Washington, DC - The Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center (HRVWCC), including the Justice Department’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section (HRSP), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the FBI’s International Human Rights Unit (IHRU), will join U.S. and international law enforcement partners, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and others this Sunday, Feb. 6 in recognizing the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
“There will be no tolerance – today or any other day – for this harmful and traumatic practice,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “The Department of Justice is dedicated to the enforcement of the STOP FGM Act to protect young women from this traumatic experience.”
“The FBI stands with our partners in acknowledging this International Day of Zero Tolerance in support of the victims of this horrendous crime,” said Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “We reaffirm our commitment to protecting young women and girls by bringing to justice those who violate this vulnerable group.”
“The International Day of Zero Tolerance provides us the opportunity to raise awareness of this issue and remember the women and girls who have suffered from this human rights abuse, including those who have died or live with the health complications from this practice,” said ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Assistant Director for National Security Andre R. Watson.
Federal agencies have engaged in a variety of initiatives aimed at protecting women and girls in the United States who have been subjected to or who may be at risk of FGM. For example:
- To help raise awareness, HSI special agents regularly conduct outreach at U.S. international airports to inform travelers of the dangers of FGM and the consequences for those who commit this horrific abuse. In December, HSI special agents conducted outreach at international airports in Dulles, Virginia, and Dallas, Texas, under an initiative called Operation Limelight USA. Operation Limelight USA was initiated in 2017 by ICE’s HRVWCC, and modeled after the U.K.’s Operation Limelight, a joint initiative by the U.K.’s Border Force and police services.
- The Justice Department’s Office for Victims of Crime awarded over five million dollars in three-year grants to support community projects around the country designed to increase direct services, education, and community partner engagement to stop the victimization of women and girls through FGM. For more info, see press release: Justice Department announces nearly $3 million to address female genital mutilation and cutting.
- Justice Department, DHS, and FBI conducted a variety of trainings for local, state and federal law enforcement (prosecutors, local and state police, child protective services professionals, and others) to raise awareness about the applicability of federal and state laws barring FGM, best practices for interactions with FGM survivors, and where to find support services. Similar trainings and meetings were held for educators, immigrant and refugee service providers, and medical professionals.
FGM is a serious human rights violation and a federal crime. In 2013, Congress amended the federal FGM statute to add section 116(d), which prohibits the transportation of a person from the United States to another country for purposes of having FGM performed upon them.
On Jan. 5, 2021, the STOP FGM Act 2020 was signed into law, further 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 harmed, may be investigated by the HRVWCC and prosecuted by the Department of Justice accordingly.
On Jan. 13, 2021, the Department of Justice indicted a Texas woman for allegedly transporting a minor out of the United States for FGM, the first time that charges were brought under the provision of the law which prohibits taking a girl out of the United States for the purpose of FGM. The FBI’s Houston Field Office investigated the case with support from the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center.
According to UNICEF, more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM, which refers to 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.
ICE’s HRVWCC is focused on investigating global atrocities and the perpetrators of human rights violations and war crimes. Initiated by ICE’s HSI 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 investigate human rights violators and to pursue war crimes investigations and prosecutions.