(New York) - We write to voice concern over the expulsion of persons of Rwandan and Burundian origin from Tanzania in recent months. According to testimony received by Human Rights Watch researchers, some expelled persons were threatened, beaten, and saw their property looted by Tanzanian officials, soldiers, and police officers or by militia groups acting with the apparent compliance of government officials. The expelled persons—including some who were recognized as refugees and others who were naturalized Tanzanian citizens—were driven from their homes without any semblance of legal procedure.
It is urgent that you to take action to prevent such ill-treatment in the coming months, especially since Tanzania has announced its intention to send tens of thousands more persons across the borders into Rwanda and Burundi.
We ask you also to ensure that those persons unlawfully deprived of their rights—whether rights to asylum or to citizenship or to property—be afforded every opportunity to be restored to full enjoyment of these rights under international human rights law.
All individuals claiming refugee status in Tanzania are protected under international law from ill-treatment and forced return to their countries of origin, pending determination of their claim. As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention) and its 1967 Protocol; and the OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (OAU Convention), and according to the Tanzanian Refugees Act of 1998 (1998 Act), Tanzania has committed itself to protecting asylum-seekers and refugees against ill-treatment, forced return, or forced displacement from their usual places of residence.
We ask also that Tanzanian authorities investigate and hold to account those responsible for violating the rights of the expelled persons.
Ill-treatment and expulsion of persons of Rwandan origin
In May 2006, the Government of Tanzania began forcibly expelling persons of Rwandan origin living in Tanzania, providing estimates that a total of some 60,000 persons would be affected. Of these some 15,000 persons had arrived in Rwanda by early 2007, many from villages in the Mureba, Karagwe, Ngara, and Bukoba districts of Tanzania.
According to the Government of Tanzania, the persons targeted were “illegal immigrants” (Joint Communiqué at the Closure of the Joint Meeting Between Tanzania and Rwanda, 22-23 June 2006). Many of those expelled, however, claim to have had Tanzanian citizenship or temporary residence status. Some expellees interviewed in a Rwandan transit camp in July 2006 showed Human Rights Watch researchers Tanzanian voting cards and photocopies of naturalization documents. Others said that Tanzanian officials had confiscated and torn up their citizenship papers. Some of those expelled were born in Tanzania and do not speak Kinyarwanda, having grown up speaking Kiswahili or local Tanzanian languages. Other expelled persons were married to Tanzanians and were forcibly separated from their spouses and children.
Expelled persons said that many had had their property looted, including herds of cattle illegally ‘confiscated’ by members of the security forces, administrative authorities, and militia, known as ‘sungu-sungu’. One woman told Human Rights Watch researchers, “If you say that you have citizenship, they say, ‘citizenship doesn’t exist for the Rwandese. They must leave.’ It’s not just words. The sungu-sungu and the army beat us...” Others have seen property destroyed, including houses and other property deliberately burned.
According to as-yet unverified complaints to Human Rights Watch and regional human rights organizations, some expelled women were raped and other persons were deliberately killed. (La Ligue des Droits de la Personne dans la Region des Grands Lacs, ‘Pres de Deux Cent Rwandais Expulses Forcement par la Tanzanie’, May 19, 2006). According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, many of the affected population are “exhibiting signs of mental trauma” (DREF Bulletin, September 20 2006).
A Joint Technical Team (JTT) was established by the governments of Tanzania and Rwanda in July 2006 with a mandate to identify persons of Rwandan origin, list their property including that to be left in Tanzania, reunite separated families, and handle complaints by those affected. Now in existence for nine months, the team has yet to investigate the alleged abuses, reunite any separated families, or provide compensation to those whose rights were violated. (Agreed Minutes of the Meeting of the Government Officials of the United Republic of Tanzania and the Republic of Rwanda on the Evaluation of the Implementation of the Repatriation Process of Rwandans, February 26 2007).
Ill-treatment and refoulement of Burundian refugees
Since August 2006, Tanzanian officials have been expelling Burundians living outside refugee camps in the Kagera region, many of whom might qualify as refugees. Tanzanian authorities have deemed them "illegal immigrants" and expelled them. (IRIN News, Expelled Burundians are Illegal Migrants says Government, August 16, 2006.) However, under international law, refugees cannot be deprived of their right not to be forcibly returned solely because they live outside refugee camps. Before taking action, authorities must make a fair assessment of the claims of such persons and of their need for international protection.
Tanzanian officials also expelled registered refugees, residing in Lukole camp but who had been found seeking wood or other essentials of life outside the camp boundaries. Residents of refugee camps in Tanzania are severely restricted in their freedom of movement and face arrest, detention, and expulsion should they leave the camp area. Several such persons were expelled to Burundi during 2007 and thus were subjected to refoulement, an act specifically prohibited by the OAU Convention and the 1951 Refugee Convention.
