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."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'
indybest 9 best steam generator irons
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Danish director Lars von Trier
tvEnglish-language series with 'huge' international cast set for 2016
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

Project Officer (HMP Brixton Mentoring Project)

£24,000 per annum pro rata (21 hours per week): Belong: Work as part of a cutt...

Construction Solicitor / Partner

Highly Competitive Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - Senior Construction Solici...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

DT teachers required for supply roles in Cambridge

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: DT teachers required ...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering