the law publicly or secretly. Expect for every attempt to compare said countries to Nazi Germany. It's going to get worse before it gets better.

It is a mistake for intactivists to let all their hopes ride on a circumcision ban. Those that do are sure to be disappointed, because those who cling to circumcision, whether it be for traditional, religious, lucrative reasons, or to satisfy their own personal fetish, are not going down without a fight, and will most likely be successful in striking it down.

I have often read that in social movements, laws are the very last thing to change. The reason a federal ban against female genital cutting passed so swimmingly is because female genital cutting was already seen as the gross human rights violation that it is. Intactivists have a long way to go. A ban is not going to end our worries; it may in fact prove to make our efforts more difficult.

We need to work to realize social change first; a ban is not going to happen until society is on board. In my opinion, worrying about passing a circumcision ban is placing the cart before the horse. Rather than effect social change, it may make advocates of circumcision cling closer to what is seen as a cherished tradition, and/or a lucrative source of income.

More so than a ban, it is important to dispel the myths surrounding circumcision and the foreskin, and to spread factually accurate information; we need to spread awareness of why the forced circumcision of healthy, non-consenting minors constitutes a gross human rights violation and medical fraud. Until that groundwork is done, I'm afraid a ban, even if it does happen, will not do our movement any good.

"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."
~Mahatma Gandhi

DISCLAIMER: What I have expressed in this blog post is my own personal opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the views of all intactivists.

Related Posts:
The Cologne Ruling and the Limitations of Religious Freedom

San Francisco Circumcision Ban

Cutters Trying to Silence Debate

SAN FRANCISCO: Democracy Hits A Brick Wall

Legal Circumcision Battle Goes State AND Federal

Intactivism: It's Not Just for Gentiles Anymore

The "Anti-Semite" Card No Longer Washes

Related Links:
Council of Europe Report: Children's right to physical integrity

Historic event in Denmark; report by Morten Frisch

Jewish Media Coverage:
The Times of Israel

The Jerusalem Post

The Jewish Daily Forward

The Jewish Press

Jewish Journal 


Virtual Jerusalem

Jews News


  1. Excellent article and analysis Joseph. Thank you so much. You are spot on with having to change the public's views first.

    Take a look here:

    This is yet another terribly sad case. My heart goes out to the infant boy who died. And yes, I do have compassion for his parents - deluded by their culture and society.

    But there is something good to be learnt:

    The Daily Mail is a hugely popular UK daily paper, and very right-wing. Plus its website is read by millions. It represents the vast swath of middle class Britain.

    So just look at the comments for this article - 95% are totally against MGM, not just what happen in this sad case. And many, many commentators are really angry.

    If you search by least popular comments, you can see all the religious and pro-circ trolls have been down voted massively.

    The whole edifice is really, really weak; and the great weight of public opinion is to put a stop to this insanity.

    If the Daily Mail readers are against it en-masse, then it's good news!

  2. Agreed. I suggested against the MGM bill for these same reasons. More education and more real research is needed. Europeans proved that all the "problems" associated with the foreskin can be successfully treated and even prevented without surgery. Want we really need is for them to publish that in the medical journals. What is the true UTI rate for intact boys? I would like to know. At present, we only have the Canadian research to debunk Wiswell.

  3. Hi Joseph,
    You said: "The reason a federal ban against female genital cutting passed so swimmingly is because female genital cutting was already seen as the gross human rights violation that it is. "

    Actually I've come to realize that female genital mutilation in the U.S. is alive as ever it was. It's just disguised as medical treatment for intersex girls. Clitoroplasties are just a few steps short of clitoridectomies, and yet they are performed without problem by medical institutions, even though they match the definition of FGM.

    This resolution so far is not binding, but constitutes a recommendation and a discussion point for all European countries. This is not a ban yet. But that's okay. I believe it's great that bodily integrity of children is finally discussed as a right of the children, and one that is violated by many religious rites, one of which happens to be circumcision. It also brings attention to the tattooing of children among Coptic Christians, FGM in all its forms, and early genital surgeries on intersex children.

    What's really important is that this is a resolution grounded on moral integrity, on defending children regardless of their gender, against all practices usually advocated by parents of different cultures, which violate this right to bodily integrity. This is not just an anti-circumcision resolution as some Jewish media would like to frame it. It is something larger than that, more integral than that, and that's what makes it so valuable.

    The fight is far from over, but this is a very valid step.

  4. "cherished tradition"

    I always shiver in disgusted disbelief when I come across that frequently employed description.

    To hear people talk of a "cherished tradition" (as though they were speaking of the annual family camping trip) really makes my blood run cold when I think of the fact that they're actually referring to—at the very least—cutting chunks of flesh from the penises of completely healthy infants.

    Add to that the other "cherished traditions" such as the sucking of the boy's wounded genitalia (with or without a herpes-infected mouth), and I begin to feel as though I've entered into sickening phantasmagoria.

    Honestly, what is wrong with people?