K. v. Secretary of State for the Home Department
United Kingdom House of Lords
 UKHL 46,  1 AC 412 (2006)
Zainab Esther Fornah (plaintiff) was a citizen of Sierra Leone who sought asylum in the United Kingdom. Fornah had a fear of being forced to undergo female genital mutilation if she returned to Sierra Leone. Female genital mutilation was widely performed on most indigenous girls and young women in Sierra Leone as a rite of passage into womanhood. However, the procedure was often crudely performed by older women. The extremely painful procedure sometimes led to death. The practice was widely accepted, and authorities did not act to curtail the practice. Female genital mutilation was condemned as inhumane and discriminatory by various international bodies. Pursuant to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (the convention), to qualify for recognition as a refugee, an applicant was required to demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution based on a protected ground. Fornah asserted that she had a fear of persecution based on her membership in a particular social group—women in Sierra Leone. The lower courts disagreed about whether the group of women in Sierra Leone was too broad to constitute a particular social group under the convention. There was also disagreement regarding whether persecution itself would be the only distinguishing characteristic of a more narrowly defined group, such as uncircumcised women, as the secretary of state for the Home Department (the secretary) (defendant) argued. The Immigration Appeals Board ruled against Fornah, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Fornah sought leave to appeal. The House of Lords considered whether any persecution suffered for refusing to undergo female genital mutilation could be said to be on account of Fornah’s membership in the particular social group of women in Sierra Leone.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Bingham, J.)
Concurrence (Hope, J.)
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