All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Rights for all

Commemorative engraving of the bicentenary of ...
The fourteenth of July has passed...President Hollande managed his first public engagement without being soaked...fireworks displays have been enjoyed (sunny south) or cancelled (soggy north).
The roads are crowded as  yet more people set off on holiday, escaping the latter for the former.
Summer in France.

While the British commonly think of the fourteenth as Bastille Day, it is in fact the Fete Nationale, commemorating the Fete de la Federation of the fourteenth of July 1790 - one year after the storming of the Bastille -  when  Louis XVI and his people swore to uphold the constitution (not yet written) and that great survivor Mgr. de Talleyrand, Bishop of Autun and shit in a silk stocking, celebrated mass at the altar erected on the  Champ de Mars.

The spirit of co operation did not last long, going down in the bloody confusion of the Terror, but something survived from the wreckage, even if submerged in French law until 1958, at which time the principles enunciated in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, passed in the National Constituent Assembly in August 1789, were declared to have constitutional value.

Not before time, in a world which, after the defeat of Hitler and his system, recognised that the legal and customary rights of individual states vis a vis each other needed reinforcement by a system of individual human rights vis a vis their states if the ideals of liberty as expressed in the eighteenth century French and American declarations were to have any validity.
Thus the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1949 and the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms ( now the European Convention on Human Rights) which came into force  in 1953, offering individuals suffering injustice recourse against breach of its provisions by national governments.

Children were given specific protection by the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989, the latter insisting on the primacy of action in the best interests of the child, who is to be secure in his or her right to be brought up by their parents in a family or cultural grouping.

Which is, in the context of national law, where the solids have hit the fan in Germany recently.
The German constitution protects the rights of families and religious freedom, just as it protects the right to physical inviolability...all in the spirit of  post war humanitarian law and particuarly cherished given the history of the Hitler years.

So when an operation to circumcise a little Turkish boy went wrong, the prosecutor brought the doctor to court for doing harm to the child.
The court aquitted him.
The prosecutor appealed and the regional court in Koln decided that although the doctor was innocent as the state of the law was unclear they intended to give the state of the law as they saw it, which was that the right of the child not to suffer an operation which would have lasting consequences over rode the rights to freedom of religious practice.The parents could not give a legitimate consent and, in future, any doctor carrying out circumcisions based on any but strict medical grounds would be carrying out an unlawful act.
Thr child must be allowed to decide for himself whether he wanted this mark of religious fellowship on reaching the age of religious fourteen.

Predictably, both Muslim and Jewish community leaders have risen in their wrath.
This ruling, they argue, affects their right to enjoy freedom of religion and German politicians have been quick to reassure them that their right to circumcise their male children at whatever age they see fit to do so will be respected.

But should it be respected?

What of the right of the child to have his physical inviolability respected?

The whole tenor of humanitarian law has been to protect the vulnerable, but it has been couched in terms of protection against the state, seen as the only coercive force.

Yet with the rise of counter powers inside countries...ethnic, social or religious groupings....the rights of the vulnerable individual may need further means of protection.

The African Union's Charter on the Rights and  Welfare of the Child, of 1999, might offer assistance in its emphasis on measures to protect the child from social and cultural practices which affect the welfare, dignity, normal growth and development of the child.

The world has come a long way since 1789 in its recognition of individual dignity and the means to support same - though its practice is abominably wide of its stated aims - but a child needs special protection.

It is an indicator of how uncivilised our society is becoming that this question of a conflict of values ands rights will not be discussed, but dismissed in a cloud of prejudice.

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  1. Cicumcism - of male or female - is highly questionable to my mind. Cutting another person's body for the sake of an ethos seems (dare I say it) barabaric?

    1. I've always thought so.
      If one of the conditions of belonging to a group is to be mutilated then only someone adult should be able to decide whether or not to accept this.

      And I include piercing the ears of tiny girls in that view too.
      First step on the path to becoming an object...

    2. thought-provoking post. I have often been troubled by the fact that I can campaign against FGM but not against the mutilation of male genitals. It is repugnant to me that adults should impose their values and faith systems on children - who cannot clearly make that choice for themselves. I would include religious belief in this - and with Dawkins when he states that there is no such thing as a Christian child - only the child of Christian parents.
      Agreed re the earrings issue - I cannot understand why anyone would choose to do this to a baby but note that it is widespread practice in Europe - partic Spain.

    3. We are repellled by the self mutilation of the priests of Cybele...but not by the mutilation of a child by adults in the name of religion.

  2. There are sometimes sound medical arguments for circumcision.Belief in an invisible deity is hardly "medical."
    The various laws enacted to protect people often read like a litany of failure, particularly when courts appear to be faction-driven.
    (And, yes, I have only an opinion, not an answer.)

    1. How right you are about the litany of is the depressing side of humanitarian law - too much jaw jaw and not enough war war on the things that oppress people.

  3. Whenever I go to a pediatric conference in San Francisco, California, I walk by a handful of anti-circumcision protesters. Some in that city had hoped for a ban on the procedure, though I don't believe it went anywhere. I respect their right to picket, but I always feel they're targeting the wrong crowd. Circumcision is not a medical necessity--though there are health benefits of the procedure--and as such, it is only done if a parent requests it. I would think they would get better results picketing outside of sites frequented by soon-to-be parents.

    1. I've never understood this mania for circumcision in the absence of some good medical reason...particularly in an age of readily available soap and water.

  4. Living in a predominantly Muslim country and being married to a Turk, it's a subject on which I generally keep my views to myself (just for a peaceful life). I don't agree with circumcision on a child unless it is for medical reasons. Of course the Sunnet is still widely practised here and I find it quite offensive that this painful procedure for a boy of 8 or 9 years old is a cause for much celebration.
    One thing I have noticed nowadays is that the more educated Turks, although still wanting to stay true to their faith, are getting their boys circumcised in hospital when they are babies when it's less painful and skipping the celebrations. I'm hoping it might prove to be a small step in the right direction.

    1. I know what you mean about avoiding certain subjects in certain contexts....
      I suppose infant circumcision is a lot better than the traditional way.....

  5. It's one of those practices that grew out of dodgy desert conditions, like eating pork and have no real point in modern society. Of course religious bodies have woven a mystique of tradition and religious observance around both practices and have absolutely no intention of reviewing anything.

    It's all down to control - give an inch and the faithful might take a yard...

    1. And bang go the perks and kudos of the religious leaders....

  6. I saw an article on this too, and hats off to the Germans. Churches are facing challenges in response to more enlightened ideas on moralty, and rightly so in my view.

    1. And look how the politicans are caving in...the judges concerned did their job without prejudice, looking at the terms of the constitutional law in analysing the situation of circumcision for non medical reasons.

    2. What do you expect from a bunch of midgets?

    3. Not even dwarfs on the shoulders of giants.....just dwarfs.