It is with great disappointment and alarm that we respond to the recent judgement in the Michigan case, in which Judge Barnard Friedman dismissed the charges against Juman Nagarwala et al. who had been accused of committing and conspiring to commit FGM/C on nine girls in the United States. This case is yet another example of the legal system failing girls. Laws are important but equally important is their proper implementation and interpretation. Judge Friedman failed girls when he refused to understand what female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is, the severity of its impact, and how it is practiced through interstate commerce, despite having the benefit of Amicus Briefs, informed by survivors from the same community as the girls in this case, that plainly and clearly laid this information out for him. Further, his determination that the federal FGM/C law was unconstitutional showed a clear misunderstanding of and failure to comprehend FGM/C as connected to interstate commerce as well as U.S. obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, providing Congress with the power to pass the FGM/C law.
The Department of Justice leadership failed girls several times by not appealing Judge Friedman’s decisions. It became clear that this case was less about protecting girls’ rights than it was about politics and pressure from the Department of State to challenge U.S. commitments under international treaties. Congress failed girls when it did not clearly state this in the original FGM law, although it subsequently unanimously amended and strengthened the FGM/C law to withstand future challenges while firmly stating its disagreement with Judge Friedman’s interpretation of the law.
Judge Friedman’s latest decision dismissing the remaining charges against Doctor Nagarwala, finding the prosecution’s charges vindictive, especially when the Department of Justice did not appeal his decisions, underscores how girls’ protection from violence was not central to the case. FGM/C is recognized by the U.S. Government and globally as a breach of human rights. This case shines a bright light on the urgent need for more training across all branches of government: what FGM/C is, how it is carried out, and its life-long impact on women and girls. We cannot allow gender-based violence to continue and girls’ rights to go unprotected due to technicalities and decisions by those who do not, or refuse to, understand the realities of violence against women and girls. We commend the Department of Justice for taking this case forward and call on them to not only appeal this decision but to continue to pursue such cases.
We further call on all federal, state and local actors to take proactive action to end FGM/C and protect the women and girls at risk. We also demand more training for judicial staff and other stakeholders who interact with and serve survivors and those at risk. The U.S. was once a leader on ending female genital mutilation/cutting. We need to do better and lead by example.
-The US End FGM/C Network