In Dialogue with Rwanda, Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers Welcomes Adoption of Progressive Legislation and Asks about Migrants in Irregular Situations
The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families today concluded its consideration of the second periodic report of Rwanda on its implementation of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, welcoming Rwanda’s adoption of progressive legislation, and asking about the situation for migrant workers in irregular situations.
Introducing the report, Marie Chantal Rwakazina, Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the United Nations Office at Geneva, outlined reforms made to harmonise Rwanda’s legislation with its international obligations. The Government of Rwanda was committed to strengthening its capacities in the areas covered by the Convention. Rwanda had an open border policy, Ms. Rwakazina said, noting that for migrant workers and members of their families, that policy created an environment allowing them to freely leave and return to Rwanda as they wished. In regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rwanda’s response had been implemented without discrimination, giving both nationals and non-nationals equal access to services. Rwanda was unreservedly committed to supporting the Committee and its mandate.
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts commended Rwanda for its adoption of progressive legislation for the protection of migrant workers. They asked the delegation for more information about the primacy of the Constitution and organic laws over international treaties and how Rwanda would deal with potential conflicts between the texts. The Committee also asked questions about the situation of the Rwandan diaspora, and sought clarification on support available abroad, and the contribution of Rwandans abroad to the country's development.
The delegation of Rwanda consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Justice; the Ministry of Public Service and Labour; the Ministry in Charge of Emergency Management; the Directorate General of Immigration and Emigration, and the Permanent Mission of Rwanda to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 30 September, to launch its General Comment 5 on migrants' rights to liberty and freedom from arbitrary detention.
The Committee has before it the second periodic report of Rwanda (CMW/C/RWA/2).
Presentation of the Report
MARIE CHANTAL RWAKAZINA, Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the United Nations Office at Geneva and head of the delegation, presenting the report, noted that Rwanda’s second periodic report followed the simplified reporting procedure. Rwanda had made reforms during the review period, in order to harmonise its legislation with its international obligations. Rwanda’s constitution was revised in 2015 through a referendum; there was no conflict between Rwanda’s domestic legislation and the Convention. The Government of Rwanda was committed to strengthening its capacities in the areas covered by the Convention, by organising training for staff from key institutions, such as the Ministry of Public Service and Labor, the General Directorate of immigration and Emigration, and Rwandan National Police. Regarding access to justice for migrant workers and members of their families, including those in irregular situations, Ms. Rwakazina informed the Committee that they had access to administrative and judicial avenues, including the right to lodge complaints for violations of their rights under the Convention, and to access effective remedies. If not satisfied, they could appeal to the Ministry of Public Service and Labor.
Ms. Rwakazina pointed out that with regard to the prevention of torture, trafficking in persons and sexual violence, the right to physical and mental integrity was protected by the Constitution of Rwanda and guaranteed to all without discrimination. Rwanda’s Law number 68 of 2018, which determined offenses and penalties, provided the penalties for acts commensurate with the acts of torture and other inhuman and degrading treatment, ranging from twenty years to life imprisonment. Moreover, the powers of the National Commission for Human Rights had been expanded since 2018, and now functioned as the National Preventive Mechanism provided for under the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture.
A new law against human trafficking was enacted in 2018 to prevent, suppress and punish the offence of trafficking in persons and exploitation of others. Article 2 of that law stipulated that it applied to all forms of trafficking in persons committed in the territory of Rwanda. Article 7 of that law concerning non-discrimination against the victim made it clear that it applied without any discrimination, including to migrants and members of their families. The same law prohibited and punished acts of sexual exploitation and violence, and provided equal protection to nationals and non-nationals.
Rwanda had an open border policy, Ms. Rwakazina said, noting that for migrant workers and members of their families, that policy created an environment allowing them to freely leave and return to Rwanda as they wished. In regard to the reintegration of returnees, refugees and asylum seekers, she said that since the liberation of the country from the genocidal regime in 1994, Rwandans had been progressively returning to their homeland. Rwanda was firmly committed to an open-door policy toward refugees and asylum seekers. In regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rwanda’s response had been implemented without discrimination, giving both nationals and non-nationals equal access to services. Non-nationals who needed to go back to their countries had been assisted in doing so, and Rwandans who needed to come back from abroad had also been assisted. Rwanda was unreservedly committed to supporting the Committee and its mandate, and the delegation looked forward to a constructive dialogue, she concluded.
