Open letter to ExCom: The Threat of Invoking the Cessation Clause with particular reference to Rwanda
Executive Committee of the
High Commissioner’s Programme
1-5 October 2012
The Threat of Invoking the Cessation Clause with particular reference to Rwanda
NGOs are deeply concerned for the hundreds of Angolan and Liberian refugees who continue to fear return to their home states but who, with the invocation of the Cessation Clause on 30 June 2012, were stripped of their status as refugees. No alternative status was offered these people, despite UNHCR’s assurance to the contrary and they are now illegal in their host countries. Is the same fate awaiting the Rwandans on 30 June 2013?
UNHCR’s ‘Comprehensive Strategy for the Rwandan Refugee Situation’, including its ‘Recommendations on the Applicability of the ‘Ceased Circumstances’ calls on States only to invoke the cessation of refugee status for those Rwandans who fled their country between 1959 and 1998: those who fled Rwanda since 1998 are to be allowed to retain their refugee status or to seek asylum. Less than a year from the proposed invocation of the clause, pre-1998 Rwandan refugees, at least in Africa, seem to face no choice but to return.
The three main components of UNHCR’s comprehensive strategy - (i) enhancing promotion of voluntary repatriation and reintegration of Rwandan refugees in Rwanda, (ii) pursuing opportunities for local integration or alternative legal status in countries of asylum, and (iii) elaborating a common schedule leading to the definitive cessation of refugee status, while apparently meeting the needs of those unable to return to Rwanda for protection-related reasons – have all failed to fulfil their functions. The Comprehensive Strategy has not proven to be comprehensive nor is it ‘global’.
Even though much attention has been given to intensifying efforts for repatriation, the voluntary character of return of Rwandan refugees is highly contested. Rwandan refugees complain that host governments are coercing repatriation by taking away land rights, cutting food rations, arrests, and removing educational grants – even affecting those who have claimed asylum since 1998 and who do not officially fall under the scope of cessation.
Opportunities for an alternative legal status in countries of asylum have received inadequate or no attention. In Uganda, a decision on the Constitutional Petition No. 20/2010, concerning the interpretation of the ‘Citizenship Article’, remains ‘pending’ in the Constitutional Court. It will determine the fate of thousands of Rwandan refugees seeking Ugandan citizenship.
The third component of the Comprehensive Strategy, ‘the elaboration of a common schedule leading to the definite cessation of refugee status, while continuing to meet the needs of those unable to return to their country of origin for protection-related reasons’, has not yet taken place. Except for Zambia, legal mechanisms for exemption procedures have not materialised, even though UNHCR’s Guidelines on Exemption Procedures in respect of Cessation Declarations suggest that the process for registering for exemptions should ideally be opened three to six months before the date of cessation. As no framework is in place, the fair and transparent character of the process is seriously jeopardised.
Moreover, concerning UNHCR’s Note on Suspension of “General Cessation” Declarations in respect of particular persons or group based on acquired rights to family unity, we know of no African host state that has taken this into account. Getting an exemption based on their strong family ties and social links in countries where they have lived for many years, in order to obtain an alternative status, is still not an option. As a result, the Comprehensive Strategy is currently limiting itself to the revocation of refugee status without alternative choices and thus promising to lead to the stripping of refugee status and forceful repatriation of those who do have compelling claims to be exempt.
According to international law, the Cessation Clause can only be invoked if durable, fundamental and effective changes have occurred in the country of origin. UNHCR’s assessment of fundamental changes in Rwanda has never been made public and we know of no government – to have even visited Rwanda with such an assessment in mind.
A number of reports challenge the fundamental, durable and effective character of the changes in Rwanda, and questions the civil and political liberties experienced in the country. As one refugee from Nakivale (Uganda) noted, ‘If Rwanda was really safe, nobody would [need to] force me to go’. UNHCR’s recommendation to limit the cessation clause to refugees who fled the country between 1959 and 1998 but the recognition of those seeking asylum since that date make nonsense of the notion that Rwanda is a safe country for return.
As UNHCR’s Comprehensive Strategy has failed to secure alternative solutions for refugees not wishing to repatriate to Rwanda and assessments of fundamental changes and ceased circumstances are increasingly being questioned. NGOs call on members of the Executive Committee to press host states to postpone UNHCR’s Cessation recommendations until these issues are resolved.
This statement has been written in consultation on behalf of a wide range of NGOs that make up the members of the Cessation Clause Working Group,
 See Hopkins, G. ‘Liberians Refugees and the June 2012 Refugee Cessation: Applying for and being granted exemption’ ‘http://frlan.tumblr.com/post/30649342650/liberian-refugees-and-the-june-2012-refugee-cessation.
 Except Zambia but in this case, the visit did not constitute a study of the political situation and of the possibilities of safety in Rwanda for returnees; it was reported as a visit to government officials in Rwanda. (See http://www.newtimes.co.rw/news/index.php?i=15014&a=54445)
 e.g. Human Rights Watch (http://www.hrw.org/africa/rwanda) and Amnesty International (http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AFR59/021/2011/en/242b7f0c-e271-4fe7-a339-c5735cb2845e/afr590212011en.pdf)