Reflection: Guilty until proven innocent? Rwandans in the Netherlands accused of genocide

On 29 June 2016, the Hague Peace Projects organised a debate in the Humanity House in The Hague about the persecutions of Rwandans in the Netherlands. The initiative stems from the Grate Lake Region’s working group within the Hague Peace Projects which aims to empower the diaspora groups living in the Netherlands. The Hague Peace Projects acknowledged the sensitivity of the topic of the debate, but nevertheless recognised the importance of the debate about Rwandans being accused of genocide.  Much of the discussion on Rwanda take place out of sight of Dutch citizens. We would like therefore create public debate and discuss some of the most pressing questions about Rwanda.

DSC_0184The Dutch and Rwandan government work together to persecute Rwandans living in the Netherlands and who are accused of participating in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. It is doubtful whether the accused Rwandans have access to a fair trial in Rwanda, which is required under international human rights law. So far, around 30 Rwandans living in the Netherlands are accused of participating in the genocide of 1994. However, there seems to be very little substance to the accusations: it is unclear on what kind of information claims are based and how information has been obtained, even for the lawyers of the ones being accused. To shed light on some of these issues, the Hague Peace Projects invited two experts in the field, Marieke van Ejk and Joris van Wijk, along with Victor Kwihangana, who was willing to share his thoughts from a personal perspective.

Marieke van Ejk, a lawyer active in the field of migration, started off the debate by explaining the legal framework of refugees and the role of the Netherlands therein. Ms. Van Ejk explained that the 1951 Refugee Convention protects refugees, but also has the possibility to excludes persons to seek refugee status who have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity through Article 1F. In addition, Ms. Van Ejk elaborated on the application of Article 1F, and clarified that the Dutch Migration Service is responsible for investigations in order to decide whether Article 1F is applicable. It appeared that the Dutch Migration Service relatively easy applies Article 1F, when a person worked for an organisation which could be linked with a war crime or a crime against humanity. Problematic is the confidentiality paired with the procedure, and the burden of proof which is shifted to the person in question, which makes it hard for Rwandans to prove their innocence.

Joris van Wijk, who is an associate professor in criminology and expert in the field of genocide, further explained what happens with people when they are dismissed from refugee states through the applicability of Article 1F. According to Mr. Van Wijk, Rwandans have to undergo a ‘legal limbo’ now that Article 1F obliges them to leave the Netherlands, but at the same time the European Convention on Human Rights protects them from being sent back, for example when an unfair trail is waiting for them in their country of origin. Meanwhile, the authorities in Rwanda have the possibility to ask the Netherlands for the extradition of suspected Rwandans from genocide. Through extradition, suspected people will be sent back to Rwanda, where they undergo prosecution in Rwanda, and may not get access to a fair trial.

Victor Kwihangana is the son from one of the accused Rwandans, and visualised the procedure Rwandans have to go through when they seek for refugee protection in the Netherlands. He expressed his concern about the procedures in the Netherlands, which might infringe with basic human rights. Most of the people from the audience shared his concern. Unfortunately, a key player in the debate, the Netherlands Migration Service, declined our invitation to speak at our debate. Since voices are currently missing in the debate, the Hague Peace Project aims to elaborate on this topic when other parties are ready to participate. Jakob de Jonge, the director of the Hague Peace Projects emphasised that only when a debate is fully inclusive, wounds can heal and truth can be spoken.


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