Legislative scrutiny highlights human rights failings of Rwanda Bill
12 February 2024
The Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill is fundamentally incompatible with the UK’s human rights obligations, the Joint Committee on Human Rights has warned.
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Following detailed line by line scrutiny of the Bill to assess its human rights implications, the Committee has published a report highlighting areas of concern.
The Government brought forward the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill to facilitate the removal of asylum seekers to Rwanda. The Rwanda policy has been found to be unlawful by the Supreme Court, leading the Government to negotiate a new treaty with Rwanda as well as introducing this new legislation to prevent future legal challenges.
The Bill would erode protection for human rights provided by the Human Rights Act, contravene rights guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights and fall short of the UK’s commitments under international treaties, the Committee warns.
Measures intended to remove barriers to sending individuals to Rwanda, including mandating that courts treat Rwanda as a ‘safe’ country and limiting access to courts to appeal decisions, are incompatible with the UK’s human rights obligations. The Bill would not affect individuals taking their cases to the European Court of Human Rights, but opens up the possibility of Ministers not implementing interim measures issued by the court which are binding on the UK as a matter of international law.
- The treaty with Rwanda prohibits the removal of any relocated individuals to anywhere other than the UK. If strictly applied this would prevent refoulement, the return of an individual to a country where they may be subject to persecution. However, it remains unclear whether this can be guaranteed in practice.
- The Bill would require courts to view Rwanda as a safe country. However, it is courts and not Parliament that are best placed to assess whether the provisions of the Treaty adequately resolve the realities on the ground that led the Supreme Court to conclude that Rwanda was not safe.
- By denying access to court to challenge the safety of Rwanda the Bill is not compatible with the UK's international obligations, most obviously Article 13 ECHR - the right to an effective remedy. Clause 4 of the Bill would allow for claims based on compelling evidence of individual circumstances, but it would not make the Bill compliant with the Refugee Convention or European Convention on Human Rights as it would still deny access to court for individuals with arguable claims based on Rwanda being generally unsafe or on a risk of refoulement. The Bill is also inconsistent with the ECHR in the way it would severely limit the use of safeguards, such as court injunctions, that could delay removal to Rwanda while a claim is considered.
- Human rights are universal. The Bill undermines this key principle by denying the protections guaranteed under the Human Rights Act for a particular group. It would remove almost all protections in the Human Rights Act for individuals being removed to Rwanda. As a matter of UK law, in respect of removals to Rwanda, public bodies would be allowed to act in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights. New guidance would require civil servants to do so if a Minister chooses not to implement an interim measure from the European Court of Human Rights.
- The Bill places the UK’s hard won reputation for human rights and the rule of law into jeopardy. If the UK enacts legislation that fails to respect its own international human rights commitments it will seriously harm its ability to influence other nations to respect the international legal order.
Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Joanna Cherry QC MP said:
“This Bill is designed to remove vital safeguards against persecution and human rights abuses, including the fundamental right to access a court. Hostility to human rights is at its heart and no amendments can salvage it.
This isn’t just about the rights and wrongs of the Rwanda policy itself. By taking this approach, the Bill risks untold damage to the UK’s reputation as a proponent of human rights internationally.
Human rights aren’t inconvenient barriers that must be overcome to reach policy goals, they are fundamental protections that ensure individuals are not harmed by Government action. If a policy is sound it should be able to withstand judicial scrutiny, not run away from it.”
- Inquiry: Safety of Rwanda (Asylum & Immigration) Bill
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