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UN rights chief slams UK's Rwanda bill

Xinhua | Updated: 2024-02-20 04:50
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GENEVA -- The United Kingdom's (UK) recent legislative moves to facilitate the removal of asylum-seekers to Rwanda run contrary to the basic principles of the rule of law and risk delivering a serious blow to human rights, the United Nations (UN) human rights chief said on Monday.

The bill would also drastically strip back the courts' ability to scrutinize removal decisions, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said in a statement.

The UK's proposed legislation, known as the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, requires every decision maker -- be it a government minister, immigration office, or court or tribunal reviewing asylum decisions -- to treat Rwanda as a "safe country" in terms of protecting refugees and asylum seekers against refoulement, irrespective of evidence that exists now or may exist in the future, he said.

"Settling questions of disputed fact -- questions with enormous human rights consequences -- is what the courts do ... It should be for the courts to decide whether the measures taken by the government since the Supreme Court's ruling on risks in Rwanda are enough," Turk said. "You cannot legislate facts out of existence."

"It is deeply concerning to carve out one group of people, or people in one particular situation, from the equal protection of the law. This is antithetical to even-handed justice, available and accessible to all, without discrimination," he added.

The UN human rights office has reiterated the concerns expressed by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) that the scheme is not compatible with international refugee law, the statement said.

"The combined effects of this Bill, attempting to shield government action from standard legal scrutiny, directly undercut basic human rights principles," Turk said.

Turk urged the UK government to "take all necessary steps" to ensure full compliance with the UK's international legal obligations and to uphold the country's history of "effective, independent judicial scrutiny." "Such a stance is today more vital than ever."

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