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Supreme Court sets guidelines on the Refugee convention for those with no political beliefs

Date: (26 July 2012)    |    

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A Supreme Court ruling has confirmed that asylum seekers need not lie of their political beliefs as an excuse to claim asylum. People often lie about being prosecuted in their country, for their political beliefs, while seeking asylum in the UK.

The ruling has confirmed that the principle was applicable to political non-believers as well as to political activists.
In RT (Zimbabwe) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] UKSC 38, the court found that the Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights protected the right of those with no political beliefs just as much they protect the right of those who hold and express them.
The home office had made an attempt to draw a distinction in the refugee convention between 'core' and 'marginal' rights to political neutrality has been rejected, as it was when RT was in the court of appeal.
The principle which was established in HJ (Iran) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2011] AC 596, whereby gay people forced to conceal their sexual identity to avoid persecution were protected by the refugee convention is being seen as extended to the political non-believers by the latest judgment.
In the words of Lord Dyson's leading judgment, "refugee law does not require a person to express false support for an oppressive regime, any more than it requires an agnostic to pretend to be a religious believer in order to avoid persecution." Alluding to George Orwell's Thought Police in 1984, Lord Dyson observes that "the idea 'if you are not with us, you are against us' pervades the thinking of dictators.
As well as being of general importance, RT has a special significance for Zimbabwean asylum appeals, since under the recent country guidance case of RN (Zimbabwe) [2008] UKAIT 00083, any Zimbabwean returned from the UK would face persecution unless he or she could demonstrate positive support for Zanu-PF.
Thus political agnostics, as well as supporters of the opposition MDC party, were at risk. RN was replaced by EM (Zimbabwe) [2011] UKUT 98 (IAC), which was less generous to Zimbabwean asylum seekers, until it was recently overturned in the Court of Appeal.
The Supreme Court has now confirmed that the less restrictive RN is the relevant guidance. This is good news for Zimbabweans fleeing persecution under President Robert Mugabe's regime.