Over the course of the past few months, articles discussing Rwandan refugees in Uganda have become more and more common. Not quite making front page news (given all the developments and commentary surrounding the referendum to amend the Ugandan Constitution to permit Musevuni another term and instances of conflict within the West Nile region), the talks between the Rwandan and Ugandan government concerning the return of Hutus to “face justice” have not resonated as deeply as one would hope. One thing is clear: the Rwandan refugees (Hutu or otherwise) who continue to arrive at our offices recognize the import.
Last week Uganda and Rwanda signed an extradition treaty which provides the legal basis to turn over those Rwandans who are in this country as illegal aliens. In other words, those Rwandan refugees without refugee status may potentially be forced to return. While the Government of Uganda should be commended for cooperating with the Government of Rwanda in its effort to bring perpetrators to justice for acts of genocide committed over a decade ago, the situation should be closely monitored to prevent this policy from being used against political opponents. The situation remains quite delicate. If a Rwandan asylum seeker in Uganda is denied refugee status wholesale as a member of a group (without due regard to consideration of individual well-founded fears) and then extradited, Uganda is ostensibly violating the principle of non-refoulement. Although it is clear what drives the motivation of the Rwandan government to lobby for return of Rwandans as many Hutus have fled the country to escape prosecution through the gacaca process, such actions should be carried out without impinging upon the rights of refugees.
Well founded fears of persecution which are necessary to grant refugee status should continue to be determined on a case by case basis. The testimony of 80 Rwandans were deemed to incorporate such “well-founded fears.” However, 1100 were also just rejected for refugee status, with the government attributing the reason to be based on the insufficient generalized grievance of land quarrels by these applicants. Perhaps it might also be interesting to look at those statistics from a different angle: the acceptance and rejection rate of Tutsis versus those of the Hutus. As these developments play out, the treatment of Rwandan asylum seekers and refugees should be closely followed.
Posted By Eun Ha Kim (Uganda)
Posted Jul 19th, 2005