Women and Justice: Keywords

Domestic Case Law

Bah v. Mukasey United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (2008)

Female genital mutilation or female genital cutting, Gender-based violence in general, Harmful traditional practices, International law

Three plaintiffs from Guinea who underwent female genital mutilation (“FGM”) appealed decisions from the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”), which had denied their claims for relief and withholding of removal under the Convention Against Torture based on FGM. An applicant who demonstrates past persecution benefits from the presumption that he or she faces future persecution, unless the government shows either a change of circumstances such that the applicant’s life or freedom would not be threatened upon return to his or her native country, or a reasonable possibility of internal relocation within the country. Here, the BIA found that the presumption was automatically rebutted because the FGM had already occurred. On appeal, the Second Circuit held that the fact that an applicant had already undergone FGM cannot, in and of itself, rebut the presumption that her life or freedom will be threatened in the future. In doing so, the Second Circuit found that the BIA had committed two significant errors in its analysis. First, it assumed that FGM is a one-time act without placing the burden on the government to show that the individuals in this case are not at risk of further mutilation. Second, to rebut the presumption, the government must show that changed conditions in the country obviate the risk to life or freedom related to the original claim; it is not enough that the particular act of persecution suffered by the victim in the past might not reoccur. The Second Circuit accordingly vacated the BIA decisions and remanded the cases.



Kone v. Holder United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (2010)

Female genital mutilation or female genital cutting, Harmful traditional practices, International law

The plaintiff, who was from Côte d'Ivoire, appealed a Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”) decision affirming the denial of her asylum application, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture. Her asylum claim was based on female genital mutilation (“FGM”) and her fear that her daughters would be subjected to FGM if she was removed. An applicant who demonstrates past persecution benefits from the presumption that he or she faces future persecution unless the government rebuts that presumption by showing that there is either a change of circumstances such that the applicant’s life or freedom would not be threatened upon return to his or her native country, or a reasonable possibility of internal relocation within the country. Here, the BIA found that the plaintiff’s several voluntary return trips to her native country prior to her application for asylum rebutted that presumption and undermined her credibility. The Second Circuit disagreed, finding that a safe return on one occasion does not preclude potential future harm and that the regulation does not require an applicant to show that she would immediately be persecuted upon return. Similarly, the Second Circuit also found that an applicant’s return trips are not sufficient to undermine an applicant’s credibility. The Second Circuit accordingly vacated the BIA decision and remanded the case, noting that the agency may wish to consider the application for “humanitarian asylum.”



Rreshpja v. Gonzalez United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (2005)

International law, Sexual violence and rape, Trafficking in persons

The plaintiff-appellant, a citizen of Albania, arrived in the United States with a fraudulently obtained non-immigrant visa after a man attempted to abduct her in her home country. The Immigration and Nationalization Service initiated removal proceedings against her. During those proceedings the plaintiff requested either a grant of asylum or the withholding of removal and protection under the Convention Against Torture, arguing that she is at risk of being forced to work as a prostitute if she were to return to her home country. The immigration judge denied her application, as did the Board of Immigration Appeals. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial because the plaintiff was unable to show that she was a member of a particular social group that faced persecution in her home country.



Kalaj v. Holder United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (2009)

Sexual violence and rape, Trafficking in persons

The plaintiff-appellant, an Albanian citizen who entered the United States on a non-immigrant visa, fled her home country after facing three attempted kidnappings that she believed would have led her into forced prostitution. After escaping the third attempt, her uncle arranged for her to obtain a fake passport to enter the United States. After she applied for asylum with the Immigration and Nationalization Service, she was notified that she was subject to removal as an alien not in possession of valid entry documents. Both an immigration judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals denied her application for asylum. The Sixth Circuit affirmed these denials, finding that the plaintiff was unable to demonstrate that she was a member of a persecuted social group and unable to show that the Albanian government was unwilling or unable to protect her.



SYLB v. Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs Federal Court of Australia (2005)

Sexual violence and rape

A married couple, citizens of Yugoslavia and ethnic Albanians, sought protection on the basis that the wife feared persecution in Kosovo. The wife was raped by a Serbian soldier. The Refugee Review Tribunal concluded that the applicants each had a well-founded fear of persecution in Kosovo at the time they fled, but that those conditions no longer existed. The court concluded that the Tribunal misunderstood the legal test to be applied for the purpose of determining whether the female applicant was unwilling, due to a well-founded fear of persecution, to avail herself of the protection of her country.