Human rights concerns raised as Rwanda set to join Commonwealth

Kigali wants allowances made for how far it's come since the genocide

Rwanda is set to succeed in its bid to join the Commonwealth this week despite serious concerns over its human rights record, according to a senior source close to the negotiations.

A summit of Commonwealth heads of government in Trinidad and Tobago will add the central African nation to its 53 current members, despite its failure to meet entry requirements. "There is consensus on Rwanda" a senior African negotiator told The Independent.

The decision, expected before the week's end, has been greeted with dismay by NGOs, while the author of a major report on Rwanda's candidacy said it was clear evidence that the Commonwealth "could not care less about human rights".

Professor Yash Pal Ghai, a Kenyan-born expert in constitutional law and author of an independent report for the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) said: "From the very beginning, the governments of the Commonwealth had decided they wanted Rwanda in. The secretary general, Britain and Uganda have all been pushing for that outcome."

Supporters of the bid have argued that entry into the club would encourage Kigali to raise its standards, but critics counter that it will "lower the group's average" and make it harder to take actions against states – such as Fiji, currently suspended for refusing to call elections – that trangress in future. "The Commonwealth stands for very little if it doesn't stand for human rights and democracy," said Tom Porteous, head of Human Rights Watch in London. "Admitting Rwanda will make it harder for the Commonwealth to project itself as a credible promoter of these values."

Rwanda, a former German colony, which later came under a Belgian mandate from the League of Nations, applied in 2007 to join the voluntary association of mainly English-speaking former British colonies. That move followed the breakdown in relations between Kigali and France as both countries traded accusations over events in the build-up to the 1994 genocide.

Applicant countries are meant to have some historical or constitutional link with the Commonwealth, although the grouping made an exception for the former Portuguese colony Mozambique in 1995.

In its bid, which has been strongly backed by Britain, Australia and Uganda, Rwanda has argued that it should be judged on how far it has come since 1994 rather than against a global standard. "There is room to improve, but no country is 100 per cent perfect," Foreign Minister Rosemary Museminali said. "Rwanda should be looked at in the context of where it's come from."

President Paul Kagame, whose Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front took power in the country after routing the Hutu militias responsible for the massacres, has succeeded in modernising the country's image. The administration has a reputation for efficiency and has attracted strong international support including substantial foreign aid from the UK and US in particular.

However, the CHRI's report paints a portrait of a very different Rwanda. "The Rwandan government has excellent public-relations machinery. Its leaders are astute, and effectively play upon the conscience of the world," it states.

The report details a country in which democracy, freedom of speech, the press and human rights are undermined or violently abused, in which courts fail to meet international standards, and a country which has invaded its neighbour, the Democratic Republic of Congo, four times since 1994.

Professor Ghai draws attention to the laws against "genocide ideology", prohibiting the raising of doubts about the extent of the killing of Tutsis in 1994 or any discussion of retaliatory killings of Hutus. Censorship is prevalent, according to the report, and the government has a record of shutting down independent media and harassing journalists.

It concludes that Rwanda's constitution is used as a "façade" to hide "the repressive nature of the regime" and backs claims that Rwanda is essentially an "an army with a state". Kigali reacted furiously to the accusations, saying the claims had "absolutely no basis".

Rwanda has trumpeted its Commonwealth credentials with the switch from French to English instruction in schools last year, and won acclaim for low levels of corruption and high health and education spending. Rwanda's former ambassador to the UN, Gideon Kayinamura, has boasted that other countries could learn from its democracy "where as many as 56 per cent of its MPs are women". Its membership bid is strongly backed by Tony Blair who works as an unpaid advisor on governance.

Suspicions persist that, beyond talk of deepening trade and improving cultural ties, Commonwealth diplomats are tempted by the prospect of cementing such a public defection from the Francophone world. "This British-French rivalry is a batty reason," declared Professor Ghai, who said diplomats responded with "glee and pleasure" at the prospect of Rwandan membership which, they admit, would have no big impact on trade or relations."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable