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London lawyer acquitted of forcing daughter to undergo female genital mutilation

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LONDON, (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A London solicitor accused of forcing his daughter to undergo female genital mutilation was acquitted on Thursday, increasing pressure on police and prosecutors who have yet to secure a conviction for FGM more than 30 years after it was outlawed.

The prosecution was only the second to be brought under FGM legislation introduced in 1985.

During a nine-day trial at London’s Central Criminal Court, the prosecution alleged that the defendant had twice arranged for someone to come to the family home to cut his daughter as a form of punishment when she was around nine years old.

But the defendant, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said in an emotional testimony that the allegations were fabrications arising from a very acrimonious divorce.

He said his wife had repeatedly threatened to destroy him and had turned their children against him.

“I didn’t cut my daughter. I would never hurt my daughter,” he told the jury. “I would give my life for my children.”

A medical expert confirmed the girl’s genitalia had been cut but said the scars were unusual and could not say when the injuries occurred.

The 50-year-old lawyer, who comes from West Africa, said FGM was not practiced in his community and he had no idea who had cut his daughter. He was also cleared of three counts of child cruelty.

Police and prosecutors have faced mounting pressure in recent years to secure a conviction for FGM as part of broader efforts to eradicate the practice, which usually involves the partial or total removal of external genitalia.

An estimated 137,000 women and girls in England and Wales have undergone FGM, which affects immigrant communities from various countries including Somalia, Sierra Leone, Eritrea, Sudan, Nigeria and Egypt.

Politicians and campaigners, who believe thousands of girls in Britain are at risk of FGM, have said a successful prosecution would act as a deterrent.

Prosecutors were criticised over the first FGM trial in 2015 when a doctor was accused of performing FGM while treating a woman who had given birth. He was acquitted.

A leading obstetrician branded the trial a “ludicrous” travesty of justice which would leave doctors on labour wards terrified of touching women who had been subjected to FGM.

A second trial involving FGM – but brought under child cruelty laws – collapsed last month. (Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)

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Arts & Culture

Somali-British poet Momtaza Mehri named young people’s laureate for London

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THE GUARDIAN — The 24-year-old Somali-British poet Momtaza Mehri, who has been chosen as the new young people’s laureate for London, is hoping to spend her year in the role convincing young people “to see poetry as part of their every day, rather than in some dusty tome, or academic niche interest”.

Mehri, who has a background in biochemical science and wrote the poetry chapbook sugah. lump. prayer, has been shortlisted for this year’s Brunel African poetry prize and won last year’s Out-Spoken Page poetry prize. As laureate, Mehri hopes to encourage young people to voice their concerns and experiences through poetry.

The poet, from Kilburn in north-west London, was selected for the role by a panel of arts organisations and poets, and is, according to Spread the Word’s chair of trustees Rishi Dastidar, “an inspired choice” and a “poet to watch”.

“For young people to have an artist who is an ambassador for them, who brings their concerns, struggles and joys to those in authority, and the wider world, is vital,” Dastidar said. “Her poetry is precise and powerful, and rich with images that are haunting. She is not afraid to tackle the biggest of subjects, which, combined with her talent, is going to give the role a renewed sense of purpose and visibility.”
Mehri said she was exposed to oral forms of poetry by her family when growing up, but only began writing for publication around four years ago. “Over time I honed, or found, my voice, and that allowed me to feel comfortable, finding the poetic voice I felt was most suited to me. Obviously at the beginning you’re very much inspired by your influences,” she said. “I think the poetry I write is interested in questions or ideas around disruption or movement, whether it’s movement of people or places, movement between different ideas, between how things change over different generations, and in themes of migration and urban spaces.”

During her time in the role, Mehri will be looking to amplify the voices of Londoners aged between 13 and 25, “to let them lead conversations, to be as inspired by them as hopefully they can be inspired by me”. She will work with writer-development agency Spread the Word on youth-focused residencies across London, head a tour to six outer London boroughs, and co-host a special project for young London poets called The Young People’s Poetry Lab.

According to research from the National Literacy Trust, 84% of teachers who participated in a poetry programme for disadvantaged children in London schools over a five-year period said their writing skills had improved.

Outgoing young people’s laureate for London, Caleb Femi, said that “poetry has the potential to play a vital part in self-expression and artistic enjoyment in the lives of young people”.

“We need a dedicated person who can assist in integrating the joys of poetry into the everydayness of young Londoners,” he added. “We are extremely lucky to have a talented and dedicated poet such as Momtaza Mehri appointed as the new young people’s laureate for London. Her tenure is sure to be an extraordinary one.”

