Recommendations of the International Conference on Rwandan refugees held in Brussels, Belgium, on 19 and 20 April 2013

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The International Conference on Rwandan refugees (hereinafter referred to as: The Conference) held in Brussels, Belgium, on the 19 and 20 April 2013;

Having considered the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (hereinafter referred to as ’1951 Convention’), specifically article 1 C (5) and (6) dealing with the cessation of refugee status (clauses on “ceased circumstances”);

Having considered the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, particularly article II dealing with cooperation between the national authorities and the United Nations;

Having considered the OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugees Problems in Africa, especially its section 1.4 and Article 4(e);

Having considered the UNHCR, Guidelines on International Protection No. 3: Cessation of Refugee Status under Article 1C (5) and (6) of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (the “Ceased Circumstances” Clauses), 10 February 2003;

Having Considered the UNHCR Executive Committee of the High Commissioner’s Programme, Cessation of Status, 9 October 1992, No. 69 (XLIII) – 1992;

Having considered the UNHCR Division of International Protection Guidelines on Exemption Procedures in respect of Cessation Declarations, December 2011;

Having considered other such regional instruments which contain equivalent provisions relating to cessation based on ceased circumstances; most particularly EC Council Directive 2004/83/EC of 29 April 2004 on Minimum Standards for the Qualification and Status of Third Country Nationals or Stateless Persons as Refugees or as Persons Who Otherwise Need International Protection and the Content of the Protection Granted (EC Qualification Directive), Articles 11 and 16; 1966 Bangkok Principles on Status and Treatment of Refugees (Bangkok Principles), Article 6 (iv);

Attaching particular attention to the commitments and obligation of States as contained in the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees and as also enshrined in international human rights treaties and conventions; particularly obligations stemming from the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 7; 2002 Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Article 3; 1950 European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR), Article 3; 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, (CRC), Article 37; 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime GenocideGeneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (Fourth Geneva Convention), 12 August 1949, 75 UNTS 287; Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977, 1125 UNTS 3; Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II), 8 June 1977, 1125 UNTS 609;

Considering that Article 1C (5) and (6) provides that the 1951 Convention shall cease to apply to any person falling under the terms of Article 1(A) 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;

Provided that this paragraph shall not apply to a refugee falling under section A(1) of this Article who is able to invoke compelling reasons arising out of previous persecution for refusing to avail himself of the protection of the country of nationality;

(6) Being a person who has no nationality he is, because the circumstances in connection with which he has been recognized as a refugee have ceased to exist, able to return to the country of his former habitual residence;

Provided that this paragraph shall not apply to a refugee falling under section A(1) of this Article who is able to invoke compelling reasons arising out of previous persecution for refusing to return to the country of his former habitual residence;

Considering that, many States Parties grant permanent residence status to refugees in their territories after several years, eventually leading to their integration and naturalization;

Noting with regret that some host countries have a restrictive policy on the status of refugees, permanent residence and naturalization;

Considering that numerous Executive Committee Conclusions affirm that “the 1951 Convention and the principles of refugee protection look to durable solutions for refugees.  Accordingly, cessation practices should be developed in a manner consistent with the goal of durable solutions. Cessation should therefore not result in persons residing in a host State with an uncertain status. It should not result either in persons being compelled to return to a volatile situation, as this would undermine the likelihood of a durable solution and could also cause additional or renewed instability”;

Reaffirming that respect by States of responsibility for protection to refugees is strengthened by international solidarity involving all members of the international community and that the refugee protection regime is enhanced through an international cooperation in a spirit of solidarity and  sharing the responsibility and the burden among all States;

Recalling that the Executive Committee Conclusion No. 69 (XLIII) (1992) provides inter alia that:

(…)in taking any decision on application of the cessation clauses based on “ceased circumstances”, States must carefully assess the fundamental character of the changes in the country of nationality or origin, including the general human rights situation, as well as the particular cause of fear of persecution, in order to make sure in an objective and verifiable way that the situation which justified the granting of refugee status has ceased to exist;

(…) an essential element in such assessment by States is the fundamental, stable and durable character of the changes, making use of appropriate information available in this respect, inter alia, from relevant specialized bodies, including particularly UNHCR;

Considering that for the cessation to apply, the changes need to be of a fundamental nature, such that the refugee “can no longer … continue to refuse to avail himself of the protection of the country of his nationality” (Article 1C (5)) or, if he has no nationality, is “able to return to the country of his former habitual residence” (Article 1C (6)). Cessation based on “ceased circumstances” therefore only comes into play when changes have taken place which addresses the causes of displacement which led to the recognition of refugee status;

