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UK’s Rwanda bill ‘incompatible with human rights obligations’

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The UK government’s controversial Rwanda legislation that deems the African country as a safe place to deport people to is fundamentally incompatible with Britain’s human rights obligations and places it in breach of international law, according to a damning parliamentary report.

MPs and peers from the cross-party joint committee on human rights have delivered a critical analysis of the safety of Rwanda bill, which is progressing at speed through parliament.

The aim of the bill is to counter the judgment of the supreme court last November that found Rwanda was not a safe country to which UK asylum seekers could be forcibly removed.

The bill states Rwanda is in fact a safe country and that anyone sent there by the UK government will not be forcibly removed to an unsafe country. The report finds it is unclear whether this can be guaranteed in practice.

The report is the latest of many from legal and human rights experts condemning the UK government’s Rwanda plan and raising questions about whether the policy is safe, viable and compliant with national and international law.

Following line by line scrutiny of the bill, which reaches its committee stage in the House of Lords on Monday the report finds that the bill is fundamentally incompatible with the UK’s human rights obligations, erodes the protections laid down in the Human Rights Act, contravenes parts of the European convention on human rights and falls short of the UK’s commitment to comply with international treaties.

It goes beyond concerns about the Rwanda policy and warns that the actions the government is taking to disapply certain laws places the UK’s hard-won reputation for the rule of law and human rights “in jeopardy”.

“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 states.

The human rights organisation Liberty gave evidence saying that even if a court heard evidence that Rwanda is unsafe it would have to ‘stick its fingers into its ears and pretend it was.”

The committee took evidence from legal experts, academics and NGOs. The overwhelming majority said that the bill was not compatible with human rights laws.

The committee asked whether Rwanda was now a safe country to send asylum seekers to simply because the bill says it was, and the majority of its witnesses concluded that the answer was no.

The committee observed that, for the second time in the space of a year, when introducing a bill ministers were unable to confirm that it was more likely than not that the bill would comply with the UK’s international obligations under the European convention on human rights.

The committee’s chair, Joanna Cherry 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. “

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are committed to tackling this major global challenge with bold and innovative solutions, and the Rwanda scheme is doing just that. The bill we have introduced, and the treaty alongside it, are the best way of getting flights off to Rwanda as soon as possible.

“Rwanda is clearly a safe country that cares deeply about supporting refugees. It hosts more than 135,000 asylum seekers and stands ready to relocate people and help them rebuild their lives.”

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