Congolese women who have been raped by the Congolese government are being deported world-wide. This is not only true for Congolese women, but also for victims of sexual violence in general. The fact that the United States deport rape victims may not come as a surprise. That the United Kingdom does the same thing may be a bigger surprise. Nevertheless, while welcoming hundreds of thousands of male refugees with open arms, Sweden has for over 10 years deported Congolese women to a regime that rapes them. Hence deportations of victims of sexual violence, have nothing to do with the refugee crisis or the “nationalistic” sentiments all over the world. It has a deeper origin. Let me elaborate further by going back to 2012, two years before the refugee crisis.
In 2012, two Congolese women named Sophie and Ellen (whose names in reality are something else) stood in front of the Supreme Court of Migration in Sweden. Both had been raped by Congolese government soldiers. The fact that Sophie and Ellen had been raped was indisputable. The legal questions up for discussion were a) if they had a right to asylum and b) if not, could they be deported to DRC?
If you read the verdicts in both cases you will see that the wording is almost the same in both cases. Large blocks of texts have with high likelihood been “copypasted” from the first verdict to the second. Both Ellen and Sophie argued “Njamba v. Sweden” and “Bakatu-Bia v. Sweden” in court. In Njamba v. Sweden (2007) the UN stated that Sweden had committed a breach of the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT), art. 3 when deporting Njamba and her daughter to DRC. The UN stated that there were no safe zones for women in DRC and that Sweden had breached the Convention against Torture when deporting women and girls to DRC. In 2011 in Bakatu-Bia v. Sweden, the UN once again stated that Sweden committed a breach of human rights when deporting women to DRC. The UN once again stated that it was an act of torture to deport a woman to any parts of the DRC. Both the Migration authorities and the Migration Court had decided to decline Ellen and Sophie’s asylum applications. In the Supreme Court of Migration, Njamba and Bakatu-Bia were discussed. Among the material presented for the court were plenty reports from the United Nations, Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, among others that stated that there was alarming high level of sexual violence all over the DRC. Sure, the violence was worst in the Eastern parts of the country, where the mining sites were, but there were alarming high levels of sexual violence all over the country and a woman could not be safe anywhere in the country. Despite this, the Supreme Court of Migration decided to deport Sophie and Ellen to DRC. The Supreme Court of Migration stated, despite the numerous reports saying otherwise, that there were no problem in deporting Ellen and Sophie to DRC, as long as they were not deported to the Eastern parts of the country. The fates of Sophie and Ellen were decided with two judges against one. The judge who disagreed with his colleagues stated that the Supreme Court of Migration (his colleagues) decided to view Njamba v. Sweden and Bakatu-Bia v. Sweden as an in casu judgements. According to the Supreme Court of Migration (his colleagues), there was no reason to pay any attention to Njamba v. Sweden and Bakatu-Bia v. Sweden, apart from in these women’s individual cases. However, this view of ignoring the significance of these judicial decisions, is according to him (and #oursisters) to (in more bluntly words) throw the international law in the garbage.
These cases are the last ones in regard to Congolese women applying for asylum that have reached a Swedish court. Every case with Congolese women applying for asylum after that has been decided only by the migration authorities, whose documents fall under secrecy laws. One may argue that each migration case is going to be tried individually, so that these cases do not have the standing of neither precedent or case law, especially since Sweden is a country with a civil law system. However, when both Njamba and her daughter as well as Bakatu-Bia had to turn to the United Nations Committee Against Torture to get their deportations overruled, and when Ellen and Sophie got deported, what is the likelihood of the migration authorities suddenly having a change of heart? An important aspect to keep in mind is that a cardinal rule in Swedish law is that positive decisions from the Swedish authorities cannot be reversed. If you get your asylum application approved by the migration authorities they cannot reverse the approval. In other words, all of these women got a no from the migration authorities. Hence, the cases of Sophie and Ellen serve as a guideline for all succeeding decisions in regard for Congolese victims of sexual violence applying for residence permit in Sweden.
However, it is not only Sweden that deports rape victims. In 2015 the UN Committee against Torture referred to their previous decision in Njamba v. Sweden (which they clearly did not see as an in casu judgement) when they stated that Finland had committed an act of torture (non-refoulment) when deporting a woman to DRC. (EKW v. Finland) The Mukwege Foundation confirms that not only Congolese women, but victims of sexual violence in general, are being deported from several other countries as well. The United States and the United Kingdom, among other countries, also have a tendency to deport victims of sexual violence. The Mukwege Foundation suggests the following articles about victims of sexual violence facing deportations world-wide:
Benner, Katie and Dickerson Caitlin, Sesson Says Domestic and Gang Violence Are Not Grounds for Asylum. New York Times. June 11, 2018. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/11/us/politics/sessions-domestic-violence-asylum.html
Parish, Anja. Gender-Based Violence against Women:Both Cause for Migration and Risk along the Journey. Migration PolicyInstitute. September 7, 2017. Available at: https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/gender-based-violence-against-women-both-cause-migration-and-risk-along-journey
Ramos, Catherine. Congo is torturing citizens who have been refused asylum in the UK. The Guardian. January, 16. 2012. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/libertycentral/2012/jan/16/congo-torture-refused-asylum-uk