July 18, 2024

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UK’s Rwanda asylum moves undercut core human rights protections – UN Human Rights Chief

Legislative moves by the UK Government to facilitate the prompt removal of asylum-seekers to Rwanda – including by drastically stripping back the courts’ ability to scrutinise removal decisions – run contrary to the basic principles of the rule of law and risk delivering a serious blow to human rights, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk warned today.

The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill requires every “decision maker”, be it a government minister, immigration officer, or court or tribunal reviewing asylum decisions, conclusively to treat Rwanda as a “safe country” in terms of protecting refugees and asylum-seekers against refoulement, irrespective of evidence that exists now or may exist in the future.

Volker Turk, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection at the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees)

“Settling questions of disputed fact – questions with enormous human rights consequences – is what the courts do, and which the UK courts have a proven track record of doing thoroughly and comprehensively. It should be for the courts to decide whether the measures taken by the Government since the Supreme Court’s ruling on risks in Rwanda are enough,” Türk said. “You cannot legislate facts out of existence.”

Problematically, the Bill also substantially restricts the application of the Human Rights Act, which provides legal effect within the UK for the standards set out in the European Convention on Human Rights. It also renders discretionary in this context the implementation of interim protective orders of the European Court of Human Rights, which are internationally binding on the UK.

“It is deeply concerning to carve out one group of people, or people in one particular situation, from the equal protection of the law. This is antithetical to even-handed justice, available and accessible to all, without discrimination,” said Türk.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has publicly expressed separate concerns, which the UN Human Rights Office shares, that the scheme is not compatible with international refugee law.

“The combined effects of this Bill, attempting to shield Government action from standard legal scrutiny, directly undercut basic human rights principles,” said Türk. “Independent, effective judicial oversight is the bedrock of the rule of law – it must be respected and strengthened. Governments cannot revoke their international human rights and asylum-related obligations by legislation.”

The UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights last week issued an important report raising a range of serious human rights and rule of law concerns with the proposed legislation as a whole.

The High Commissioner called for the Bill to be reconsidered in light of these concerns.

“I urge the UK Government to take all necessary steps to ensure full compliance with the UK’s international legal obligations, and to uphold the country’s proud history of effective, independent judicial scrutiny. Such a stance is today more vital than ever,” Türk stressed.

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