Friday, April 26, 2013 – The ABA International Refugee Law Committee and the Africa Committee co-sponsored a panel at the ABA Section of International Law Spring Meeting in Washington, D.C., titled “Rwandan Refugees – Is it Safe to Come Home?” The panel addressed the situation of Rwandan refugees in light of the UNHCR’s recommendation to invoke Cessation of their refugee status on June 30, 2013. The Cessation applies to those who escaped events in Rwanda that occurred between 1956 and 1998.
Speaking to a packed room, panelists included Filip Reyntjens, Professor of African Law and Politics at the Institute of Development Policy and Management, University of Antwerp; Olivia Bueno, International Refugee Rights Initiative’s Associate Director; and Mutuyimana Manzi a Rwandan refugee in Uganda since 2007.
The panel, organized and moderated by Northwestern Professor Galya Ruffer, provided a context of the situation in Rwanda today, considered the requirements for invocation of the Cessation of refugee status and presented a case study of who are the Rwandan refugees today and what are their concerns in regards to Cessation of their status. The focus of the panel then centered on lawyering and advocacy in such a situation in order to consider strategies, ethical concerns and responsibilities of lawyering in situations of severe oppression where lives are at risk.
As if playing into the theme of the panel, the Q&A resulted in a heated debate that carried on well past the end of the allotted time. In attendance was the Rwandan Ambassador to the United States who, along with a handful of other attendees, sought to discredit Professor Reyntjens and Mr. Manzi’s observations about the current state of affairs in Rwanda. The panel ended with moderator Professor Ruffer noting that in this difficult and complicated environment, it is indeed important to consider how lawyers give voice and protection in such a situation without making the refugees more vulnerable.
-Joe Hansen, Vice Chair of IRLC