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UK Supreme Court Declares Rwanda Asylum Policy Unlawful

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Published on: November 19, 2023 at 12:02 IST

The United Kingdom Supreme Court handed down a unanimous ruling declaring the UK government’s policy of relocating asylum seekers to Rwanda as unlawful.

This decision, grounded in the principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits returning individuals to countries where they face persecution, prompts reflection on the Indian Supreme Court’s stance in 2021 concerning the deportation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar.

The case before the UK Supreme Court involved the controversial policy of transferring asylum seekers to Rwanda for evaluation by Rwandan authorities. Under this policy, asylum claims were deemed inadmissible if the claimant failed to apply for asylum in a safe third country, leading to potential removal to any such country.

The court’s ruling highlighted concerns about Rwanda’s human rights record, flaws in asylum procedures, and doubts about its commitment to international refugee protection principles. The court’s decision underscores the significance of upholding non-refoulement principles in international law.

Indian Supreme Court’s Ruling on Rohingya Refugees

In contrast, the Indian Supreme Court’s 2021 decision in the Mohammad Salimullah case allowed the deportation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, despite the genocidal threat they faced under Myanmar’s military rule. The court, citing India’s non-membership in the 1951 Refugee Convention, argued that it was not bound by the principle of non-refoulement. However, international law suggests that non-refoulement is a customary norm applicable to all nations, regardless of convention membership.

India’s Obligations Under International Law

While India is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention, it remains bound by the customary norm of non-refoulement. The UNHCR has affirmed this principle’s peremptory nature, and India’s obligations under other international instruments implicitly prohibit refoulement. The prohibition of torture, a jus cogens norm, reinforces India’s responsibility not to send individuals to places where they may face such treatment.

Implications for Upholding Refugee Rights

The UK Supreme Court’s verdict serves as a crucial reminder of the importance of non-refoulement principles in international law. India’s approach to the Rohingya issue, despite not being a party to the Refugee Convention, warrants scrutiny in light of broader international obligations. As the global community addresses complex refugee challenges, adherence to non-refoulement becomes increasingly critical for safeguarding the rights and dignity of individuals seeking asylum.