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Blinken raises “serious concerns” about the Right in Rwanda talks

#Blinken #raises #concerns #Rwanda #talks

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he raised “serious concerns” about human rights during talks with Rwandan President Paul Kagame on Thursday.

In particular, he said he raised the case of Hotel Rwanda hero Paul Rusesabagina, a fierce Kagame critic who was sentenced to 25 years in prison last year on terrorism charges.

Blinken is in Rwanda on the final stop of a three-nation tour of Africa as Washington seeks to counter a Kremlin charm offensive after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited the continent in July.

“As I said to President Kagame, we believe that the people of every country should be able to voice their views without fear of intimidation, detention, violence or other forms of oppression,” Blinken said at a joint news conference with the Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta.

Blinken also said he “underscored our concern at the lack of due process guarantees for (Rusesabagina)”.

In May, the US State Department said Rusesabagina – who has permanent residency in the US – was “wrongly detained” by Kigali.

Rusesabagina, then a hotel manager in Kigali, is credited with saving hundreds of lives during the 1994 genocide. His actions inspired the Hollywood film Hotel Rwanda.

The 68-year-old has been behind bars for more than 700 days since his arrest in August 2020 when a plane he believed was going to Burundi ended up in Kigali instead.

In a statement issued to mark Blinken’s visit, Rusesabagina’s family said his health was deteriorating, with a weak left arm and facial paralysis suggesting he may have suffered one or more strokes.

“We trust that if the US relationship with Rwanda is strong enough to merit financial and trusting cooperation, it is also strong enough to press for our father’s release on humanitarian grounds,” it said.

– “Endangers regional stability” –

Meanwhile, Blinken said he also discussed “credible reports” with Kagame that Rwanda continued to support the M23 rebel group and had its own armed forces in neighboring DRC, which Kigali has repeatedly refuted.

“Any support or cooperation with an armed group in eastern DRC puts local communities and regional stability at risk, and each country in the region must respect the territorial integrity of the other,” he added.

An unpublished independent investigation for the UN, seen by AFP last week, says Rwandan troops have attacked soldiers in the DRC and aided M23 rebels, a mainly Congolese Tutsi rebel group.

The M23 has swept across much of eastern DRC in recent months, fueling tensions between Kigali and Kinshasa.

Relations between the two nations have been strained since the mass arrival of Rwandan Hutus in eastern DRC accused of slaughtering Tutsis during the 1994 genocide, although it became clear after DRC President Felix Tshisekedi took office in the Year 2019 came to a thaw.

In a statement released Monday, Human Rights Watch called on Blinken to “signal urgently that there will be consequences for government repression and abuse in Rwanda and beyond its borders.”

“Failure to address Rwanda’s deplorable human rights record has emboldened its officials to continue to commit abuses, even beyond its borders,” said Lewis Mudge, HRW director for Central Africa.

The human rights watchdog called on Blinken to “expose systematic human rights abuses, including crackdowns on opponents and civil society, both within and across Rwanda’s borders.”

Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire joined HRW’s calls, telling AFP that Blinken should address the issue of journalists and politicians, whom she said are in jail for challenging Kagame’s government.

“Blinken must ask our government to open up political space to anyone who wants to become politically active,” said Ingabire, who served six years in prison on terrorism charges.

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