Under international law, female genital mutilation (FGM) is a human rights violation, torture, and an extreme form of violence and discrimination against girls and women. FGM violates a number of human rights, including women’s and girls’ rights to equality, life, security of the person, and dignity, as well as freedom from discrimination and torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

International law is the set of rules and minimum standards that governs relations between States. There are various sources of international law, which include but are not limited to:

Treaties: A treaty is a written agreement between States, and legally binding on those States that have ratified the treaty.

General Comments/Recommendations of Treaty Monitoring Bodies: Treaty monitoring bodies oversee the implementation of several United Nations human rights treaties, and on occasion issue General Comments/Recommendations to clarify or explain any ambiguities in treaty texts. Though General Comments/Recommendations are not strictly legally binding, they are highly authoritative.

International Consensus Documents: Consensus documents, such as resolutions or declarations, are formal expressions of opinion or will of the United Nations, African Union, Council of Europe, or Organization of American States organs, such as the United Nations General Assembly. Most resolutions or declarations typically are not considered binding on States, but may represent widely accepted principles of international law.

Several treaties, General Comments/Recommendations of treaty monitoring bodies, and consensus documents explicitly condemn FGM as a human rights violation. Other core human rights treaties of the United Nations and African Union provide general protections for the human rights of women and girls, which have been interpreted to prohibit FGM. Many of the sources of international law that are most frequently referenced to end FGM are listed below, though this list is not exhaustive.

Read the relevant text about FGM from each of the sources listed below.

International Law Source Documents

Two regional human rights treaties explicitly condemn FGM as a human rights violation.

Several United Nations human rights treaty monitoring bodies have explicitly condemned FGM as a human rights violation.

Several United Nations consensus documents have explicitly condemned FGM as a human rights violation.

Several other core international and regional human rights treaties generally protect women’s and girls’ human rights, including protection from female genital mutilation.