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USA/GUINEA: A Victory For Women

Three women from Guinea won a court victory in Manhattan this month in their struggle to win asylum as victims of the barbaric form of persecution known as female genital cutting. In doing so, they have shined a light on the urgent need for consistent humane policies that treat women’s rights as fundamental human rights.

The government isn’t there yet, judging from the withering opinion of a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Ruling unanimously, the judges said the Board of Immigration Appeals, the highest immigration tribunal in the country, had committed “significant errors” and ignored its own regulations in denying asylum to the women, Salimatou Bah, Mariama Diallo and Haby Diallo. It ordered the board to reconsider the cases.

Among other disturbing misjudgments, the panel said, the board had wrongly assumed that the women were safe from future persecution because their genitals had already been cut. The board had likened the women’s injuries to the loss of a limb a bad thing but not something that happens more than once.

One of the judges wrote separately to underscore what the board failed to recognize: the ritual mutilation of girls to promote chastity and thwart sexual desire is a perpetual injury. It is performed without anesthesia, often with dirty instruments, and leads to disfigurement, severe complications and lifelong trauma.

The judges also found that the board had erred by failing to consider the women’s risk of persecution by other means. In societies where genital cutting is endemic, beatings, rape, forced marriage and sex trafficking are commonplace, too.

There is another genital-cutting case, that of Alima Traore of Mali, on appeal to the Fourth Circuit. The Board of Immigration Appeals rejected her asylum plea, using the same sloppy reasoning. Human-rights advocates and members of Congress have pleaded with Michael Mukasey, the United States attorney general, to intervene to protect Ms. Traore and use her case to establish clear, consistent refuge policies for women who have suffered such an appalling breach of their basic rights.

The United States has seldom been shy in lecturing others in the world about human-rights abuses. But it has zigzagged between compassion and confusion in its handling of women seeking refuge from genital cutting. Swift action by Mr. Mukasey and the Board of Immigration Appeals to affirm the rights of these women would do much to replace gauzy words with exemplary action.

SOURCE: The New York Times

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DATE: 22/06/2008

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