Considering that  it is clearly stipulated that “all relevant factors must be taken into account” and that ” where the particular circumstances leading to flight or to non-return have changed, only to be replaced by different circumstances which may also give rise to refugee status, Article 1C(5) or (6) cannot be invoked”;

Considering that the guidelines stipulate that ” in determining whether circumstances have changed so as to justify cessation under Article 1C (5) or (6), another crucial question is whether the refugee can effectively re-avail him- or herself of the protection of his or her own country;

Considering that the guidelines also stipulate that ” what matters is that significant improvements have been made, as illustrated at least by respect for the right to life and liberty and the prohibition of torture; marked progress in establishing an independent judiciary, fair trials and access to courts: as well as protection amongst others of the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, association and religion. Importantly, more specific indicators include declarations of amnesties, the repeal of oppressive laws, and the dismantling of former security services “;

Considering that the UNHCR Executive Committee Conclusion No. 69 recommends that States consider “appropriate arrangements” for persons “who cannot be expected to leave the country of asylum, due to a long stay in that country resulting in strong family, social and economic links”;

Firmly convinced that in normal circumstances ” the burden rests on the country of asylum to demonstrate that there has been a fundamental, stable and durable change in the country of origin and that invocation of Article 1C(5) or (6) is appropriate. There may be instances where certain groups should be excluded from the application of general cessation because they remain at risk of persecution”;

Considering that the guidelines further stipulate that ” it is important that both the declaration process and implementation plans be consultative and transparent, involving in particular UNHCR, given its supervisory role. NGOs and refugees should also be included in this consultative process. “

Noting that:

  1. The initiative of cessation clause invocation for the Rwandan refugee derives from the Rwandan Government which, since 2002, has consistently and repeatedly pushed and encouraged the UNHCR to invoke the cessation clause in view to repatriate, control, eliminate or otherwise silence any dissenting voice to ensure the Rwandan Patriotic Front hold and consolidation of exclusive power in Rwanda;
  2. In 2009, UNHCR has repeatedly experienced pressure from the Rwandan Government and stated that it was examining the possibility of invoking the cessation clause with regard to the Rwandan refugees in 2011, but following a series of reports from various international NGOs and Rwandan diaspora associations, the date of the cessation clause implementation was first fixed on June 30, 2012 then pushed back to June 30, 2013;
  3. Contrary to the legal provisions which reserve to host countries wishing to invoke the cessation clause, the discretion of the assessment of overall situation in the country of origin of refugees, UNHCR preferred to ignore these provisions and conducted a “superficial” assessment;
  4. The cessation clause applies to refugees who have fled Rwanda between 1959 and 1998 because UNHCR acknowledges that those who fled the country after 1998 have good reason to fear persecution;
  5. Despite credible reports from renowned international NGOs, the Government of Rwanda continues to say loudly and clearly that the security rules and that the refugees can return to their country;
  6. The invocation of the cessation clause caused the panic and or uncertainty within the community of Rwandan refugees scattered around the world; and even some say they would prefer suicide rather than repatriation to Rwanda;
  7. Justice in Rwanda is an instrument of repression used by the current government and that it lacks independence;
  8. Respect for human rights, democratization of institutions and free expression are just wishful thinking because the current regime in Rwanda does not tolerate any dissenting voice;
  9. The Rwandan Government says one thing and does its opposite inter aliaas regards the policy of unity and national reconciliation, the existence of ethnic groups, and equality of opportunity for all citizens;
  10. Many persons, refugees or not, wonder what objective criteria UNHCR relied upon to make its strategic plan applicable to refugees who fled between 1959 and 1998;
  11. In asserting that the refugees who fled Rwanda after 1998 have well-founded reasons to fear persecution, not only UNHCR commits a contradiction, but also and especially it recognizes implicitly that there is no positive and sustainable fundamental change in Rwanda;
  12. Forcing refugees who do not wish or want to go back to Rwanda, is  more likely to put their life in danger than to resolve their situation especially since this would be contrary to the principle of non-refoulement, which is the cornerstone of international law governing refugees; 

Greatly concerned by  widely acknowledged fact that the present-day Rwanda is a hawkish state that has become the epicenter of successive crises in the region of the Great Lakes, the last being the creation and support for the M23, which was the origin of sanctions that many traditional donors have taken against that country; but that the international community often looks away because of the guilt of failure to prevent the 1994 genocide or on account of trumpeted economic performances that painfully hide the glaring inequalities in Rwanda;

The Conference:

