UK’s Rwanda plan ‘fundamentally incompatible’ with rights obligations

The legislation may be in breach of international treaties, according to a parliamentary report.

Protesters hold placards as they gather outside the Home Office in central London
People protest outside the UK Home Office in central London on June 13, 2022, against the government's intention to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda [File: Niklas Hallen/AFP]

The plan of the United Kingdom’s government to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda goes against the country’s human rights obligations and may breach international law, according to a parliamentary report.

Lawmakers from parliament’s cross-party Joint Committee on Human Rights said in a damning 52-page report released on Monday that the government’s legislation to revive its deportation plan is “not compatible with the UK’s international obligations”.

The bill, which is progressing through parliament quickly, aims to counter a judgement by the Supreme Court in November that found Rwanda is not a safe country to which people seeking asylum in the UK can be forcibly removed.

The legislation states that Rwanda is a safe country and anyone sent there by the UK government will not be once more displaced to another unsafe country. The parliamentary report on Monday said this cannot be guaranteed in practice.

The report said the government’s legislation undermines protections laid down in the country’s Human Rights Act, contravenes parts of the European Convention on Human Rights, and does not fully address the UK’s commitment to comply with international treaties, including the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention.

It warns that the government is undermining the UK’s reputation for rights protections and effectively undermining British courts by forcing them to consider Rwanda a safe country even if they don’t deem it to be.

“The bill’s near total exclusion of judicial scrutiny seeks to undermine the constitutional role of the domestic courts in holding the executive to account,” it said.

Lawmaker Joanna Cherry, who is the chairperson of the committee, said the government’s 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,” she said after the committee received evidence from legal experts, academics and NGOs.

The Conservative government has increasingly emphasised a policy to combat “irregular immigration” to the UK, in particular via small boats that cross the English Channel.

Opposition parties and a variety of international bodies, including the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, have criticised the legislation to deport asylum seekers to the East African country.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who faces a general election this year, has remained focused on the policy.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies