Washington, DC - Female genital mutilation (FGM) has broad implications for the health and human rights of women and girls, as well as societies at large. International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation on February 6 served as an opportunity to reflect on victims who have suffered from FGM, including those who have died or suffered lifelong health complications from the practice.
Partners of the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center (HRVWCC)—including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section (HRSP) of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division—join foreign government partners, non-governmental organizations, and local communities to call for the eradication of the practice.
“On this day we remember the women and girls who have been impacted by this horrific practice and commit ourselves to working together to end it,” said Mark Shaffer, chief of ICE’s Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center. “FGM is a human rights violation and a crime that requires a global effort to address. We stand with our domestic and international partners as we work together to support survivors and prevent the victimization of more women and girls.”
“In the United States there will be zero tolerance for those who subject girls to this harmful and traumatic practice,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “As the recent indictment shows, the Justice Department will seek to hold accountable all perpetrators of this heinous act and fully enforce all provisions of the STOP FGM Act.”
“Every year, the FBI joins with our partners to acknowledge Zero Tolerance Day and raise awareness regarding female genital mutilation. However, our work investigating perpetrators of this terrible crime is not limited to February 6. The FBI is consistently and actively working to eradicate this human rights violation every day of the year,” said David Scott, section chief of the FBI’s Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section. “We reaffirm our commitment to our partners, to the victims, and to the world that the FBI is committed to protecting the rights of young women and children and bringing justice to those who would violate them.”
FGM is a serious human rights violation, and, since 1996, has been a federal crime. This year, on January 5, the STOP FGM Act 2020 was signed into law, further clarifying the FGM crime and aligning the U.S. definition of FGM with the World Health Organization’s definition. Violations of this law may result in imprisonment and potential removal from the United States. Individuals suspected of FGM, including sending girls overseas to be cut, may be investigated by the HRVWCC and prosecuted by the Justice Department accordingly. Notably, STOP FGM 2020 aligned the definition of FGM with the World Health Organization’s definition and increased the statutory maximum term of imprisonment for violating the law from five to ten years. On January 13, the Department of Justice indicted a Texas woman for allegedly transporting a minor out of the United States for FGM, the first indictment under the amended statute.
The Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center is the only government entity focused completely on investigating global atrocities and the perpetrators of human rights violations and war crimes. Initiated by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations in 2008, the HRVWCC leverages the knowledge and expertise of a select group of special agents, attorneys, intelligence analysts, criminal research specialists and historians who are charged with preventing the United States from becoming a safe haven to individuals who engage in the commission of war crimes, genocide, torture and other forms of serious human rights abuses from conflicts around the globe. The center also brings together other DHS components and federal partners, to include the FBI and the Department of Justice, who work collaboratively alongside HSI to pursue human rights violators and war crimes investigations and prosecutions. In 2017, the HRVWCC initiated Operation Limelight USA, a program modeled on Operation Limelight, a joint initiative by the United Kingdom Border Force and police services across the United Kingdom (U.K.). In Operation Limelight USA, ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), in partnership with non-governmental organizations, the FBI, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and other partners worked together to educate passengers flying to or from high-risk countries, offering informational brochures and identifying potential victims and violators of FGM.
According to UNICEF, more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM, which refers to cutting and other procedures that injure the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. While primarily concentrated in north, west, and central Africa, as well as parts of the Middle East and Asia, FGM also occurs in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that approximately 500,000 women and girls in the United States are either victims of FGM or are at risk of being subjected to it. The practice is global in scope and found in multiple geographies, religions, and socioeconomic classes.
Anyone who has information about an individual who is suspected of assisting in this crime is urged to call the toll-free ICE tip line at (866) 347-2423 or the FBI tip line at 1-800-CALL-FBI.