UK DEPORTATIONS TO RWANDA BLOCKED AFTER LEGAL CHALLENGE

More than 70 years ago, the Council of Europe (not European Union) created The European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedom (ECHR). This was set up after the second world war with the intention of protecting human rights, the rule of law and promoting democracy. Winston Churchill was instrumental in the creation of ECHR and spoke about the “strength derived from our sense of common values” grounded in legally binding obligations. The experience of the second world war had ignited a desire to structure governments “owned by the people and not governments owning the people”.

In April 2022 the UK government entered a memorandum of understanding with the government of Rwanda for an asylum partnership worth £120 million. This arrangement would ensure that “asylum seekers whose claims were not considered by the UK would be relocated to Rwanda”.  

As a result of this partnership, the UK government wanted to send seven asylum seekers to Rwanda. One of the asylum seekers was an Iraq national who travelled to Turkey and across Europe before crossing the English Channel by boat. Upon arrival in the UK, he claimed asylum alleging that he was in danger. A medical doctor in the Immigration removal centre issued a report highlighting that the Iraq national might have been a victim of torture.

Successive UK courts upheld the decision to send him to Rwanda and he was pursuing Judicial Review scheduled for July. The UK government wanted to send him to Rwanda before the Judicial Review and submitted that if he were to win, he would be sent back to the UK from Rwanda.

The case was taken to ECHR in Strasbourg where the court threw a spanner into the works by deciding against UK courts and effectively blocking deportations from going ahead last night. The ECHR was influenced by the concerns raised by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that asylum seekers transferred from UK to Rwanda “will not have access to fair and efficient procedures for determination of refugee status.” In addition, the ECHR considered the finding by the UK High Court that the question to treat Rwanda as a safe third country was irrational or based on insufficient inquiry which gave rise to “serious triable issues”.

As a result, the ECHR was not convinced that the asylum seekers’ rights would be protected in Rwanda considering that Rwanda is not within the ECHR jurisdiction. Furthermore, the partnership between the UK and Rwanda is not legally binding which implies Rwanda cannot be compelled to comply with it. It can also be inferred from this decision that the ECHR Judges did not have confidence that a win in the Judicial Review would bring back the Iraq national from Rwanda. In light of this, none of the seven asylum seekers were deported.

IMPACT OF THE ECHR JUDGMENT

This matter is not over, the seven asylum seekers could still go to Rwanda if the Judicial Review is decided in favour of the UK government next month. It’s a significant policy issue with profound implications. The Judicial Review will have to establish whether the policy being pursued by the UK government will protect all those sent to Rwanda. The decision by ECHR will obviously come into play and it will take courage to contradict it. The argument against this UK government policy is that it’s not workable in all the circumstances. However, as controversial as it may seem and with no clear policy in decades, some politicians believe it can generate political capital.

If the Judicial Review were to allow the asylum seekers to be deported to Rwanda, it will mean that the UK has made domestic laws that go against the obligations it signed up to in 1951 after the second world war. This could further open the door for the UK to leave the ECHR which it was instrumental in setting up. Leaving the ECHR is construed by the UK government as fulfilling Brexit objectives even though there are legal and moral obstacles. The Church of England and all the Bishops said the idea of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda “shames us all”. Prince Charles who is not meant to comment on political matters said sending asylum seekers to Rwanda was “appalling”.

The question being asked often is whether deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda would stop traffickers from crossing the English Channel? An international response is needed since this is an international problem. It could be worth considering going to countries where these traffickers operate from and arrest them in their backyard. For now, all the attention is on the Judicial Review next month.

Remembering Dr Alex Magaisa, An Intellectual Powerhouse. 1975 – 2022

When Neil Kinnock resigned as Labour leader after losing the 1992 general election, John Smith was seen as the obvious successor. He was deemed to have “immense credibility born out of natural integrity and years of public service.” He was head and shoulders above his colleagues. Although he was “quiet, modest manner and his politically moderate stance, he was a witty, often scathing speaker.” Gordon Brown said he had no doubt that John Smith had the strength, ability, and desire to face John Major in the 1997 general election and win.

Labour had been out of power for 18 years. Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives had dominated British politics while Labour struggled to modernise. There were toxic and militant elements within the Labour party who resisted reforms. John smith’s mission was to transform the Labour Party and reform the constitution.

As time went on, The Conservatives became so unpopular that John Smith was expected to be Prime Minister in 1997. Unfortunately, he died suddenly in 1994 of a heart attack which saw the young Tony Blair become leader and went on to become Prime Minister in 1997. Even Tony Blair acknowledged that had John Smith not passed away, he would have become Prime Minister.

This week I was reminded of John Smith when I saw the outpouring of grief by people mourning the death of Dr Alex Magaisa. Dr Magaisa was an intellectual powerhouse who was part of the team that crafted the Zimbabwean 2013 constitution. He went on to be Chief of Staff in the then Prime Minister’s office, Morgan Tsvangirai and advised him on strategy and policy formulation.

