End of the refugee status for Rwandans in 2011: Associations complain

Jul 11th, 2011 at 19:21 | By | Category: News
Rwandan refugees fleeing the RPF advance to Tanzania 1996© Martha Rial

Rwandan refugees fleeing the RPF advance to Tanzania 1996© Martha Rial

It was during a visit to Rwanda in October 2009 that the RPF government in Kigali had asked the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Antonio Guterres, to invoke the cessation clause expected by the Geneva Convention of 1951 against all refugees and asylum seekers of Rwanda wherefore they would lose their status this with the motive that Rwanda has become a safe country.

In response, the UNHCR announced that it would work with all concerned parties , including the Rwandan government and the host countries in order to consider a possible application of the clause for the month of December 2011.

When the cessation clause is invoked, this normally means that the international refugee protection is no longer necessary. In practice, this means a withdrawal of the refugee status and the end of the rights and benefits related to this status.

The cessation clause may be invoked for “subjective” reasons, that is to say related on an individual such as for example a refugee who spent their holidays in their home country. On the other hand it could be for “objective” reasons, when it is estimated that sustained and effective fundamental changes remove the fear of a refugee for being persecuted occurred, the latter is referred to in the case of Rwanda.

Memorandum to UNHCR to denounce this event

Faced with the possibility of invoking the clause, 28 associations from Europe, America and Africa have sent a memorandum to the UNHCR in which they express their “deep concern” and launched an online petition where they invite a maximum of Rwandans and Rwandans’ friends to sign.

These associations believe that considering the termination of coverage for Rwandan refugees is “extremely premature” because they write that “the conditions that have sent all Rwandans in exile is far from over and in some areas, they are even worsened”. Thereby they give a partial list of facts that support and justify their position.

Among these facts, they evoke the hate speech of President Paul Kagame against refugees, including the one of the 13th April 2010 in which he compares the Rwandans who fled the country to “excrement” that the body automatically rejects. They also refer to the speech of April 7, 2007 during the 13th commemoration of the genocide in Murambi, where Paul Kagame said he regretted not having destroyed enough people among those who crossed the border in 1994 fleeing troops.

Kagame criminal confession from JamboNewsTV on Vimeo.

These associations also refer to the crimes of the RPF and their impunity that continues today. In July 1996, the RPF troops entered the Congo and they have killed a number of Rwandan Hutu refugees estimated at over 200,000, mostly women and children. The associations points out that Paul Kagame himself has confirmed these facts, just months after meeting the High Commissioner for Refugees in his speech of April 13, 2010 in front of the Parliament of the RPF, saying “those who were to be repatriated, we repatriated them, those who had to be killed, we killed them ” and he added in English ; that’s what we did. “

The associations point out that these facts were confirmed in a report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights United Nations that even says that these systematic attacks against civilian populations, could, if confirmed by a court of competent jurisdiction, be termed as genocide.

One of the key figures singled out in the report is James Kabarebe, current Minister of Defense of Rwanda. For these associations, most of the refugees that the RPF wants to see return, are survivors of the massacres that have managed to flee.

One of the objectives of this maneuver is to allow the RPF regime to have more control, in order to prevent that the survivors of this carnage can testify and thus confirm or to provide new information that can be add to the charges contained in the Mapping Report.

Other crimes of the RPF regime pointed out by these associations, is the massacre of Kibeho. On April 22, 1995, the RPA, the armed wing of the movement has murdered some 8,000 internally displaced people mostly women and children under the gaze of UN peacekeepers and international NGOs. Gen. Fred Ibingira, who commanded troops during the massacre, was never tried and was even promoted to lieutenant general on April 22, 2010.

Situation of Human Rights remains a concern

After this historical perspective, the associations stand in their memorandum a portrait of the political-judicial landscape of Rwanda today.

From a judicial point of view, while the Gacaca “were applauded by some who hoped to create them so that these courts would help to reveal the truth, punish the perpetrators and assist in reconciliation, they were taken hostage by the system ” and used as a formidable instrument of repression against anyone who is not liked by the regime for any reason, which led to imprisonment or confined to the isolation of tens of thousands of innocent people.

The ordinary courts are not immune to criticism of the associations, whereby figures have been kidnapped and illegally detained and they conclude that if the figures can be kidnapped and disappear, it must be worse for ordinary citizens who don’t get to the media titles.

Kigali prison Photo from Hervé Deguine

Kigali prison Photo from Hervé Deguine

The associations also condemn prison conditions. Prisons are overcrowded by a significant number of inmates who sometimes have never been entitled to a trial. According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, Gitarama prison is the second most overcrowded prison in the world with 6000 prisoners in a building designed to accommodate 500 people.

The stand was that the situation of human rights is not much better “key Human Rights advocacy organizations whereby Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders are in the forefront to expose abuse of the Kigali regime to its own citizens “and they add that there is no freedom of speech or of the press and even less political space in Rwanda, a country which de facto is a party-state.

Victoire Ingabire, Déogratias Mushayidi, Bernard Ntaganda, the main opposition leaders are in fact incarcerated in 1930 in Kigali. Journalists are even worse off, 24 June 2010, Jean-Léaonard Rugambage, deputy editor of a leading independent media, was assassinated outside his home. In February 2011, two women journalists were sentenced to seven and 17 years in prison for criticizing the head of state. According to Reporters Without Borders, “a number of Rwandan journalists, judge the unbearable climate, and are fleeing the country every year.”

Forced repatriation of refugees is a priority of the regime since 1994

In the letter of introduction to the memorandum the associations are very unhappy that President Paul Kagame, who was himself a former refugee, familiar to dangers and problems of the life of refugees continues a policy that increases the social and political problems that have generated refugees throughout the history of Rwanda rather than trying to solve them.

The forced repatriation of refugees is a priority of the RPF regime since 1994, as explained in an interview with Kayumba Nyamwasa. From the 50th second several Hutu survivors of the manhunt in the forests of Congo told us, that after what they consider a genocide against them, they were prosecuted, even in neighboring countries.

Thus, a refugee who has passed through the camps in Zambia told us that even in this country, the RPF soldiers have pursued and abducted them during the night of refugees, mostly men, and putted them in trucks in the direction of Rwanda.

As recently as July 2010 the same scenario occurred roundups of refugees in Uganda, where some 2,000 refugees have been forcibly repatriated.

RFI reported that in the vast Nakivale camp in southern Uganda, the Rwandan asylum seekers were gathered at a place called Base Camp, when Ugandan police vehicles arrived, followed by thirteen trucks . Like cattle, without baggage, without food or water, about two thousand Rwandans had to take the direction to Rwanda.

According to Amnesty International, “This operation was conducted in violation of international refugee and human rights. Rwandans, some of whom had obtained a refugee status, were forced, under the threat of a weapon, to board trucks. Several people, including a pregnant women, were injured during the operation. At least one man died jumping from a truck.”

According to Pascal Kalinganire, from the organization for peace, justice and development in Rwanda who coordinated the memorandum, only a massive mobilization to block the invocation of the cessation clause would prevent the same fate of tens of thousands of refugees scattered throughout the world.

Translated by Harmonie Uwizera

Original french version by Ruhumuza Mbonyumutwa

Click here to listen to the interview of a Human Rights Watch researcher about the conditions of detention in the prisons of Rwanda

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