Law enforcement officials from the United States and the United Kingdom wrapped up Friday a “week of action” during which they conducted outreach at major international airports with the goal of education about and prevention of circumcision of women or female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). This outreach, called “Operation Limelight”, was conducted at four international airports in the U.S. – John F. Kennedy International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and Los Angeles International Airport – and at Heathrow Airport and train stations throughout the UK.
On August 30, law enforcement from the two nations also gathered at the U.S. embassy in London to sign a proclamation affirming their commitment to end the practice of FGM/C in both countries and around the world. The proclamation reads, in part:
“Female genital mutilation/cutting is a global issue that transcends our borders. FGM/C is a culturally-based, gender-specific form of violence and when performed on girls under the age of 18, it is child abuse. The top priorities of the U.K. and U.S. are safeguarding girls through prevention, multi-agency partnership and education. These efforts require that we learn and share our experiences and cooperate through both our informal and formal engagements. Through existing police to police and mutual assistance agreements and arrangements, the U.S. and U.K. law enforcement intend to share intelligence to enhance our knowledge of, and response to female genital mutilation. This collaboration seeks to build our intelligence capacity to identify those involved in perpetrating or facilitating FGM/C offences whilst safeguarding potential victims.”
Signatories of the proclamation include representatives from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, London Metropolitan Police Service, UK National Police Chiefs Council, UK Border Force, UK Crown Prosecution Service, and British Transport Police.
“FGM is a barbaric and violent crime enacted on girls who suffer the results for the rest of their lives. It is child abuse, and no religion, culture or tradition should be allowed to mitigate or make an excuse for such appalling crimes. It is even more traumatic because it is generally committed or facilitated by their families who they should look to for love and protection,” said United Kingdom’s National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead on Female Genital Mutilation Commander Ivan Balhatchet. “FGM is hugely complex to investigate and prosecute. Frequently, the survivor is unwilling to give evidence against those closest to them, and some cases of FGM occur prior to the arrival of the survivor in the UK.
Belhatchet continued, “the US shares the same goal but also the same challenges. This proclamation will mean both the UK and US learn more about FGM, the routes taken by perpetrators and when and where it is committed; this is particularly important because we know that perpetrators continue to adapt to evade detection. We also want this agreement and our joint operation to send a signal to those planning to commit FGM that we will do everything we can to protect girls and prosecute offenders.
“FGM is not something we can eradicate alone. We need everyone who works with children and young people to be alert to signs of FGM and tell [law enforcement] about them. We also need the public and other support groups to speak out and share information with us.”
Female genital mutilation/cutting (or female circumcision) is a federal crime in the United States, and any involvement in committing this crime is a serious human rights violation which may result in imprisonment and potential removal from the U.S. Individuals suspected of female genital mutilation/cutting, including sending girls overseas to be cut, may be investigated by the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center (HRVWCC) and prosecuted accordingly.
Established in 2009, the HRVWCC furthers ICE’s efforts to identify, locate and prosecute human rights abusers in the United States, including those who are known or suspected to have participated in persecution, war crimes, genocide, torture, extrajudicial killings, FGM/C, and the use or recruitment of child soldiers. The HRVWCC leverages the expertise of a select group of agents, lawyers, intelligence and research specialists, historians and analysts who direct the agency’s broader enforcement efforts against these offenders.