After his time as Chief of Staff, he returned to Kent University where he resumed his work as a lecturer in Public law, Company Law, and International Financial Regulation. The messages submitted by his former students testify that he was a gentle giant, had passion for ideas and loved empowering his students.

Zimbabweans were devastated by his death especially the young people he mentored. He had the ability to connect with people from all walks of life. In a country where power has never transferred peacefully, young people felt disconnected from the political system. Dr Magaisa took it upon himself to encourage young people to register to vote and to get involved in the political process. He often reminded them that the country and the future belonged to them. He was a shining star in a country blanketed by political darkness.

His death shocked so many people given that he was only 46 years old. He was seen as one of the people who would have taken Zimbabwe to its greatness. There is a feeling of Moses not making it to the promised land after sacrificing his life for his people. Now that he won’t be there to take Zimbabwe to its glory, his work was certainly preparing the way for the one who will do so.

He exemplified the famous words uttered by JFK on his inauguration “ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” Dr Magaisa did not need invitation to contribute to his country. His life’s desire was to see a fully functional Zimbabwe built on democratic principles, rule of law and human rights. Although Zimbabwe appears to be a mess now, Zimbabweans have never stopped believing that their country will come good with the right leadership.

At heart, Dr Magaisa was a patriot, a hardcore Zimbabwean. Through his genius, he was able to disprove and nullify the government’s delusion that patriotism could only be expressed by strictly supporting the government or aligning with liberation war ethos. As absurd as it may seem, the government had monopolised patriotism. He must have been one of the few to take the government head on and push back on their governance shortcomings.

One of his well-known articles on the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s “Farming Mechanism Scheme” sent shock waves across the country. The US$200 million scheme was designed to help farmers in the early stages of land redistribution. Instead, politicians were the beneficiaries, and they did not pay back the loans. An Act of parliament was passed which took over the debt. It was effectively paid back by taxpayers.

There was pandemonium when the public realised the magnitude of the abuse considering the state of the economy. The politicians were not used to such scrutiny especially their names in the public domain for corrupt acts. They felt exposed and it was uncomfortable for them. In a country with no investigative journalism, his blog was more influential than newspapers, tv and radio.

People admired him for his diligent work on holding the government to account. He had a massive following with more than a million followers on all his social media platforms. His critics would give him the nickname “Bishop” for galvanising a broad church against ideas which he thought were contrary and detrimental to democracy. He embraced the name Bishop which I thought was apt given the loyalty people showed him and indeed they crowned him their Bishop. His blog “The Big Saturday Read” effectively baptised Zimbabweans and other African countries into born again democrats. Every Friday midnight, people would stay up for his weekly offerings on his blog and would engage until early hours of the morning.

Metaphorically, his blog was a class where he taught the country democracy and all matters of statecraft. He had the dexterity to decipher the most complex of constitutional and legal matters into simple and straightforward language. He enlightened so many people who often commended him for igniting their interest in politics. Though he’s gone, I foresee his blog being used as a point of reference and potentially taking the form of commandments essential for a robust system of government.    

Dr Magaisa’s Legacy

Labour leaders in the 1990s said John Smith would have made a good Prime Minister had he not passed away. A Conservative MP submitted it was terrible that he passed away but hated that his death unleashed Tony Blair and Gordon brown who created New Labour. He went on to say Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were a formidable force who blew his party out of government for 13 years.

Dr Magaisa would not have necessarily become President, but any President would have wanted him in his inner circle. It’s sad that he won’t be around to see a transformed Zimbabwe. However, through his mentoring and engagements with the public, Dr Magaisa produced thousands like him who possess his intellectual DNA and passion for democracy. It’s highly likely that young leaders who will transform Zimbabwe, will stand on the foundation of the work he did.

Although he left a huge void in the political landscape, people need not lose heart. They should be inspired by his dedication and commitment to democracy. They should be inspired by his purpose driven life and inspired by his sense of fairness. The democratic fire he started must stay ablaze. Those inspired by him should step up and ensure that his work goes on. They should rise to the challenge and take Zimbabwe to the promised land. History has always shown that when your leaders die, it’s your time to step up and lead. The best way to honour his legacy is to uphold the ideas he believed in and for Zimbabwe to become a democratic state.

Conclusion

Dr Magaisa will be missed by many people around the world. He left Zimbabweans wanting more but he did more than enough for Zimbabwe. He instilled a great culture and respect for democracy among Zimbabweans. In this culture, Zimbabwe will find its salvation. We should learn from his work that democracy does not happen on its own. It requires good leaders to survive. Leaders who are crystal clear about their objectives and in touch with the realities of their people.

May His Soul Rest in Peace.

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