In Rwanda to meet Commonwealth leaders, Trudeau recalls genocide

It was a visit fraught with political and perhaps even personal significance, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau laid a wreath on Thursday at the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda.

The site contains the remains of more than 250,000 Rwandan Tutsis who were massacred by Hutu extremists in the spring and summer of 1994.

Former Canadian general – later a liberal senator – Romeo Dallaire, who was an early Trudeau supporter, led the peacekeeping mission that failed to stop the genocide.

More than 800,000 Tutsis lost their lives across the country in the organized campaign that spanned more than 100 days.

The prime minister paid his respects as Commonwealth leaders met in Kigali to discuss, among other things, human rights and the increase in food insecurity on the African continent.

On Thursday, Trudeau announced that Canada would contribute an additional $250 million to the United Nations World Food Program, on top of the $500 million already earmarked. This is likely to be welcome news among African Community leaders, especially in light of a recent International Monetary Fund report this spring which warned that rising fuel and food prices will lead to instability in Africa.

The Rwanda Genocide Memorial contains not only the remains of the victims, but also photographs and personal items.

Trudeau was greeted by the center’s executive director and given the opportunity to speak with a genocide survivor.

“What happened here in Rwanda 28 years ago resonates not only every day for Rwandans, but also resonates around the world, as something we should all be aware of,” Trudeau told reporters. “We all have to be there, to make sure the road is never taken again, anywhere else in the world.”

Trudeau, alongside Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly, answers questions during a press conference in Kigali, Rwanda, on Thursday. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Many of the victims’ names have yet to be collected and documented, and many of the victims resting in the graves are unknown.

Prince Charles and his wife Camilla visited the site on Wednesday.

After also laying a wreath, Charles – the first member of the royal family to visit the country – met Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who played an important role in the military victory that ended the genocide.

Trudeau was supposed to meet separately with Kagame on Thursday, but the bilateral was postponed until later at the Commonwealth meeting.

Canada expands diplomatic mission in Kigali

Human rights groups have long been critical of Rwanda’s choice to host the Commonwealth meeting, citing Kagame’s restrictions on press freedom, the arrests of high-profile critics and allegations that authorities failed to conduct credible investigations into cases of enforced disappearances and suspicious deaths of government opponents.

Rwanda – a former German and later Belgian colony – was admitted to the Commonwealth in 2009 over objections from the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and Human Rights Watch, who recently noted that the Kagame government arbitrarily detained homeless people and other vulnerable populations. in Kigali before major international conferences such as the Commonwealth Leaders Meeting.

The organization interviewed 17 individuals who claimed to have been detained without charge last year as part of an effort to clean up the capital’s streets.

Trudeau said the human rights conversation always comes up in his conversations with world leaders.

“I will continue, as always, to be frank and straightforward about how we need to ensure that we continue to support the rights of everyone,” he said, noting that there are other Commonwealth countries that have poor records in protecting LGBTQ rights.

“The Commonwealth is a place where there are people and leaders who don’t go as far as we would like on human rights,” Trudeau said. “The number of our Caribbean friends, for example, who still criminalize LGBTQ rights and are not making enough progress. Rwanda is making better progress on this than many of the other partners.”

Trudeau is greeted Wednesday by Francis Gatare, Rwanda’s presidential adviser for economic affairs, as he arrives in Kigali to attend the Commonwealth summit. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly announced Wednesday that Canada would upgrade its diplomatic mission in Kigali to a full embassy and high commissioner. An ambassador will also be appointed to the African Union.

“What is happening here in Rwanda is the future of Africa – and we know that Rwanda is playing a leading role and Rwanda is making progress,” said Commonwealth member Joly.

“And that’s why it’s strategic to be here. We believe that more than ever, Canada’s voice needs to be heard. And for that, we need to have more tools, we need to have more resources, we need more boots on the ground.”

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