Washington, DC - In a striking and positive development for women's rights, United States Attorney General Michael Mukasey has ordered the federal Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) to reconsider its decision in the controversial case of Alima Traore, an asylum seeker from Mali who is a victim of female genital mutilation (FGM). The Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children fully supports the Attorney General's actions in this case.
Ms. Traore, 28, suffered the removal of her vulva and clitoris in her home country of Mali. Fearing further violence if she were deported to Mali (where FGM is legal and performed on 95% of the nation's girls and women), she has been seeking asylum in the U.S. Yet her plea has been twice rejected by the BIA on the grounds that she has already suffered FGM and therefore cannot suffer again.
"The argument to deny Alima Traore asylum because she had already been brutally cut is not only morally indefensible, it violates international human rights norms and standards," said Michelle Brané, director of the detention and asylum program with the Women's Commission. "In supporting Alima's plea for protection, Attorney General Mukasey sends a clear message that the United States will take a firm stand opposing this barbaric practice against girls and women and recognize FGM as grounds for asylum."
In his ruling on September 22, 2008, Mr. Mukasey emphasized that the BIA's argument is flawed in that FGM often happens more than once; victims who have been cut often undergo future mutilations in which they are cut and sewn again, such as for intercourse and childbirth. Further undermining the argument is the fact that the BIA had granted asylum in the past to two women who had suffered repeated genital cutting. Such contradictions reflect an historic lack of consistency in the U.S.'s adjudication of asylum cases involving violence against women and girls. The Attorney General's decision is an important first step towards establishing a stronger protection regime for vulnerable asylum seekers.
Together with a number of concerned *organizations, the Women's Commission had reviewed and signed on to an amicus brief in support of Ms. Traore, and helped to spur a national advocacy campaign to have the BIA's decision reversed.
*Attorneys for the amicus brief include: Reed Smith LLP (Princeton, NJ; Richmond, VA; and Los Angeles, CA) and Rhonda Copelon, Professor of Law & Director, International Women's Human Rights Law Clinic (Flushing NY). Organizations supporting the advocacy campaign include: Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children (Washington, DC), Center for Women Policy Studies (Washington, DC); National Organization for Women (Washington, DC); Legal Momentum (Washington, DC); National Organization for Women (NOW) Foundation(Washington, DC); Center for Reproductive Rights (New York, NY); Columbia Law School Clinic of Gender and Sexuality (New York, NY); Equality Now (New York, NY); Immigration Equality(New York, NY); Sanctuary for Families (New York, NY); Sauti Yetu at the Center for African Women (New York, NY); Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic at Columbia University Law School (New York, NY); Committee on Immigration of the Metropolitan New York Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (Brooklyn, NY); Family Violence Protection Fund (San Francisco, CA); Feminist Majority Foundation (Arlington, VA); Dr. David P. Gushee, President, Evangelicals for Human Rights and Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics, McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University (Atlanta, GA); Tahirih Justice Center (Falls Church, VA).
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