(1) Pays tribute to all the States and peoples for granting asylum to refugees in general and in particular Rwandan refugees, and for their spirit of solidarity and generosity towards these human beings placed in disarray;

(2) Affirms that the premature invocation of the cessation clause is likely to produce adverse effects contrary to the expected results, and lead to a short-lived situation following the absence of assurances of security;

(3) Declares that in a country like Rwanda, which has experienced unspeakable atrocities that still haunt the regime in place and Rwandan society in general, it would be more appropriate that UNHCR: (i) focuses on the solution of voluntary repatriation instead of invoking the cessation clause; (ii) continues its efforts to persuade asylum countries to grant permanent residence to refugees who are unwilling to return to their country;

(4)   Recommends as appropriate, the review of the decision to declare and/or apply the cessation clause for Rwandan refugees from June 30, 2013;

(5)   Calls on the UNHCR to take its historical responsibilities, to reconsider its decision on the implementation of the cessation clause because it resemblesDamocles’ sword hanging over the head of Rwandan refugees across the world and more particularly those who are on the African continent;

(6) Calls on the UNHCR to recognize that all Rwandan refugees, regardless of their dates of exile, have the same reasons of well-founded fear for their safety and that accordingly, they all deserve the same international protection until all the conditions are met for their return to their country safely;

(7) Calls on the Member States of the Security Council of the United Nations, European Union, bilateral and multilateral donors, Member States of the Executive Committee of UNHCR to listen to the grievances of the Rwandan refugees, and to use appropriate extent of their powers to postpone invocation of the cessation clause with regard to Rwanda from June 30, 2013, until all the conditions are met for refugees safe return to Rwanda;

(8)   Calls on the African Union, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and member States, to consider the ordeal of Rwandan refugees and especially those who have found a safe haven on the African continent to be the first to refrain from the premature implementation of the cessation clause until fulfillment of conditions for safe repatriation, in application of African values of traditional hospitality, solidarity and Ubuntu (humanism);

(9)   Calls on all custodians of the international instruments for protection, and on all human rights organizations, both national and international, to raise their voices so that the procedure of a premature implementation of the cessation clause with regard to Rwandan refugees be suspended until all conditions are met for their safe repatriation;

(10) Urges  UNHCR to stick to the spirit and the letter of all the relevant decisions of its Executive Committee in connection with the cessation clause in respect of article 1 C (5) or (6), including the Guidelines of UNHCR of February 10, 2003, HCR/GIP/03/03 and the Committee Executive Conclusion No.. 69 (XLIII) (1992);

(11) Calls on the UNHCR and the International community to carry out a deep investigation on the situation and the fate of the Rwandan refugees repatriated voluntarily or forcibly since the tragedy that hit the country in 1994 up to date.

(12) Urges all States which have granted asylum to Rwandan refugeesnot to yield to pressure, deception, and manipulation of the Rwandan Government, claiming that all conditions are met for the invocation of the cessation clause when in reality, violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms, suppression of political space and judiciary on the leash are a daily practice in Rwanda;

(13) Urges members of the Security Council of the United Nations,bilateral and multilateral donors, Member States of UNHCR’s Executive Committee to put to the Rwandan Government, that it is in the interest of lasting peace and global security, both in Rwandan and the countries of the region, to remove all barriers that prevent refugees from returning to Rwanda, rather than fooling itself and the world with deceptive statements

(14) Call on the Government of Rwanda to put an end to its campaign of harassment and divisionism among the Rwandan refugees, but rather puts its energy in creating conducive conditions to their safe repatriation. This means the removal of all obstacles including: the end of a police regime, organization of a highly inclusive inter-Rwandan dialogue, establishment of institutions completely independent of the Executive power, respect of human rights, dismantling all draconian laws, opening up political space, freedom of expression and association; and unconditional release of all political prisoners.

(15) Urges the Rwandan refugees to keep their composure, organize themselves and intensify their efforts for a better interact with host states.

(16) Mandates the organizing committee to follow closely this matter and provide regular objective updates on conditions in Rwanda that may impede refugee repatriation and how they can be improved.

Circulated by Condo Gedeon
One of the facilitators of the conference

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Many thanks to you guys who contribute in this conclusion.
    I wish all refugees concerned by the situation must stand for their safety and freedom.
    None who will stand for them and God will help you if yourself stand for your rights.
    The group did a greatest job to reminder the UNHCR and Government of Rwanda about International rights and rules on behalf of refugees.Some of them wre motivated by sentiments and their personal interests into the matters.
    Once again, thank you guys.

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