Social Justice

Human rights and rule of law under threat in UK after Rwanda bill vote, charities warn

Not a single Tory MP voted against the controversial plan to revive the Rwanda scheme

Rwanda deportation flights protest

Protesters gather outside Rwanda House, London: Greg Barradale / The Big Issue

Human rights and the rule of law are under threat in the UK, charities have warned, after parliament voted in favour of the government’s new Rwanda bill.

After a day of political intrigue, not a single Tory MP voted against the bill, which declares Rwanda is a safe country and forces courts to accept this – overruling the Supreme Court’s judgement last month that the east African nation is unsafe.

Under the bill, asylum seekers due to be sent to Rwanda will be unable to appeal on the grounds they would be unsafe, or be sent back to an unsafe country. 

It has led to warnings from parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) that the bill gives public authorities free reign to breach human rights, and “would expose individuals to a risk of their fundamental rights not to be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment being violated”. 

Pushing ahead with the bill represents a threat to everybody’s human rights, warned Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s chief executive.

“This bill is a sad assault on the rule of law and the protection of human rights in this country,” said Deshmukh. 

“Stripping people of their rights and shipping them off to Rwanda when they’re seeking asylum in the UK is a clear dereliction of this country’s responsibilities toward some of the world’s most desperate people. It is an attack on the basic principle that human rights are universal.”

Introduced to revive the government’s Rwanda plan after the Supreme Court ruled it unlawful, the bill is inconsistent with the UK’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, according to the JCHR, the cross-party group of MPs and peers which scrutinises every government bill for its compatibility with human rights.

Chair Harriet Harman also questioned why the government needed to force the new legislation through, writing: “It is unclear why the bill is considered necessary other than in order to speed up the operationalisation of the policy by bypassing review in the courts.”

Tuesday’s vote meant the bill passed its second reading, but will need to pass further stages in parliament and the Lords to become reality.

Lawmakers should think carefully about their responsibilities as the bill progresses, said Fiona Rutherford, chief executive of JUSTICE.

“This bill – passed by less than half of our MPs – triggers a constitutional crisis by trying to decree away reality as set out in the unanimous finding by our most senior court,” Rutherford said.

“It fundamentally threatens the independence of our judiciary – an independence which underpins our very democracy.”

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