UNHCR and Host Countries: Stop Sending Rwandan Refugees Back Until It is Safe to Return
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The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has taken a decision to invoke the cessation clause for Rwandan refugees, effectively taking away the protection refugees have under the UN by 31st December 2017. There are hundreds of thousands of Rwandan refugees all over the world.
The majority and most vulnerable ones are in African countries near Rwanda. For example, the Democratic Republic of Congo is host to approximately 250,000 Rwandan refugees while Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia, The Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa among other African countries are host to tens of thousands of refugees. Many or the refugees are some of the most vulnerable people: women and children.
While the UNHCR's claims that conditions for the targeted group of refugees; those who fled Rwanda between 1959 and 1998 have ceased and the refugees no longer have reason to remain in exile, the UNHCR is intentionally disregarding a number of important elements:
1. Mass Atrocities documented in the UN Mapping Exercise Report on the Democratic Republic of Congo (Mapping Report), widespread atrocities committed by the Rwandan government troops against refugees who mostly fled Rwanda in 1994. This was report was made by the UN itself.
2. Stigmatizing and intimidating Refugees who have refused to return to Rwanda by accusing them of being members of the FDLR, a rebel group based in the Congo. This is to ensure the government can persecute and prosecute any refugees upon their return to the country.
3. Rwanda's Torture issue: On October 20, 2017; the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) suspended its visit to Rwanda due to obstructions and lack of cooperation from the Government. This suspension occurred 10 days after Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported widespread and systematic torture by the Rwandan government using techniques such as Beatings, Asphyxiations, Electric Shocks, Mock Executions to Extract Confessions" according to HRW. Many who were tortured were accused of belonging to the above mentioned FDLR rebel group.
4. Disappearances of Rwandans: Those who return to Rwanda including refugees or former refugees have been disappeared by Rwanda’s security forces; while others have been held incommunicado for long periods of time. (ex: Lionel Nishimwe case)
5. Assassinations and abductions of refugees: the Rwandan government has repeatedly gone after refugees in neighboring countries and either assassinated or abducted refugees from the countries of refuge. Some of the high-profile cases include Seth Sendashonga, Theonest Lizinde, Joel Mutabazi, Emile Gafirita and Patrick Karegeya among many who were assassinated or abducted back to Rwanda. Assassinations and abductions have occurred in the DRC, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia, Mozambique, Cameroon and South Africa to name a few countries.
6. Repression inside Rwanda: Human rights watch has documented dozens of cases of ordinary Rwandans who have been executed without trial on suspicion of petty crimes. Street vendors, poor people and street children are rounded up and held in detention centers where they are tortured.
7. Lack of respect for the rights of Refugees: Confessions and reports of Burundian refugees who fled to Rwanda in 2015 showed that the government of Rwanda was conscripting Burundian refugees from refugee camps into rebel groups whose aim was to invade Burundi. This has also been the case with Congolese refugee in Rwanda.
The above elements clearly demonstrate why the return of refugees to Rwanda should be stopped. It is shocking, disgraceful and irresponsible that the UNHCR; an organization whose mission is to protect refugees disregards the UN's own reports demonstrating ethnic cleansing and torture in order to proceed with the cessation clause. Such an action compels the refugees who are not offered any other options, to return to a country that is repressive; a country that practices torture and whose military committed what the UN's own experts said could amount to genocide. The survivors of said genocide will end up with the perpetrators or stateless. Rwanda is not a country fit to receive refugees who fled the ruling party and its army.
Therefore, we ask the UNHCR to stop the cessation clause. We also ask countries hosting refugees to reject the cessation clause and offer refugees the ability to remain in those countries as refugees, residents or naturalized citizens.
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