A legal analysis has concluded that the Rwanda Treaty and the Safety of Rwanda Bill are not compliant with the UK’s international legal obligations towards victims of modern slavery and human trafficking.
The analysis will be published on Monday morning ahead of the debate around the Safety of Rwanda Bill in the House of Lords. It was commissioned by the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (Modern Slavery PEC) and conducted by Dr Marija Jovanović from the University of Essex.
Throughout the debate on the UK Government’s plans to relocate to Rwanda people who arrive in the UK via irregular routes, little has been said about what this means for victims of modern slavery and human trafficking, whether or not they may also have an asylum claim.
This analysis has found that the removal to Rwanda of people who either are confirmed victims of modern slavery or human trafficking or there are reasonable grounds to believe they may victims raises serious issues under both the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (ECAT), irrespective of any claim they may have under International Refugee Law.
It concluded that, in its current form, neither the Rwanda Treaty nor the Safety of Rwanda Bill comply with the UK’s international legal obligations.
The legal analysis has found that removing to Rwanda people who received a positive ‘reasonable grounds’ decision (the first stage of a process formally identifying people as victims of modern slavery), without completing the identification process - as envisaged by Article 13 of the Rwanda Treaty - will automatically and in all cases put the UK in breach of Article 4 ECHR (prohibition of slavery and forced labour), as well as Article 10 ECAT (obligation to identify and assist every victim of modern slavery and human trafficking).
In addition, removing identified victims of modern slavery and human trafficking without conducting an individualised assessment of the risk of re-trafficking would breach the operational duty under Article 4 ECHR.
Lastly, removing potential or confirmed victims of modern slavery and human trafficking risks interfering with an obligation to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of modern slavery and human trafficking contained in Article 4 ECHR and Article 27 ECAT.
Dr Marija Jovanovic said:
“Both the Rwanda Treaty and the Safety of Rwanda Bill interfere with the rights of modern slavery survivors, protected by international law that the UK signed up to.
“Unlike international treaties designed to protect asylum-seekers and refugees, the anti-trafficking instruments expressly require States not to remove suspected victims of human trafficking before their status is determined.
“Drafted over half a century after the 1951 Refugee Convention, these obligations are much more explicit, concrete, and demanding when it comes to protection requirements.
“Ultimately, this analysis emphasises the need to distinguish between these different sets of international obligations as well as the imperative of decoupling the issue of modern slavery from migration control.”
The Treaty and the Bill form part of the UK Government’s huge shift in its response to modern slavery in dismantling a large part of the UK’s protections for survivors via the Nationality and Borders Act and the Illegal Migration Act.
A previous analysis carried out by the Modern Slavery PEC has found that fully implementing both Acts would risk increasing modern slavery and trafficking in the UK. It would deny potentially thousands of people protection guaranteed by international law and strengthen the hand of traffickers, as people would be more reluctant to come forward and be identified out of fear of detention and removal.
Dr Victoria Tecca, Policy Impact Manager at the Modern Slavery PEC, said:
“The Government’s Rwanda plans unfortunately continue the UK’s reversal of its commitment to address modern slavery and protect survivors. The evidence is clear: they are in breach of the UK’s international obligations.”