The Fahamu Refugee Programme has mounted a campaign to oppose States and UNHCR withdrawing the protection of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees from tens of thousands of Rwandan refugees currently in exile.
These are not people escaping retribution from the 1994 genocide, they are those who have been fleeing Rwanda since, some quite recently, including large numbers of genocide survivors, who were never refugees before, as well as government officials and army officers, because of instability, ethnic strife, arbitrary judicial procedures, indiscriminate retaliation, political violence, intolerance of dissent, impunity, and lack of accountability.
Fahamu has been gathering the endorsements of hundreds of individuals and organizations in Africa and around the world to a petition opposing exercise of the Convention’s “cessation clause,” and will present the statement and advocate for them at the upcoming meeting of the UNHCR’s Executive Committee October 3-7, in Geneva. Today, Fahamu released a Memorandum of Fact and Law compiling devastating conclusions from major human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on the general human rights situation in Rwanda, dozens of specific recent examples of persecution of various targeted groups in the Country, the stringent requirements of international law for cessation, and compelling personal testimonies of several Rwandan refugees and their protectors.
Cessation is a drastic measure that would strip refugees of their legal rights and expose them to forcible repatriation and the risk of persecution. It can also split up families and break economic and social ties of years’ duration and put those whose ‘political opinion’ differs from that of their government at serious risk. It should therefore only be invoked rarely and with extreme caution when there has been
1) a fundamental and profound change in country conditions such that they no longer have a well-founded fear of persecution,
2) the change is demonstrably enduring and not merely transitory, and
3) the change enables refugees to enjoy the protection of the government.
Rwanda has made much progress since the genocide but it did not do so through reliable constitutional, democratic, and peaceful means. It remains a fragile, volatile, authoritarian regime with little tolerance for dissent, freedom of speech, or independent human rights observation, reporting, or advocacy. Social and political fissures remain unresolved and the Government of Rwanda maintains an overtly hostile attitude toward its citizens who have fled. Positive changes need time to consolidate and genuine national reconciliation remains untested.
Now, as both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have warned, is not the time to revoke protection from Rwandan refugees. JCWI would encourage all it’s members and supporters to sign the petition.