Airlines and aviation authorities should not facilitate unlawful removals to Rwanda, UN experts say: UK


GENEVA (22 April 2024) – UN experts* today expressed concern about the role of airlines and aviation authorities in facilitating unlawful removals to Rwanda under the Agreement between the Government of the United Kingdom and the Government of Rwanda, and the ‘Safety of Rwanda’ Bill.

“Even if the UK-Rwanda agreement and the ‘Safety of Rwanda’ Bill are approved, airlines and aviation regulators could be complicit in violating internationally protected human rights and court orders by facilitating removals to Rwanda,” the experts said.

They stressed that removing asylum-seekers to Rwanda or any other country where they would be at risk of refoulement would violate the right to be free from torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

In November 2023, the UK Supreme Court ruled that removals to Rwanda would violate Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

“If airlines and aviation authorities give effect to State decisions that violate human rights, they must be held responsible for their conduct,” the experts said.

“As the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights underline, aviation regulators, international organisations and business actors are required to respect human rights,” they said.

The corporate responsibility to respect human rights set out in UN Guiding Principle 13 prohibits companies from contributing to human rights abuses, and UN Guiding Principle 23 requires businesses to comply with all applicable laws, respect internationally recognised human rights, and treat the risk of contributing to gross human rights abuses as a compliance issue wherever they operate.

The UN experts have been in contact with the UK Government, as well as national, European and international aviation regulators, including the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and international actors, including the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to express their concerns and remind them of their responsibilities. Previous engagement by UN experts on related issues includes a communication on the UK-Rwanda Agreement, a press release on a related letter on the draft legislation, and a court intervention to the Court of Appeal.

* The experts: Siobhán Mullally, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children; Gehad Madi, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants and Allice Jill Edwards, Special Rapporteur on torture.

Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN human rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organisation. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

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