German court findings against ritual circumcision are not “persecution” and should not be overridden as a reflex

  • post Type / General news
  • Date / 25 September 2012

The recent decision by a court in Cologne, Germany that ritual circumcision of boys is harmful, unnecessary, and an attack on their human rights, garnered much criticism from Muslim and Jewish groups. Senior German politicians, apparently anxious of this response and taking to heart accusations of religious bigotry, responded by pledging to limit the legal ramifications and “protect” circumcision. However, research by an IHEU member organisation in the UK, the National Secular Society, has shown the German court decision to be both timely and correct.

IHEU representative Josephine Macintosh made this point to the UN Human Rights Council on 18 September 2012, citing a written statement on the issue submitted by IHEU in August this year.

Speaker: IHEU Representative, Josephine Mackintosh, Monday 17 September 2012
Agenda Item 4:  Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention

Ritual Circumcision of Male Children

Madam President,

The recent German [Cologne district] court ruling outlawing non-therapeutic infant male circumcision correctly places the welfare, and the “fundamental rights and freedoms”[1] of vulnerable children above the unrestrained expression of adult beliefs.

The court correctly determined that: non-therapeutic cutting of a child’s body is an assault; that children are unable to give informed consent; that surrogate parental consent is not valid for an operation with no clinical indication and with the potential to cause serious harm; and that children have a right to be protected from bodily harm. 

Such determinations cannot legitimately be overridden by adults convinced that children might be harmed by denying them this forced, irreversible surgery to their most intimate body parts. When the children become adult they can freely decide whether or not to undergo the procedure.

We understand, and have some sympathy with the sensitivities of certain religious groups which may feel threatened or even attacked by the judgment, particularly in the light of recent history.[2] But it would be wrong to describe this judgment as religious persecution, or anti-Semitic; some Jewish voices are calling for an end to the practice[3] and there is even an association called Jews Against Circumcision.[4]. Powerful groups must not be permitted to impose their views on the vulnerable on ideological or theological grounds in contravention of international law.[5]

The Royal Dutch Medical Association and seven other Dutch scientific associations concluded in 2010 [6] that the procedure can be harmful and that it violates the boy’s human rights to autonomy and physical integrity.

The Cologne court judgment is therefore both laudable and overdue. Reflecting as it does States’ obligations under the ICCPR, it should be followed by all member states.

Our written statement on this issue is available.[7]

Thank you Madam.


[1] ICCPR Article 18(3)

[2] www.haaretz.com/weekend/week-s-end/wordplay-capitalizing-on-circumcision.premium-1.461994

[3] www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4272455,00.html

[4] www.jewsagainstcircumcision.org/

[5] www.haaretz.com/opinion/the-national-consensus-on-the-mutilation-of-every-newborn-male.premium-1.461078

[6] http://knmg.artsennet.nl/Publicaties/KNMGpublicatie/Nontherapeutic-circumcision-of-male-minors-2010.htm

[7] A/HRC/21/NGO/21

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