In addition, according to reports by the UNHCR and interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch, Tanzanian officials expelled other persons of Burundian origin who had been long-term residents of Tanzania.
Tanzanian officials have carried out these expulsions in a hasty fashion, with no regard for legal procedures, and without giving these individuals an opportunity to contest the decision or to have their interests represented. As a result some families were divided and in two known instances, mothers were separated from their infants. Expellees told a Human Rights Watch researcher that Tanzanian officials had beaten and intimidated them and some showed cuts, bruises, and other injuries they said had been caused by such violence. Many said their property had been looted by Tanzanian officials.
Furthermore, many of these people were issued “Prohibited Immigrant Notices”, making it extremely difficult for them to return to Tanzania.
Human Rights Watch has raised its concerns about the expulsion operation with Ambassador Francis Mndolwa in Burundi who has undertaken to look into this issue. Between January 1 and May 1, 2007, the Burundian government project for the reintegration of war-affected persons has registered more than 2,000 persons expelled from Tanzania.
Tanzanian obligations toward refugees under national and international law
The 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol, the OAU Convention, and Tanzania’s 1998 Refugee Act explicitly prohibit expulsion or forced return of refugees. Article 33 of the 1951 Convention prohibits expulsion or return of any refugee “in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a political social group or political opinion.” Article 2 of the 1998 Act reflects the international prohibition on refoulement when a refugee “will be tried or punished for an offence of a political character after arrival in the territory from which he came or is likely to be subjected to physical attack in such territory.” Under the 1951 Convention and 1998 Act, derogation from this principle is permissible only after an individual determination that an individual poses a threat to state security. Tanzania’s expulsion of refugees clearly violates all these obligations.
Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights—to which Tanzania acceded in 1976—prohibits cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of all persons. Tanzanian officials who mistreat and threaten refugees or immigrants violate Tanzania’s obligations under the ICCPR. The ICCPR also protects all persons’ right to liberty and freedom of movement and prohibits the inhibition of freedom of movement for all persons lawfully within a territory (Article 13). Until an individual determination has been made that a person is unlawfully in Tanzania, his or her right to freedom of movement is protected by the ICCPR.
Finally, refugees’ rights to property are protected by both the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1998 Act. Article 13 of the 1951 Convention requires that refugees receive the same rights to property as do other aliens. Articles 13 and 14 of the 1998 Act require that compensation be paid to refugees from whom property, such as cattle or vehicles, is seized. Tanzanian officials violate these articles when they seize cattle and other property from expelled persons and pay them no compensation.
Remedies and Future Action
Tanzania has long enjoyed the reputation of a generous host to refugees and others seeking protection, a reputation put at risk by actions taken over the last year. Recent news accounts of joint action by the Tanzanian and Rwandan governments and the return to Tanzania of fourteen persons of Rwandan origin in order to resolve property claims are, however, encouraging developments.
Like all sovereign nations, Tanzania has the right to expel those unlawfully in its territory but all such expulsions should take place following appropriate procedures affording a fair process to all claiming a legitimate reason for being in Tanzania. Given reports of expected further expulsions from Tanzania, we urge the government of Tanzania to conduct screenings of all persons before expelling them, ideally in conjunction with UNHCR staff who are best equipped to assess which persons meet the legal requirements of refugee status as defined in the 1951 Convention. Furthermore, should these screenings determine that a person is not legally a refugee in Tanzania, that person should be returned to his or her country of origin in dignity with his or her belongings and family members, free from intimidation or harm. Persons able to demonstrate that they are citizens of Tanzania should be permitted to exercise their rights fully, including that of residing in Tanzania, without discrimination of any kind.
Thank you for your attention to these matters. We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
Alison Des Forges
Senior Advisor, Africa Division
Human Rights Watch
António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Geneva
Yacoub El Hillo, UNHCR Representative to Tanzania
Annette Nyekan, UNHCR representative in Rwanda
Charles Murigande, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Rwanda
Cheikh Moussa Fazil Harerimana, Minister of Interior Security, Rwanda
Kaba Guichard Neyaga, Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Burundi
Ismael Diallo, Representative of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Burundi
Antoinette Batumubwira, Minister of External Relations and Cooperation, Burundi
General Evariste Ndayishimiye, Minister for the Interior and Public Security, Burundi
Francoise Ngendahayo, Minister of National Solidarity, Human Rights and Gender, Burundi
Ambassador Francis Mndolwa, Tanzanian Ambassador to Burundi
Kheri Milao, Chargé d'Affairs, Tanzanian Embassy in Rwanda