Questions by Committee Experts
FATIMA DIALLO, Committee Member, congratulated Rwanda on the progressive legislation it had developed for the protection of migrant workers, and noted that Rwanda’s reputation for having an open policy towards migrants was known throughout Africa. Was Rwanda’s collaboration with civil society effective, and was there real collaborative work between the government and civil society on the protection of migrants and members of their families? If so, through which mechanisms? Regarding access to justice for migrants who were in Rwanda, were Rwanda’s regulations considered discriminatory against migrant workers, and was there jurisprudence which covered all avenues available to migrant workers?
Ms. Diallo further asked for clarification on the issue of criminalisation of irregular migration. As mentioned in the report, if any assistance given to a foreigner would be considered a violation of the law, that could weaken the situation for migrants. How could those issues be reviewed? Which mechanisms existed for migrants in irregular situations? How were migrants treated and integrated in the social fabric, and how were their rights guaranteed?
ERMAL FRASHERI, Committee Member, asked the delegation for details about challenges Rwanda had faced in implementing the Convention, noting that if Rwanda sought any support or help, the Committee would be happy to assist. Could the delegation explain which measures and practices Rwanda had taken to integrate migrant workers in the labour market? What was Rwanda’s policy and practice regarding permanent residency and citizenship?
A Committee member asked if there were any agreements with neighbouring countries on migrant workers in transit. How did Rwanda interact with communities of migrant workers, and did the country provide facilities such as consular and voting services in a non-discriminatory and equitable manner?
EDGAR CORZO SOSA, Committee Member, noted that one of the articles of the Constitution of Rwanda which was revised in 2015 had established a hierarchy of international instruments. What happened if there was a conflict between national law and international treaties, especially with regard to the Convention? As for refugees and asylum seekers coming to Rwanda from Congo, how many had received refugee status, and what were the criteria for such a status? Did those who did not obtain refugee status have the opportunity to appeal that decision before independent tribunals? Were they in detention while their situation remained unresolved, and if so under which conditions?
Regarding the National Commission for Human Rights in Rwanda, a Committee Expert welcomed the widening of its scope to also fill the role of National Preventive Mechanism. However, the National Human Rights Commission needed to be strengthened in terms of autonomy and independence in order to be able to meet the very significant function it had been given. Could the delegation clarify Rwanda’s situation vis-à-vis the African Court of Human Rights?
MYRIAM POUSSI, Committee Member, welcomed Rwanda’s creation of a committee on the prevention of child labour and asked the delegation to share their good practices with other countries. As for the national skills database that the delegation had provided information about in its report, had Rwanda seen benefits from that database, or had it faced any difficulties related to it? In cases where children were born to migrant worker mothers, would documentation be provided, such as residency papers? In cases where the mother’s status was irregular, could the child obtain legal status, or would the mother be subject to deportation for not following regulations?
Replies by the Delegation
In response to questions about civil society collaboration, the delegation said civil society had been involved in the process of preparation of the periodic report, adding that meetings had been organised to discuss the report with civil society. As to questions regarding access to justice for migrant workers, there was no discrimination against migrant workers, and no different treatment in cases before courts. They could use all facilities available to nationals.
In response to questions on the hierarchy of international treaties in Rwanda’s constitution, the delegation explained that when ratifying international treaties, they became part of Rwanda’s internal laws. To date, Rwanda did not have any conflict between an international treaty and national law, because before ratifying an international treaty, a reform commission reviewed the relevant convention and examined it in accordance with the Constitution. In cases where a national law would be in contradiction with an international instrument, the national law would be amended to bring it into harmony with the international treaty.
Regarding the question on criminalization of assisting a foreign person in Rwanda, the delegation explained that it was relevant only in certain circumstances, for example when employers hired a person who did not have a work permit. Regarding integration of the labour market, refugees were allowed to work in Rwanda. In regard to the question on residence permits granted to migrant workers, Rwanda had signed agreements with different countries to provide migrants with residence permits. Rwanda had further provided emergency travel documents to mothers and their children, in order to enable them to travel to their country or embassies for any necessary documents.
The delegation mentioned Rwanda’s zero tolerance policy perspective on child labour, which had been put in place through a 2018 law. Rwanda had positive trends and good results in the labour system, and as to questions regarding measures taken to integrate migrants in the labour market, the labour law of 2018 provided that employers were prohibited from discriminating against employees on the basis of gender, color, ethnicity, religion, or other bases.
Questions by Committee Experts
LAZHAR SOUALEM, Committee Member, noted that Rwanda had made significant strides in the field of human rights, and asked whether Rwandans abroad had representation in the Parliament.
Another Committee Expert noted that regarding access to justice, Rwanda’s judicial authorities had not registered any case with regards to migrants. Was there any jurisprudence on refugees alleging abuse of their rights?
