This is a case from 2006 about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), an abhorrent human rights abuse. It is often crudely performed, is sometimes fatal and leaves serious mental and physical scars, with an estimated 125 million girls and women globally living with its effects.
Fornah was born in Sierra Leone, where the overwhelming majority of girls are subjected to FGM. Upon overhearing plans for FGM to be inflicted on her as part of her initiation into womanhood, she fled to the United Kingdom to seek asylum and safety when she was 15.
The Home Secretary allowed Fornah to enter the United Kingdom but rejected her claim for asylum because Fornah was not judged to be persecuted for being the member of a particular social group, which is the criteria under the Refugee Convention. So what, you might think, she’s allowed in the UK so everything is fine? Not so, because being allowed to enter does not mean you have a right to stay here; only those granted asylum have the right to stay.
This argument went all the way to the House of Lords, which was then the highest court in the country. The judges made it clear that FGM was torture and that Fornah was at risk of persecution in Sierra Leone. They also decided that Fornah, as a young woman from Sierra Leone, was a member of a particular social group at risk, and so she could seek asylum in the United Kingdom.
This case shows how important a human rights perspective is in decision making. The judges recognising that women in Sierra Leone faced a general risk of FGM, went beyond the narrow thinking of earlier decision making and found a solution to protect someone who really needed help.