In November 2011, the Rwandan government and UNHCR discussed the cessation of refugee status to hundreds of thousands of Rwandans who continue to live out of their country as a consequence of tragedies which engulfed Rwanda since early the 1990s. Almost more than twenty years after, outcomes of catastrophic events of that period, and particularly the 1994 genocide and ethnically related massacres which followed inside and outside national boundaries, persist in affecting millions of people in the entire Great Lakes region.
Against all expectations from those affected, the meeting between the two parties concluded that Rwandan refugees, wherever they are still living in foreign countries, will see their status invalidated by 31st December 2011. But the implementation of the agreement will become effective on 30 June 2012.
Despite arising voices more and more critical every day of Paul Kagame’s rule, it surprises that the Rwandan president is still having support in some corners of international politics. The relevant provisions of the ceased circumstances cessation clause in the Refugee Convention read as follows: “This Convention shall cease to apply to any person … if: ….(5) He can no longer, because the circumstances in connection with which he has been recognized as a refugee have ceased to exist, continue to refuse to avail himself of the protection of the country of his nationality”. Article I(4) (e) of the Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa is worded in identical terms. In the same line, the communiqué published after the discussions between UNHCR and Rwandan government states: “…UNHCR will recommend to States that they invoke cessation by 31 December 2011 effective on 30 June 2012 so as to make further progress on solutions and to manage the implementation of cessation in an effective and protection-sensitive manner.”
Amnesty International, in its memorandum to the government of Uganda about the cessation of refugee protection for Rwandans which was published in December 2011, makes the following recommendations after investigating the situation with most of the stakeholders in the region.
In the light of the concerns set out in the memorandum, Amnesty International urges the government of Uganda to:
- conduct a comprehensive, objective and verifiable evaluation of current human rights conditions in Rwanda to determine whether there has been a fundamental, durable and stable change of circumstances such as to justify the invocation and application of the ceased circumstances cessation clause in manner that is fully consistent with international and domestic refugee law and standards;
- establish procedures to assess the general impact of any such a change in Rwanda, as well as on the original and/or present well-founded fear of persecution so that refugees can individually request reconsideration of the application of the cessation clause and be granted an exemption from it if indeed one is warranted in their individual case. Such procedures should also enable people with no continued international protection needs to nonetheless apply for — and be granted if warranted — alternative lawful residence status in Uganda on grounds recognised in international law and domestic law, including human rights law;
- explore all durable solutions to enable Uganda to adequately respond to the protracted nature of the Rwandan displacement situation. Those solutions should include pathways to local integration, including by resolving legal ambiguities around naturalization;
- respect the fundamental prohibition on refoulement by ensuring the voluntary character of any repatriation;
- ensure that any enforced return be conducted in a rights-respecting manner in accordance with international human rights and domestic law;
- guarantee continued access to assistance and services;
- lift the land cultivation ban imposed on Rwandan refugees in accordance with Uganda’s obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;
- urgently address the information gap by informing Rwandan refugees of their rights including in the context of the expected invocation of the cessation clause and reconsideration procedures;
- urge UNHCR and the government of Rwanda to provide adequate reintegration packages for returnees, and increase the monitoring of returnees in Rwanda; and
- ensure that new Rwandan asylum-seekers have adequate access to asylum procedures and that their refugee status determination claims are given a fair hearing.
Between Amnesty International, UNHCR and Kagame’s and Museveni’s governments, a fundamental question arises: who among these parties is representing Rwandan refugees? It is not difficult to note that none does rightly and effectively. Since the start of RPF’s wars in the Great Lakes region in 1990, international NGOs and UN institutions have mainly sided with the Rwandan rebels led government.
Beyond the irrationality and political character of pushing for almost forcibly returning Rwandan refugees, one wonders the motives making these institutions not to address root causes which deter people from going back home, instead of looking in the wrong place for scapegoats. Maybe they should be reminded that the criminal nature of Kagame’s government is the principal obstacle. Once a decent leadership will come into place in Rwanda, refugees will return voluntarily and massively. They will not have to be threatened or harassed.