By: Mutuyimana Manzi
Rwanda pretends that it would like its refugees to return. But many of these citizens are scared of the Kigali regime, which is known to target refugees for assassination or abduction. Meanwhile, Rwanda continues to create new refugees as the tyrannical state cracks down on critics and Hutus back home
Since 2009, Rwandan rulers have pressured for the ‘premature’ and ‘ungrounded’ application of the cessation clause on the refugee status of Rwandan refugees. The lack of justifiable grounds to invoke the cessation clause brought about a reduction to the scope to only target refugees who fled between 1959 and 1998.
It is now one year after that American, European and African countries declined the pressure from the Kigali regime to prematurely strip Rwandan refuges of international protection of their rights in light of persecutions back in their country of origin.
Only three African countries -namely Cameroon, Malawi and Zambia – agreed to apply the cessation clause by 30 June 2013. And in those three countries, it was UNHCR officials who made the decision, instead of host country officials.
The death of the Rwandan monarch in 1959, the ensuing ethnic clashes, the 1994 genocide against and the 1996-1998 armed conflict in northern Rwanda were advanced as ceased circumstances in order to target that group of Rwandan refugees. The fact is that those four violent events are manipulated to achieve the forced return camouflaged under the euphemism of the rhetoric of the cessation clause.
The Cessation Clause is subtly utilized as a shortcut, which however does not lead to a durable solution to the intractable problem of Rwandan refugees.
But the UNHCR rode roughshod over the genocidal systematic killings against Hutu civilians perpetrated by Paul Kagame’s troops between 1991 and 1998. Victims of those killings are unwilling to return because the perpetrator is still in power.
That invocation of the cessation clause and the subsequent process were marked with disrespect and violation of refugee laws and regulations.
Paragraph 25 (i) of the UNHCR Guidelines for the Application of the Cessation Clause entitles to Uganda – as a host country – the duty of the decision to assess, invoke and apply the cessation clause. Unfortunately, as one of the violations of the refugee law, the Rwandan regime and UNHCR were the ones who stripped Uganda of its legal entitlement and took that decision.
That violation was accompanied with removal of assistance, refusal of legal protection, push factors for coercive return and refoulement against Rwandan refugees.
The Rwandan rulers exploited that vulnerability but also eventually resorted to killings, abductions, menaces, smear campaigns and misinformation against Rwanda refugees to get through the process of the invocation of the cessation clause.
Consequently, between May 2009 and June 2014, Rwandan operatives were involved in well-documented cases of 21 killings, 26 abductions and forced disappearances, forced repatriation of 1900 [with 3000 in 2007] Rwandan refugees, and 41 family separations.
In some cases, Rwandan rulers denied any involvement. However, like in the case of Kalisa Innocent, at a later date victims of abductions would be found in Rwandan jails.
After committing several violations against Rwandan refugees during the ministerial tenure of Tarsis Kabwegyere, the Ugandan government learned of those breaches of the refugee law and took appropriate measures to ensure that Rwandan refugees were not discriminated against in light of their nationality.
Ultimately, Ugandan officials like late Stephen Malinga, Hilary Onek, David Kazungu and Douglass Asiimwe were among those officials who worked for the physical and legal protection of Rwandan refugees whose security remains threatened by Rwandan state operatives.
Among their achievements, Ugandan officials foiled seven abductions against Rwandan refugees and provided protection to Rwandan refugees who were threatened by lethal menaces orchestrated by Rwandan operatives, who are working with the Rwandan Embassy in Kampala.
That legitimate stand of the Ugandan government incited Rwandan rulers to react with smear campaigns against Ugandan officials in charge of refugees. Actually, there are smear campaigns being peddled by Rwandan moles and operatives against Douglass Asiimwe and Hilary Onek.
In April, the Rwandan Ambassador Maj. Gen. Frank Mugambagye shifted from a covert smear campaign to a blatant attack on Commissioner David Kazungu. That act was perceived as a stratagem to threaten Ugandan authorities in charge of refugees so that they would remain passive to and cower in front of threats against Rwandan refugees.
Rwandan refugees and Ugandan authorities are not the only ones to be victimized by Rwandan rulers. UNHCR officials are also targeted. In a meeting of 18 February 2010, then UNHCR Senior Protection Officer George Kuchio revealed to Rwandan refugees that he was menaced on several encounters by Rwandan state operatives for his work of protecting Rwandan refugees.
As the Ugandan State Minister Musa Ecweru said on 20 June 2011, Uganda is not a country where perpetrators are welcome to harass refugee-victims of their persecutions back in their respective home countries.
The reputation of Uganda of being among countries with effective refugee policies presents an obstacle to regimes –as such Rwandan- who are known to pursue refugees in fragile host countries; like the case of DR Congo where Paul Kagame’s troops were found by the UN to have committed crimes tantamount to genocide against Hutu Rwandan refugees.
Reports, petitions and documentaries continue to prove that in Rwanda there are ongoing persecutions in the form of ethnic discrimination, political oppression, oppressiveness of security services and the judiciary, assassinations, extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, lack of freedom of expression and arbitrary imprisonment.
All of those forms of persecutions are continuing to produce new asylum seekers, hence making premature and ungrounded the application of the cessation clause on the refugee status of Rwandans.
Although some individuals within the Government of Uganda continue to collude with Rwandan rulers to threaten Rwandan refugees, across the border, Uganda is still perceived as somehow a safe haven for Rwandan refugees. And on one hand, Ugandan authorities have to abide to their duty as providers of physical protection. On the other hand, the UNHCR should evolve into practice its mandate obligation to provide legal protection, including resettlement to a third country, in situations where the governmental physical protection is ineffective vis-à-vis the direct continuous physical threats against certain Rwandan refugees. Undoubtedly, perpetrators in the image of Rwandan rulers will continue to stew the chagrin to see their erstwhile vulnerable victims being shielded by the humanitarian international refugee law.
* Mutuyimana Manzi is a Rwandan refugee in Uganda.