The Rwandan Refugee Cessation Clause
The International Protection Regime Fails to Protect Rwandan Refugees
Rwanda has a long history of ethnically based discrimination politics with a clear hand of support of international community. In 1959, the people’s revolution received assistance from the Belgian colonial power when the country’s overall leadership shifted from the King – who could only come from Tutsi families – to the first president, a Hutu. At that point, the first episode of an influx of Tutsi refugees and a handful of Hutus began in neighboring countries. Tutsis experienced considerable power loss while the Hutus enjoyed what seemed like a right-based leadership. The Tutsis gathered all possible sources of support to regain power. Three decades later this group of refugees assisted by the United Nations Mission in Rwanda (UNMIR) and nations surrounding Rwanda managed to reinstate Tutsis to power. This time it was not as kings due to the Arusha agreement of Power Sharing, which did not support monarchy. Rwanda had also been a democratic republic since the early 1960s.
Sadly, it became a vicious cycle of refugee crisis. Unlike the former regime, the current Kigali government that came into power in 1994, when hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens were murdered, tortured, and raped facing all kinds of atrocities committed by both parties. This led thousands of Rwandan Hutus and a few Tutsis to flee to seek refuge in neighboring countries and elsewhere. Many refugees still flee Rwanda due to the regime intolerance of political differences. Today, these refugees come from different ethnic backgrounds and provinces of the country.
The Cessation Clause, a Failure to Protect Rwandan Refugees
The clause in the1951 Convention indicates certain clearly defined circumstances in which the refugee status can be cancelled or revoked. Article 1C, sub-paragraph 1 to 4 states that one of these circumstances is the time when a refugee becomes re-established in his or her country of origin. Rwandan refugees in the 1996 case did not meet this criteria; instead, they were surrounded by Tanzanian, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Burundian army heavy tanks and helicopters flying over their camps and those who tried to flee deep in the forest were killed, returned, raped and seriously abused by the deployed armies tasked to repatriate them.
Under article 1C (5) and (6), the Convention is very clear that there have to be fundamental changes and the circumstances in connection to those on the basis of which the refugees had been initially recognized have ceased to exist. In the Rwandan refugee case, the circumstances have not ceased. Indeed, they have gradually deterioratd. Today there those who flee Rwanda due to increasing instability, ethnic strife, arbitrary judicial procedures, indiscriminate retaliation, political violence, intolerance of dissent, impunity and the lack of accountability that has ensued since the genocide. The Rwandan government continues to oppress its own people. There are documented cases of killings, torture, disappearings, and arbitrary arrests. There is no plurality of political parties and a lack of freedom of expression without which there can be no open democratic society.
This government has reached beyond its borders, with many Rwandan refugees in neighboring countries reporting attempted murders and or the unfortunate murders of family members and friends perpetrated by the Rwandan government. Seth Sendashonga was assassinated in May 1998. Two children were butchered inside a Refugee accommodation center in April 2002 upon being delayed for resettlement to Australia. Rizinde was killed in Nairobi. More than three Rwandan refugees were shot in 2000 after being forcibly packed into trucks and driven to Rwanda by Rwandan forces working jointly with Ugandan comrades. General Kayumba Nyamwasa escaped deadly gunshots last year in South Africa. The Inyenyerinews editor, Charles Ingabire, was shot in Kampala, Uganda in October 2011.
Need for Resettlement
The Rwandan government has mounted pressure on UNHCR to apply this cessation clause in an attempt to end the refugee issues that have become a long-term political liability. In 2009, when the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, visited Rwanda, the government and UNHCR agreed to invoke the cessation clause in the case of Rwandan refugees by December 2011.
The Fahamu Network for social justice, a human rights organization dealing with refugees in East Africa appealed the Rwandan request citing various reasons why they feel it is premature to revoke the status of refugees. The issue of unwarranted cessation claus was raised in an October 2011 annual meeting of the UNHCR Executive Committee and of representatives of its member states. The implementation was, however, adjourned to June 2012 and then eventually June 2013. Although the decision concerns refugees who fled since 1959 to December 1998, Rwanda still continues to produce refugees. It is believed that this decision would affect about 100,000 Rwandan refugees in exile who mainly reside in Africa.
Many refugees have desperately expressed their continued need for protection. Local integration is one of the best solutions for those who are not willing to go back home for fear of the grave persecution they faced and might still face. Many survived the Rwandan army killings in the DRC forests between 1996 and 2000. They witnessed these killings and many of them bear scars from them. These refugees need to be protected internationally as they are not willing to go back to Rwanda for fear of persecution. The premature application of the cessation clause can have extremely serious consequences for refugees who need to remain in the country of asylum and who may be forced to leave illegally and henceforth may be threatened with refoulement. Rwanda needs positive change to enable refugees to enjoy the protection of their government and enough time to consolidate and demonstrate genuine national reconciliation.
What can refugees do?
Rwandan refugees have the obligation to find ways of contacting their host countries and to express their fears against being forcibly repatriated like in 1996. It is possible with the pressure of the current government to face an unconventional procedural application of the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees whereby they have the right to information and, ideally, the right to gainful employment. The Rwandan refugees should liaison with existing regional and international human rights organizations as well as with news media outlets.
One common understanding would be that refugees still be afforded protection until acceptable changes have been effected in Rwanda so that refugees will voluntarily repatriate. “No one assisted me to flee, likewise when Rwanda is safe for me; I may not need UNHCR assistant to go back,” Said a Rwandan refugee in Kakuma.