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No to UNHCR Cessation Clause as Rwandans still have reasons to flee

Scott Erlinder, an American cinematographer, in collaboration with several Rwandan refugees, American experts and UN staff members, has released a short film �Stateless� as part of a campaign to stop the Cessation Clause of the UNHCR that is supposed to be implemented on June 30th�2013.

Rwandan Refugees in Zambia demonstrating

Rwandans in Zambia demonstrating against the Cessation Clause in January 2012

On the website of the film, it states that �the UN in agreement with host countries in Africa, will institute the Cessation Clause and with this remove the refugee status or make those who were refugees seeking asylum between 1959 and 1998 stateless people if they will not return to Rwanda after the invocation.� The producer and those who participated in the 43 minutes film clearly disagree with the UNHCR�s plan and argue that �such action would put many at risk at a time when the fundamental, durable and positive changes required to invoke the Cessation Clause have not yet been achieved�, according to their website.


Stateless features a range of interviews given by ordinary Rwandans in exile, refugees in African countries as well as residents in European countries and in America.
People such as Paul Rusesabagina Hotel Rwanda foundation and Theogene Rudasingwa, former Rwanda ambassador to the US are also interviewed. The interviewees comment on the current situation inside Rwanda and share some of their experiences with the UNHCR�s policies and/or with the Rwandan government.
UN�s staff members such as the former head of the UNHCR in Goma also participate and the film makes widely use of different international reports.
Quotes by individuals who play an important role are frequently added, such as those made by Rwandan president Paul Kagame.
The film is highly critical towards the repatriation policies of the UNHCR and the involvement of different African host countries. �The UNHCR has tried to institute the clause four times since 2009, but events on the ground have made them rethink their tactics. The latest date chosen for implementation is June 30th�2013�, states Hetty MacDowell in the voice of the narrator. She continues:

�On July 23rd 2003, the UNCHR, the Ugandan and Rwandan governments signed an agreement to repatriate the 20 000 refugees living in Uganda. The repatriation agreement failed, considering there could only be repatriated 850 refugees. Between 2004 and 2006 there were continued attempts to send the refugees home but many escaped back to Uganda almost immediately, carrying graphic accounts of their painful experiences�.

Because of a slight contradiction in the Clause, states can misuse it and force refugees to return. �The guidelines of the Cessation Clause are vague, in the sense that one part states that no refugee can be forced to return to his or her country, whereas another section states that the cessation clause does not require the consent of or a voluntary act by the refugee [Article 7 of section A, General Considerations]�, according to Hetty MacDowell.
The narrator also questions the ways in which the UNHCR has assessed the different reasons of fleeing Rwanda and the image the UNHCR has portrayed regarding the progress of Rwanda and its current circumstances. Moreover, it is said that refugees repeatedly sent in petitions to appeal the cessation clause, but that each time these have been denied by the Rwandan government.
�There is a certain profound mismatch between the reality perceived by the refugees, the UNHCR and what Rwandan government claims is true�, declares Hetty MacDowell .

Role of host countries

On their part, host countries such as Zambia and Uganda are said to have done little to integrate their Rwandan refugees but instead are waiting for an opportunity to send them back. In addition, it is suggested that the heavy burden placed on these host countries could be �the real reason� behind the Cessation Clause.
David Kazunga, Ugandan Commissioner of Refugee Affairs argues:

�The Cessation Clause applies to those who left Rwanda in 1959 because of the politics of the monarchy. Are people in Rwanda still being killed because of the monarchy? The cessation clause applies to the genocide of 1994, people who ran away because of the events of the genocide of 1994. The cessation clause applies to those who ran away because there was insecurity in Rwanda in 1997, 1998. Is it still there? (�) It is an obligation of the government of Uganda, the governments that hold Rwandan refugees together with the UNHCR, to encourage [them] to go back and be part of their national development.�

As for Europe, the film shows that it does not consider Rwanda a safe place to return to and is unlikely to co-operate with the invocation of the Clause. The difference between refugees in Europe and in Africa however, is that those in Africa often face �severe restrictions to livelihoods�, such as land or livestock, and many find themselves as illegal migrants, forced to take on precarious jobs. Furthermore, the film recounts several cases of forced and violent repatriations of Rwandan refugees in Africa.
Kazunga comments on the Ugandan incident in 2010: �(..) Some are here on their own..(..) A person might lesve to go to a settlement or go to see his brother and continue to stay there. The same [is] with the Rwandans (..) And I think as a government we have the right to say you are not a person fit or deserving to be on our territory and we encourage you to go home.�
Stateless also reports that the Rwandan government has been reluctant to provide refugees abroad with the needed legal documents that could support their demands for a status.

Situation in Rwanda

Rwandan Refugees in Zambia say no to 'cessation clause'

Rwandans in Zambia demonstrating against the Cessation Clause in January 2012

In addition, the situation inside Rwanda is not regarded as safe enough for people to return. The film points out the ongoing human rights violations, emphasizing the imprisonment of independent journalists and members of the opposition, and the suppressive regime of the ruling party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front.
The narrator comments in saying that the approach of the RPF regime towards reconciliation and genocide denial violates several human rights clauses and only gives Rwandans �the right to bow their head down and shut up.�
Further questions are raised on the equality issue between Hutu�s and Tutsi�s in Rwanda, challenging the government�s policy of �banning ethnicities� in the country. In using Article 14 of the Rwandan�s Constitution which reads �the genocide committed against the Tutsi�, the narrator rightfully asks: �If there are no ethnicities anymore, why is this in the constitution? If only Tutsi families are getting help to resettle, what happens to the others?�
The video also shows the striking difference in wealth and modernity between Kigali and the rural areas of the country, and concludes that with the cessation of the Clause, the requirement of rural material security upon return will not be met in Rwanda.

After 1998

�Invoking the cessation clause assumes that the reasons for a person becoming a refugee no longer exist and that fundamental, endurable changes have occurred in the country. However, the UNHCR admits that refugees who fled the country after 1998 still have a well-founded fear of prosecution, contradicting the idea of these changes�, the film�s narrator said.

Cessation Clause

The Clause deals with Rwandans who fled the country between 1959 and 1998 and is a result of ongoing negotiations between the Ugandan government, the Rwandan government and the UNHCR. Already in 2009 Uganda, Rwanda and the UNHCR stated the retention of Rwandan refugees is no longer justifiable and decided to implement the cessation clause. Thousands of refugees are still living outside Rwanda today, most of them in neighbouring countries such as Uganda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo.


Link to the website:�


January 15, 2013   No Comments