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Amidst the UNHCR Spat, the UK Should not be sending LGBTQI+ Refugees to Rwanda at the very least

By Melanie Nathan, June 22, 2024.


The British plan to deport refugees to Rwanda has been mired in legal challenges. Lawyers representing the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Monday said Rwanda’s asylum system was inadequate, as part of a challenge to the British government’s new controversial policy to deport asylum seekers there.


Rwanda has accused the United Nations refugee agency of lying after the body told a British court this week that asylum seekers sent to the East African country could be moved on to states where they risked torture or death.


Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government has insisted it will proceed if his Conservative Party wins a July 4 general election.


I believe UNHCR. Just by virtue of one segment of potential deportees, the LGBTQI+ asylum seekers and refugees.


LGBTQI+ people are a social group of even more marginalized people among an already marginalized population, who have been forcibly displaced and likely fled to the United kingdom for the very persecution they would suffer in a country like Rwanda, which would then present as a hostile host country to LGBTI people.


The lawyers said the policy risked asylum seekers facing a banned process known as refoulement, building on past evidence that formed an important part of the British Supreme Court’s reasoning when it ruled the British plan unlawful last year.


There is a particular danger for refoulement for LGBTQI+ refugees.


“UNHCR is lying,” the Rwandan government said in a statement on Wednesday, accusing the agency of making “a series of wholly unserious allegations” against Kigali. “The organization seems intent on presenting fabricated allegations to UK courts about Rwanda’s treatment of asylum seekers, while still partnering with us to bring African migrants from Libya to safety in Rwanda.”


Monday’s hearing in the United Kingdom – where the UNHCR made a successful bid to intervene – is the latest in a string of legal challenges dogging the initiative.


My hope is that a particular bid would be made on behalf of LGBTQI asylum seekers and refugees who should never be sent back to Africa, even to a country where they are not criminalized with specific criminalizing laws.





While Rwanda does not have direct laws criminalizing LGBTI people, there are stringent taboos, stigmatization LGBTI people as well as the abuse of ancillary laws which create an unsafe environment for LGBTI people in the country. This occurs at the hands of state and non-state actors, including government, neighbors, communities, religious institutions and family. There is widespread evidence of discrimination, ill-treatment, abuse, and violence faced by LGBTI people in Rwanda.


In general given the country conditions in Rwanda for LGBTI individuals LGBTI people face:


·      Discrimination, denial of critical services, including medical, psycho-socio, access to the justice

system if a victim to a crime, evictions, firings, banishment;

·      Violence, including  arbitrary arrest, unlawful detention, torture, forced anal exams, kidnapping,

disappearance, assault, rape, killing;

·      Persecution: extortion, banishment, reparative therapies, exorcisms;


Depending on the specific circumstances a refugee could well face some of these consequences even while purportedly in protection status, to include the possibility of refoulement.


Pertinent to the future of LGBTI people in Rwanda is a discussion on the impenetrable power of Kagame who is defying the 3-year term limit during this 2024 election year. This is unfolding in real time, as Kagame has been chosen by the party to rerun in the July 2024 election. The complexity of his rule is illustrated in this New York Times article:


His grip on power is nearly unassailable. Since becoming president over two decades ago, he has

extended constitutional term limits, shut down the free press and clamped down on dissent. Reporters

have been driven into exile, even killed; opposition figures have been imprisoned or found dead. His

country has been reduced to tyranny.


But this dictator isn’t a pariah, like Vladimir Putin of Russia or Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Instead, he’s one

of the West’s best and most reliable friends: Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda. Since coming to power in

1994, Mr. Kagame has won his way into the West’s good graces. He’s been invited to speak — on human

rights, no less — at universities such as Harvard Harvard, Yale and Oxford, and praised by prominent

political leaders including Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and the former U.N. general secretary Ban Ki-moon.

 

Western donors finance   a whopping 70 percent of Rwanda’s national budget.

 

But perhaps Mr. Kagame’s greatest endorsement is a deal with the British government to receive

asylum deported from Britain. This controversial bargain, which may contravene international law  has

cemented Rwanda’s reputation as a steadfast partner of Western countries. Far from the authoritarian

holdout it is, Mr. Kagame’s Rwanda is now hailed as a haven for people fleeing dictatorship.”…

 

…“In the event of criticism, Mr. Kagame’s tried-and-tested tactic is to rebut any Western leader who has the

temerity to sermonize to poorer nations about democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”


…” Many of his opponents have disappeared, in some cases found murdered, in one case

virtually beheaded. The self-styled hero who supposedly ended the Rwandan genocide was also in

command of an army that the U.N. has alleged was responsible for killing tens, perhaps hundreds of

thousands of Hutus and for potential acts of “genocide” after twice invading the Democratic Republic of

Congo.” …


… “Yet no matter the historical record, Mr. Kagame creates an alternate reality in which the West is to

blame for his country’s ills and he is its brave champion. This anti-imperialist narrative trumps reports of

dissidents and journalists being harassed, imprisoned or forced into exile. It doesn’t help that accurate

information about the country is hard to come by: Mr. Kagame bans critical foreign reporters, ensuring

that the international media often repeats government propaganda.” …


Free speech and opposition to Kagame is severely oppressed. It is impossible to earnestly pursue human rights for LGBTI people under these conditions where criticism is impossible and where the government publicly “sweeps” such issues under the proverbial “rug”, as so adeptly done by Kagame in his comments on homosexuality and LGBTI rights.


I hold no hope for LGBTI refugees who had found a formidable path to a seemingly unattainable destination, the United Kingdom, only to be swooped back to the vicious Jaws of taboo and stigmatization.


Over thirty countries in Africa criminalize homosexuality in some form. Most the remaining countries in Africa which do not actually criminalize homosexuality also consider same-sex relations a taboo and an abomination, with onerous consequences.  Countries where homosexuality has been decriminalized or where there are constitutional protections have failed to thwart the endemic homophobia that encourages violence against LGBTI people. 


Rwanda does not have statute that specifically criminalizes homosexuality. It uses morality and public order laws to target LGBTI people or those perceived as such as more fully discussed herein.  It is also surrounded and influenced by countries with harsh and new anti-homosexuality laws that reflect severe penalties and a surge in anti-LGBT climates. Rwanda also remains under the influence of its local stigma and taboos and the anti-homosexuality milieu of the entire region. “Bias and stigmatization against homosexuals and other sexual minorities in Africa is rooted in deeply held cultural and religious values. They can be accompanied by abuses, are too often enforced by vigilante violence and are sometimes enshrined in law.” (United Nations).


While Rwanda has signed on to pro-LGBTI international instruments, and while it does not have laws that expressly criminalize LGBTI people, it is nonetheless a dangerous country for LGBTI people: “However, LGBT people continue to face discrimination and arbitrary arrests based on individual and communal moral and cultural convictions. In 2016, the president of Rwanda delivered an address stating that living as an LGBT citizen in Rwanda “...hasn’t been our problem, and we don’t intend to make it our problem”


The United States Annual Human Rights Report 2023, notes:[1]


“ACTS OF VIOLENCE, CRIMINALIZATION, AND OTHER ABUSES BASED ON SEXUAL ORIENTATION, GENDER IDENTITY OR EXPRESSION, OR SEX CHARACTERISTICS


Criminalization: No laws criminalized same-sex conduct between adults, cross-dressing, or identity based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. LGBTQI+ individuals reported that authorities disproportionately accused LGBTQI+ persons of “deviant behaviors,” and human rights monitors cited laws against prostitution, substance abuse, begging, informal street vending, and public drunkenness were disproportionately enforced against LGBTQI+ persons.

 

Violence and Harassment: 

There were reports the government did not adequately respond to reports of abuses and violence against LGBTQI+ persons. NGOs reported many LGBTQI+ individuals were afraid to report abuses to authorities, either believing authorities would not take action or were complicit in the abuses. Advocates previously reported police abused LGBTQI+ persons in transit centers, with transgender persons targeted for physical and sexual violence as well as hate speech. There were no reports the government investigated such cases.

 

Discrimination:

The law did not prohibit discrimination by state or non-state actors based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. There was significant discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons, particularly in employment, housing, and access to government services such as health care. The law did not recognize LGBTQI+ individuals, couples, or their families.


Restrictions of Freedom of Expression, Association, or Peaceful Assembly: 

LGBTQI+-focused civil society organizations reported barriers registering with the government. LGBTQI+ advocates commented government officials appeared reluctant to openly cooperate with LGBTQI+ organizations due to prevailing social stigma against LGBTQI+ persons. Although LGBTQI+ persons could meet and held various events throughout the year, difficulty registering their own civil society organizations was a barrier to some activities. LGBTQI+ groups conducted public activities in Kigali, including Pride festivities and a fashion show, indicating increasing tolerance and acceptance of LGBTQI+ persons in some parts of society.”

 

As a country conditions expert witness in the U.S. immigration Courts for Rwandan asylum seekers, as well as noting the reports into African Human Rights Coalition of anti- LGBT abuse and violence in Rwanda, I caution about the dangers of sending LGBTQI+ asylum seekers to Rwanda as part of the UK policy.


Not only for the risk of refoulement but also because Rwanda cannot be a safe country for protection of LGBTQI+ people at all. The added risk is that in general LGBTQI+ refugees are often afraid to out themselves in hostile host environments and yet may have done so believing they were safe upon reaching the UK.


Imagine, as an example, a case where a Ugandan fleeing the 'Kill the Gays Bill,' thinking s/he may have made it to gay-safe London, only to be transported back to Uganda's neighbor and cohort in gay bashing, Rwanda, with the risk of refoulement back to Uganda, and the continued fear of the very violence one had escaped in the first place. Horrific!


BY THE WAY - RWANDA is being paid mega bucks to do this! Over 121MILLION POUNDS, I hear!


By Melanie Nathan ED African Human Rights Coalition | Country Conditions Expert Witness for Rwanda and twenty other African countries. LINK





[1] U.S. State department Human rights Report, Rwanda, 2023, https://www.state.gov/reports/2023-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/rwanda/

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