A Committee member mentioned the support provided to Rwanda’s citizens abroad by Rwanda’s embassies and asked the delegation to provide an estimate of how many people were provided with those services? Could the delegation provide an estimate for how many undocumented migrants there were in Rwanda?
A Committee Expert asked whether public secondary education was accessible to children of migrant workers? Could the delegation provide data on the number of migrant workers in irregular situations? How were labour inspections carried out nationally?
Another Committee Expert asked for statistics on those who requested refugee status and obtained it. Which mechanisms or measures existed at the regional level protecting migrant workers’ human rights and allowing them to defend their rights, if they did not have access to individual complaints before the African Court of Human Rights? Did Rwanda consider potentially participating in the African Court of Human Rights in the future?
With reference to Rwanda’s 2018 law addressing human trafficking, a Committee Expert asked whether there was risk of human trafficking in the refugee camps in Rwanda, especially for those who were in transit from one country to another. Which steps had the Government taken to avoid the risk of trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation, especially for minors?
A Committee Expert, noting that Rwanda had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Denmark in April 2021 on asylum and migration, asked for information on how that Memorandum was in line with Convention-related obligations. Which measures had Rwanda taken to ensure access to justice for migrants and their family members? Could the delegation provide information on Rwandan migrants who had disappeared or passed away, and measures put in place to identify them?
A Committee Expert asked whether Rwanda intended to ratify International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 189 on decent work for domestic workers and other ILO conventions? With regard to the protection of children and child workers, the Expert noted that Rwanda had not ratified ILO convention 138 on minimum age, which should be the starting point for setting the minimum age for employment.
A Committee Expert asked for more information regarding permanent residence. If a foreign mother gave birth to a child on Rwanda’s territory, what happened if she was in an irregular situation? Was she at risk of expulsion? Was a child whose parent had a residence permit also entitled to a residence permit? Were visas to Rwanda affordable for migrant workers, or was cost an obstacle for them?
A Committee Expert asked which public policies had been adopted in Rwanda to prevent discrimination and xenophobia against migrants, and which measures had been adopted to prevent statelessness?
Replies by the Delegation
In response to questions about the diaspora, the delegation said that the participation of Rwandans abroad in parliamentary elections was facilitated, adding that they had access to a range of consular services. Access to education was not limited to just primary school, but a full 12 years of schooling. Rwanda had adopted an education policy which provided access to education for all, including foreigners. Private schools taught in languages that migrant children could understand, but public schools taught in other languages, which explained the number of migrant children enrolled in public schools.
Regarding the participation of different stakeholders in the reporting process, Rwanda had a National Task Force on reporting to the United Nations human rights treaty bodies which worked in coordination with the Ministry of Justice. The task force was composed of members from different ministries and civil society working on human rights issues. Rwanda had provided the task force members with training on the content of the Convention.
In response to a question on human trafficking, the delegation explained that in 2018, the Ministry of Justice had conducted an assessment study on human trafficking in Rwanda, with the collaboration of civil society. Rwanda had also worked in collaboration with the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to fight human trafficking.
Regarding individual complaints before the African Court for Human Rights, migrant workers who were victims of human rights violations could still file complaints. The Charter of the Court said that individuals needed to exhaust local remedies before filing an international complaint. Regarding the use of the Convention by judges in Rwanda, the delegation said that the UN Human Rights Office in 2016 and 2017 had provided training to judges and prosecutors on the provisions of the Convention.
In response to questions about children of parents in irregular situations, the delegation said that Rwanda’s migration policy provided free visas for people from the Commonwealth and from Africa. It made it easy for people to enter Rwanda legally instead of entering Rwanda in an irregular way. Children born to parents who were residents of Rwanda were granted residence permits. The delegation noted that Rwanda was a State party to the international conventions on statelessness, adding that stateless persons in Rwanda could apply for Rwandan citizenship.
On the question on the framework of the labour market for migrant workers, Rwanda had an instrumental committee on technical labour matters which included migrant workers, as well as another committee on labour mobility policy. The committees’ functions were to assess and recommend projects, advise governments, coordinate activities, and develop strategies to achieve national goals.
MARIE CHANTAL RWAKAZINA, Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the United Nations Office at Geneva thanked the Committee for the dialogue, noting that the exchange showed the need for partnership, which could be strengthened in the future. Rwanda wished to continue the efforts undertaken and was doing its utmost to improve the well-being of the general population, despite the pandemic.
The Chair of the Committee thanked the delegation for the dialogue.