International and regional legal instruments

International instruments

FGM is recognized internationally as a practice that violates human rights laws. A number of international conventions and declarations form the legal framework for the protection and promotion of women and girls’ human rights and are relevant to FGM:

  • the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
  • the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
  • the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
  • the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
  • the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT)
  • the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

According to the UN Human Rights Committee, “FGM/C constitutes cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment that violates the general prohibition against torture”. (10)

Thus, national governments have international legal obligations to adopt: “effective and appropriate measures to abolish harmful traditional practices affecting the health of children, particularly girls, including early marriage and FGM, as well as preventing third parties, including medical providers, from coercing women to undergo traditional practices, such as FGM/C.” (9)

Moreover, fear of FGM in one’s country of origin is grounds for international protection (asylum) under the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees.

Regional instruments


There are specific legal obligations for the African continent, including:

  • the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (art 18)
  • the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (art 21)
  • the Maputo Protocol (Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa, art 5).

The Maputo Protocol obligates African states to take necessary actions to prohibit and condemn FGM (as well as other harmful practices that negatively affect the human rights of women).


In the European region, FGM is considered a violation to several treaties and conventions:

  • the European Convention on Human Rights
  • the EU Directive on Victims’ Rights
  • the Istanbul Convention (the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence)

The Istanbul Convention recognized the existence of FGM in Europe and the need to systematically address the practice and its prevention. One of the “four Ps” of the Convention is prosecution, meaning to prosecute offenders that (try to) subject a woman or girl to FGM.

Thus, all States that commit to the international human rights instruments cited above are obliged to prevent FGM and protect women and girls from the practice. One of the key duties is to put in place legislative measures to prohibit FGM. However, as most of them are examples of “Soft law” they are not legally binding