Mehri said that she wanted to: “Reach everybody, to allow people to see poetry as part of everyday living in London, and all the different poetry traditions that people bring to London.”

“I am very much aware of the fact that I came out of a very different poetic tradition, and what that’s brought to my writing of the English language. So I want to be aware of the fact that people are carrying different poetic influences, whether they consider themselves poets or not,” she said.

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Food

Bristol’s Somali Kitchen: Empowering women through cooking

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Suad Yusuf set up the Somali Kitchen in Bristol to bring women together to share recipes, promote healthy eating and to support and empower one another.

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UK

Spy poisoning: How could the UK retaliate against Russia?

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BBC — UK Prime Minister Theresa May is braced to take “extensive measures” against Russia should it not offer a credible explanation of how an ex-spy and his daughter were poisoned on British soil with a military-grade nerve agent.

“Should there be no credible response,” Mrs May told parliament, “we will conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom”.

But what could the UK actually do – both on its own, and with the help of allies? And how likely are the US, EU and others to be on board?

Direct action

Britain could expel Russian diplomats, as it did after the poisoning of former Russian Federal Security Service operative Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 with radioactive polonium.
But many argue that this, and the other measures that were taken after that killing – including visa restrictions on Russian officials – did not go far enough. The man identified as the main suspect, Andrei Lugovoi, is not just at large, he is now a Russian MP.

So what else could the UK do?

  • Expel senior diplomats, perhaps even the Russian ambassador, and known Russian intelligence agents
  • Take some sort of action to bar wealthy Russian oligarchs from accessing their mansions and other luxuries in London, as suggested by Tory MP and House of Commons foreign affairs committee chair Tom Tugendhat. One way this could happen is through the use of Unexplained Wealth Orders, which allow government officials to seize assets including property until they have been properly accounted for
  • A boycott of the Fifa World Cup in Russia later this year by officials and dignitaries – a symbolic move that UK allies are unlikely to emulate
  • Taking Russian broadcasters such as RT (formerly Russia Today) off the air – broadcasting regulator Ofcom has said it will “consider the implications for RT’s broadcast licences” after Mrs May speaks on Wednesday.
  • Pass a British version of the 2012 US Magnitsky act, which punishes Russians involved in corruption and human rights violations with asset freezes and travel bans. It is named after a Russian lawyer who died in custody after revealing alleged fraud by state officials. MPs have been pushing for a Magnitsky amendment to be added to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill now going through Parliament

More EU sanctions?

Current sanctions on Russia that Britain supports are imposed via the European Union. They were first passed after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 and backed rebels fighting in eastern Ukraine. Some 150 individuals and 38 companies have been targeted with visa bans and asset freezes.

EU countries are already divided on the sanctions, with diverging views among members states as to how Russia should be treated. States like Hungary, Italy and Greece have all supported the weakening of sanctions.

Some doubt whether Britain could convince the bloc to further toughen its measures against Moscow, especially with the UK on its way out of the Union.

Could Nato act?
By framing the poisoning as a possible “unlawful use of force” by Russia against the UK, Theresa May prompted questions as to whether this could be a matter for Nato, the military alliance of 29 countries.

The alliance’s policy of collective defence – under Article 5 – states that an attack on any one ally is seen as an attack on all.

It was invoked for the first and only time by the United States after the 9/11 attacks in New York.

Lord Ricketts, a former UK national security adviser, told the BBC that such an “unlawful act” warranted the involvement of Nato.

Any action “will be much more effective if there can be a broader, Nato-EU solidarity behind us”, he said.

But Downing Street has played down suggestions that this is an Article 5 matter.

For its part, Nato has called the attack “horrendous and completely unacceptable”. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that the incident was of “great concern” to the alliance, which has moved in recent years to deter Russia by sending troops to Poland and the three Baltic states.

Lord Ricketts suggested one option involving Nato could be a reinforcement of resources on the group’s eastern flank.

Are UK’s allies showing support?
The UK could also seek to bring the issue to the UN – and seek to gather international support for action against Russia.

Theresa May has already spoken to France’s President Macron and the two leaders “agreed that it would be important to continue to act in concert with allies”, according to Downing Street. Although Mrs May has not yet spoken to President Trump about the case – there have been “conversations at a senior official level”.

The UK has already internationalised the matter by asking Russia to provide a “full and complete disclosure” of the Novichok nerve agent programme to an international agency, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Indeed, the magnitude of the response that may be announced on Wednesday will depend on the scale of international co-operation that Mrs May can secure, says BBC Diplomatic Correspondent James Landale.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders called the attack an “outrage” and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson went further, saying the attack “clearly came from Russia”. President Donald Trump himself has not spoken out.

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