The UK Again Attempts to Bend Truth on Rwanda

    In an interview on the BBC’s Today Program this week, Deputy Foreign Secretary Andrew Mitchell sang the praises of Rwanda’s “remarkable regime.” But as the debate over the government’s Safety of Rwanda bill came to a close, he left out some important facts about Rwanda’s human rights record.

    When asked about an incident in which Rwandan security forces shot and killed 12 Congolese refugees during a 2018 protest over cuts in food rations in the Kiziba refugee camp, Mitchell claimed the incident was “highly contested.” In its December 2023 policy statement, the UK government also tried to present the killings as “an isolated case [with] no information on similar incidents since 2018.”

    There is nothing contested about what happened. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International found that Rwandan police used excessive force during the protest. Dozens of protesters were arrested and prosecuted, with those who signed a letter to the UN pleading for increased food rations receiving the heaviest sentences.

    Impunity for security forces, a cover-up report by Rwanda’s National Human Rights Commission, and the jailing of dozens of refugees sent a stark warning against any further attempts to organize protests.

    Mitchell also failed to mention Rwanda’s involvement in one of the largest displacement crises on the continent in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, by backing the abusive M23 armed group that has committed widespread atrocities. He omits the fact that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has opposed the UK-Rwanda asylum deal, instead seeming to deliberately mislead the audience into thinking otherwise by comparing the deal to a UNHCR transit mechanism that temporarily hosts asylum seekers and refugees voluntarily evacuated from Libya to Rwanda.

    Instead of focusing on how Rwanda’s capital Kigali may be considered safe from petty thievery, Mitchell should examine how those who question the Rwandan government’s right record have been blocked from entering the country, arrested, disappeared, or ended up dead in unexplained circumstances.

    The Safety of Rwanda bill was adopted late last night, and efforts by the House of Lords to include oversight mechanisms were batted away by government officials as cumbersome and obstructive. Such scrutiny is now needed more than ever.

    The government may have legislated its way around the Supreme Court’s ruling that Rwanda is not a safe country to which to send asylum seekers, but it cannot bend the truth to its will – Rwanda’s dismal human rights record is there for all to see.

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