Brussels, 15 May 2007 (FH) - Belgian just like French administrations in charge with the granting of the refugee status have firm positions with the Rwandan asylum-seekers suspected of being involved in the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
Due to litigation between Rwanda and France some judicial files are put aside. But neither Paris nor Brussels want to be accused of accommodating perpetrators of the genocide of 1994, as recently shown with the refusal to grant the status to Agathe Kanziga, widow of President Habyarimana.
The French Office of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA), subordinate to the Ministry of foreign affairs, refused to grant her this status on 4 January 2007. This decision was confirmed by the French Refugee Appeal Bureau's (CRR) on 15 February 2007. She appealed this decision before the Council of State.
The Refugees status is regulated by the Geneva Convention (1951) as well as by other international texts as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) or the European Convention on Human Rights, both adopted by France and Belgium. The two States also adopted laws in the matter.
The international treaties grant the States the discretionary right to refuse the refugee status "to any person with respect to whom there are serious reasons for considering that he has committed a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity, as defined in the international instruments drawn up to make provision in respect of such crimes" or that "he has been guilty of acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations", pursuant to article 1, F (a) and (c) of the Geneva Convention (1951).
The Belgian General Commissariat for Refugees and Stateless Persons affirms that "the Geneva Convention shall not have for object to protect those who are guilty or accomplice of such crimes". Agathe Kanziga is suspected by the French Administration of having played an instigator part in the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
The procedure for the right of asylum provides a "double degree of jurisdiction" to asylum-seekers. In France, the procedure consists of two steps: before the OFPRA and before the CRR. The Belgian procedure implies three levels: before the immigration office (OE), the General Commissariat for Refugees and Stateless Persons (CGRA) and the Permanent Commission of Appeal for Refugees (CPRR). However both procedures are identical and enable, as a last resort, an appeal before the Council of State which checks the legality of the procedure and, in the event of its annulment, transfers the case before the CRR or the CPRR. In any case, the Council of State does not grant the refugee status itself.
To date only a dozen of persons in France and in Belgium saw their asylum refused on this ground. 370 requests of Rwandans were registered in Belgium in 2006 (565 in 2005). Rwanda is in ninth position of the total number of requests and in the third one regarding the granting of the status.
310 Rwandans asked for this status in France in 2006. 211 of the requests were granted. On a total of 123,000 refugees registered by the OFPRA, 1907 are Rwandans.
Among the persons whose requests were refused pursuant to the exclusion stipulation provided by the article 1, F (a) and (c) of the Geneva Convention (1951) are an important number of former militarian officers or officials more or less close to the former President Habyarimana and the interim government in place during the events in 1994.
The different qualifications retained by Administration in order to refuse the status are suspicions of complicity of genocide or the fact of drowning out facts which contributed to the genocide. Sometimes the OFPRA even held into account exactions committed in the beginning of the 90's.
Contrary to the French institution which in case of the Rwandan genocide only refers to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the Belgian CGRA also mentions the Statute of the ICTR. According to the French expert Brigitte Stern, the argument retained by the French administration is however "extremely pragmatic, even basic as regards the criminal judicial decisions".
The documents used by the institutions are testimonies of experts or Rwandan refugees who witnessed the events, ICTR documents or extracts from the Belgian criminal trial in April 2001 (for the Belgian organ), reports by NGOs as Human Rights Watch and other documents useful to forge their conviction.
Nevertheless the person against who serious reasons exist to believe that he/she was involved in one of the crimes provided in article 1, F (a) or (c) cannot be considered guilty because he/she has not been tried and cannot be the object of criminal prosecution for those crimes.
The OFPRA, which considers itself an organ for the protection of the refugees, invokes anobligation of confidentiality. Nevertheless, the police has access to the file and might use it against the asylum-seeker. This seems to have happened to Jean de Dieu Kamuhanda, former Minister of Culture in the interim government who had asked asylum in France. He was arrested and extradited in order to be heard before the ICTR in 1999. In Belgium, the cooperation between administrative institutions and justice is even more important; the judicial authorities are informed and they contact the ICTR.
© Hirondelle News Agency