In 2015, a group of Burundian soldiers attempted to overthrow the then President Pierre Nkurunziza but the plan was nullified. Since then, Burundi has been accusing Rwanda of accommodating suspects behind the failed coup plot.
Speaking to IGIHE, Prof. Manasseh Nshuti has said that Rwanda cannot deport these suspected individuals because they are considered as refugees who must be protected against deportation by international laws.
“Our country has ratified the United Nations international norms like other countries in terms of handling refugees. As per signed agreements, the first option is not to send back home a refugee whose status was particularly approved by the UN,” he said.
Prof. Nshuti explained that it would be a breach of international norms if Rwanda deports these individuals.
“Burundi wants them deported home but it would be a breach of agreements if we hand them back. No other country can dare do that. It is impossible. Even if we might be willing to do so, it would be a breach of laws and can extremely tarnish the country’s reputation,” he said.
“We can’t do that. The country is bound by own and international norms which Burundians also ratified. I think they are also aware of such international laws protecting refugees,” added Prof. Nshuti.
He stressed that these Burundian refugees accommodated in Rwanda under the guidelines of international laws do not threaten Burundi’s security.
“Refugees can destabilize mother country in two-ways. They can individually wage attacks to mother land from the host country or do it on support of the host country which Rwanda has never done. Rwanda cannot support any refugees to raid their country. It is impossible,” noted Prof. Nshuti.
He also said that requesting these refugees is driven by Burundi’s motives that do not concern Rwanda.
“They are driven by own political reasons when they request for deportation of these refugees. Rwanda cannot interfere with their political affairs. They are Burundians and their problems are not related to Rwanda. Our major concern is to help them as people with rights to live and stay in Rwanda,” observed Prof. Nshuti.
He revealed that deporting these suspects is not the optimal choice despite the request of Burundi.
“The possible solution is not handing them back. They [Burundi officials] are aware that it is not possible. As aforementioned, they cannot make deportation under similar circumstances. They cannot deport Rwandans fleeing to the country particularly those approved by UN,” explained Prof. Nshuti.
He said that discussions are ongoing to seek an alternative to send these refugees to third countries.
“The possible solution for Rwanda as country hosting refugees is to seek other places where they can be sent. This however happens when refugees threaten security of their mother land,” he revealed.
“Discussions are underway to seek an alternative to send them to third countries. The process is continued but there should be no worries because these refugees do not threaten the country’s security,” added Prof. Nshuti.
In collaboration with UN, he said that Rwanda has started negotiations with some countries which he didn’t mention.
Hope for normal relations
Since Rwanda, Burundi relations worsened in 2015, both countries have been making attempts to bring the situation to normal.
Towards the end of August 2020, military intelligence officers from Rwanda and Burundi met at Nemba border where they agreed to exchange information leading to reinforce both countries’ sovereignty and addressing the problem of armed groups that have been attacking Rwanda from Burundi.
In October 2020, both Rwanda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Vincent Biruta and his counterpart of Burundi, Albert Shingiro held talks during which they expressed commitment to revitalize relations.
Nshuti has explained that continuing discussions is an option to mend worsened relations between neighboring countries.
“Problems with Burundi have existed for quite some time. The solution is to engage into discussions. You might normalize the situation today, tomorrow or after tomorrow depending on the severity of existing tensions,” he said.
“Holding discussions is a better option. The situation worsens further when people do not discuss issues affecting relations. When people sit together and define the root cause of the problem, it helps to reach common ground and seek solution,” added Prof. Nshuti.
He expressed optimism that Rwanda, Burundi relations will once return to normal in case both sides are willing.
“The current situation is promising that our relations will be revitalized but it is a journey. We want cordial relations which is also beneficial to them because we are and will continue to be neighbors. Smooth relations is advantageous to us, it is our wish that should be theirs too,” observed Prof. Nshuti.