UK rejects NGO’s claim it turns blind eye to Rwanda human rights abuses

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has decried the UK Government’s latest attempts to get its immigration policy enacted into law, saying Rwanda has a history of abuse against refugees.

“The UK cannot legislate its way around the fact that Rwanda counters criticism with violence and abuse, including against refugees,” said the organisation in its annual World Report 2024.

Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at HRW, added: “You’re not going to create committees that make human rights abuses go away,” in reference to the independent committee that, under the UK’s new deal with Rwanda, will monitor its asylum system to ensure abuses do not occur and asylum seekers are not deported to countries where they are at risk.

He dismissed the UK’s latest attempt to get a deal with Rwanda made, after the Supreme Court ruled the policy unlawful as “another example of the UK grasping at straws to make a deal work”.

“Despite Rwanda’s targeting of Rwandans in the UK it appears to be turning a blind eye to ongoing abuses,” argued HRW in the report, which claimed the UK would be complicit in human rights violations by the Rwandan government as it outlined how migrants and asylum seekers sent there from the UK would not be exempt from these abuses.”

The Government rejected “any suggestion that the UK is turning a blind eye to human rights issues”, said a spokesperson for the Home Office. “Rwanda is a safe country that cares deeply about supporting refugees.”

It appears to contradict a letter sent by Home Secretary James Cleverly to MPs and Lords where he conceded “there are nevertheless issues with [Rwanda’s] human rights record around political opposition to the current regime, dissent and free speec

Speaking at the Africa launch of the World Report 2024, HRW Africa advocacy director Allan Ngari argued that “the range of human rights violations in that country is of great concern to us.”

“We do not believe that the Rwandan government has the necessary protections that would be availed to anybody that gets asylum.”

Mr Mudge echoed the sentiment that refugee rights simply cannot be respected in Rwanda saying “there’s not freedom of expression or assembly that would enable asylum seekers and refugees to speak out in a safe way”.

HRW’s report concluded that throughout the year “Rwanda continued to target Rwandans around the world, including asylum seekers and refugees, to silence critics and stave off political opposition abroad”.

Mr Ngari added that “transnational repression by the Rwanda government on Rwandan citizens living inside and outside of Rwanda… is an ongoing tactic by the Rwanda government”.

The report detailed alleged abuses committed by the Rwandan government throughout 2023, including irregularities over the death of journalist John Williams Ntwali, who had told people and HRW that he was being threatened and then died in a car crash. An individual was arrested and convicted for manslaughter, but his trial was held behind closed doors and the location of the car accident remains unknown.

Elsewhere, two years were added to a 15-year sentence for Yvonne Idamange, a intent commentator and Tutsi survivor of the 1994 genocide, for criticizing the government’s Covid-19 lockdown and its genocide commemorations.

Meanwhile, a blogger named Aimable Karasira is being tried for genocide denial and justification for speaking about losing family members to both the Hutu extremists, who carried out the 1994 genocide, and the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), the insurgency forces led by President Paul Kagame who overthrew the previous regime in the wake of the genocide.

In addition, more than a dozen political opposition members remain in prison, where HRW say they have credible information from former prisoners that torture is carried out.

A London-based PR firm that represents the Rwandan government dismissed the report as “the same baseless allegations that get rolled out every year”.

Mr Mudge defended the integrity of HRW’s work, saying “the research we produce is not baseless” and noting how the organization was critical of Rwanda’s previous regime. “We were signalling the genocide since 1993.”

The HRW report criticised the UK Government’s law banning people who arrive “irregularly” in the country from claiming asylum, describing it as “a flagrant breach of the UK’s international obligations, including under the United Nations Refugee Convention”.

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