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President Kagame Dismisses Commonwealth Critics

London: President Paul Kagame on Monday dismissed criticism that Rwanda does not meet Commonwealth standards on human rights and media freedoms – saying there is “a lot” Rwanda can contribute to the block, RNA reports.
“I think the Commonwealth is a family where there are many failings, and failings don’t come from only one part of that family,” he told a press conference at the Commonwealth Secretariat next to Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma and Trinidad and Tobago PM Patrick Manning.

“Each family has its own failings, but when they come together, then they share good practices to overcome those failings, and that is why Rwanda sees it as very important to be part of the Commonwealth,” said Kagame.

Rwanda’s flag raised at the Commonwealth

Rwanda’s flag raised at the Commonwealth

The President is in London where he oversaw the rising of Rwanda’s flag at the Secretariat – becoming the 54th. The membership, however, has not come smoothly. The campaign group Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) fiercely opposed Rwanda’s entry arguing that the country needed to clean its house before. The group said the country’s rights record was lacking.

In a statement ahead of the visit, it urged the Commonwealth SG to insist that Kigali “makes every effort to create genuine democratic political atmosphere in the country prior August 2010 elections”.

We call upon the Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma, in his meetings this week with President Kagame, to urge him to ensure that in these first Rwanda elections as a Commonwealth member, the standards are patently free and fair and in compliance with Commonwealth values,” said Mr. Maja Daruwala, the CHRI director.

For President Kagame, though, there is “a lot we are going to gain from” the British block: “There is also a lot we are going to contribute to the wellbeing of the members of the Commonwealth”.

Mr. Kagame also dismissed claims that media freedoms in Rwanda are lacking – with journalists fleeing the country to neighbouring countries. He said the judicial system handles journalists like other citizens.

“We have had journalists in Rwanda who have killed people in the genocide. It has not spared them that crime because they are journalists, so when they do that they are brought to justice like any other human beings or citizens to be held accountable. We have had journalists who have been involved in other crimes,” he argued.

He rejected the categorization that the media rights situation was worse in Rwanda compared to its neighbours, saying it was a “general problem”.

However, freedom of expression through the media, the press and so forth is something that goes on, that grows from one situation and develops for the better in the whole region as is the case with Rwanda,” he said.

Indicative of the interest with which Rwanda’s presence at the Commonwealth rises, most of the questions at the press conference were directed at President Kagame.

On embattled Congolese General Laurent Nkunda, in detention here since January last year, President Kagame said Kigali and Kinshasa are making “very good progress.”

The General is trying to challenge his detention in the Supreme Court but even his Canadian lawyer and family are coming to terms with the possibility that the issue can only be dealt with at a political level.

The President said joining the block is an “important milestone in Rwanda’s transformational journey, along which we have already enjoyed the support of many Commonwealth countries”.

Trinidad and Tobago PM, Mr. Manning – also the current chair of the Commonwealth, welcomed President Kagame into the block, describing him as “the newly minted President of Rwanda – newly minted in the context of membership of the Commonwealth – President Kagame.”

Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma said that from the hard work of the Secretariat, “results were there for everyone to see, particularly the first visit of Honourable President Kagame here”.

In the opening statement, President Kagame set out the plan for Rwanda’s engagement.

“Firstly, the future of all nations depends on their youth, and so I hope that Rwanda can capitalise on the wide range of education and training programmes that the Commonwealth provides.

“Secondly, we hope to tap into the trade and investment opportunities that the Commonwealth offers so that Rwanda can expand its economy and effectively participate in the global marketplace.

“At the same time we believe in mutual learning and Rwanda wishes to play its role in exchanging lessons both from our recent past but also from our traditions and culture.

“Rwanda is committed to the values of the Commonwealth and will contribute to strengthening the organisation, furthering our mutual development agendas and working in close partnership with other members to promote prosperity, freedom and rights for all.”



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