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  • Writer's pictureSandeep Babu

Rwanda Plan: Sunak’s Last Stand or Final Blow to Human Rights?

Last Tuesday, 313 MPs voted in favour of the Safety of Rwanda Bill, advancing it to the next legislative stage. This act is crucial to legalize the Rwanda scheme proposed under the Boris administration, as it was deemed unlawful by the Supreme Court last month. The act holds significance in light of Rwanda's safety concerns, the Conservative’s outlook on human rights, the impracticality of the scheme itself, and the upcoming elections, all of which could collectively contribute to the downfall of Rishi Sunak.

In mid-2022, the Migration and Economic Partnership (MEDP) was a bilateral agreement between the UK and Rwanda, through which, asylum seekers arriving in the UK would be sent to Rwanda, with Rwanda receiving monetary compensation for accommodating them. However, this scheme underwent an extended legal battle, due to its evident conflict with multiple international agreements, specifically the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), a cornerstone of European Human Rights, to which the UK is a signatory. Last month, the Supreme Court examined the case and after evaluating Rwanda's poor human rights record and the potential risk of refugees, being sent back to their home country, concluded that the agreement was indeed unlawful, breaching Article 3 of the ECHR, which prohibits the subjecting of anyone to “torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

The sovereignty of the UK's Westminster Parliament establishes its supremacy, enabling any legislative act to prevail over international agreements and court decisions. This compels the courts to align with enacted legislation. The Tories seek to achieve this, through the Safety of Rwanda Bill, asserting that Rwanda is a safe country for hosting refugees. However, this raises concerns as the bill appears to conceal the harsh reality of Rwanda. Despite being democratic in theory, the country's elections are manipulated, as seen in President Paul Kagabe's 23-year tenure and the recent election where he “claimed” 99% of the votes. Critics and opposition face severe consequences as well, for instance, Victoire Ingabire Umhuza, an opposition politician, was unlawfully arrested multiple times for criticising the government and recently received death threats, after stating that Rwanda was not a safe place for refugees. Rwanda has also been alleged to mistreat refugees, as highlighted by the Supreme Court's earlier findings.

By operating such a scheme, the UK will likely face political and diplomatic repercussions from the European Council and other member states for violating the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). In reality, these repercussions may not effectively stop the government from proceeding with the scheme. Many within the Conservative Party, perceive the ECHR as a restraint on the government's ability to pass laws that, in their view, align with "common sense." Considering the ECHR was incorporated into UK legislation, under Tony Blair's Labour administration, it's understandable, why there's shared dissatisfaction with the ECHR within the party.

There's even a possibility that the UK may exit the ECHR, as Sunak recently stated, "I am prepared to do what's necessary to get flights off," hinting at a willingness to exit the convention if deemed necessary for the scheme. However, this poses another issue, as it would mean there would be no fundamental legislation safeguarding human rights to the same degree as the ECHR did, thereby eliminating a significant portion of judicial scrutiny.

Even if the Tories were to overcome these hurdles, there is still no guarantee that flights will take off, as the government is struggling to find a possible airline to fly the refugees due to concerns about reputational damage. Furthermore, the government won't be able to justify the £240 million given to Rwanda, as an earlier economic assessment, prepared by the Home Office, estimated that the removal of individuals to a third-world country would cost £63,000 more than keeping them in the UK. There is no substantial benefit from incorporating such a scheme, instead, it simply follows the xenophobic Western trend of mistreating refugees.

Compounding these situations further are the upcoming general elections. Sunak has made his anti-immigration policy his most important selling point, which may bring back right-wing voters but still wouldn't appeal to the general public. Most are still concerned about the crises surrounding the cost of living and the NHS, both of which the Labour Party addressed as their central pledges. With recent polls, showing 41% and 24% of the votes for the Labour Party and the Conservatives respectively, the future does not seem bright for Rishi Sunak.



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