U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday rebuked Rwandan authorities over democracy and human rights concerns, saying the central African country may not reach its full potential without opening up political space and protecting freedoms.
“We recognize Rwanda’s incredibly difficult history of the 1994 genocide and we know the ongoing legacy of that genocide but the criminalization of some people … in politics, harassment of those who express opposition views to the current government, we believe (that) undermines total peace and stability and success which has been extraordinary in the case of Rwanda,” said Blinken at a press briefing. He was speaking in the Rwandan capital of Kigali, the last stop on his three-nation tour of Africa.
Earlier Blinken toured a memorial for victims of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, saying he was “moved by this memorial and inspired by the resilience of the survivors and the remarkable progress of this country.”
Blinken laid a wreath at the mass graves honoring the more than 800,000 victims of the genocide perpetrated by Hutu extremists against the Tutsi ethnic group and moderate Hutus.
“My family experienced the horrors of holocaust and I appreciate the importance of memorializing such tragic events,” Blinken wrote in a guest book at the memorial. “The United States strongly supports Rwanda’s continued efforts towards renewal and national reconciliation.”
One of Blinken’s aims in Rwanda is to engage officials regarding the case of Paul Rusesabagina, a U.S. permanent resident whose conviction on terror charges and incarceration has drawn attention to what some say is the Rwandan government’s harsh treatment of its critics at home and abroad.
Rusesabagina is the hero of the Hollywood film “Hotel Rwanda,” which dramatized his efforts as a hotel manager to shelter hundreds of Tutsis during the genocide. The U.S. asserts that Rusesabagina, a recipient of the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, is wrongfully jailed in Rwanda.
Blinken’s rebuke on Rwandan Government is also reflects other human rights violations report on the central African country.
Recall in 2018 An estimated 6,000 churches was closed across Rwanda and six pastors arrested in a government crackdown that began March 1 with 700 closures in the nation’s capital of Kigali, according to news reports.
The six pastors, who reportedly tried to rally public support for the churches in Kigali, were accused of “masterminding” a plot to disobey the government, the BBC reported March 6.
The closures come as the Rwanda Governance Board (RGO) conducted a national review of proposed new regulations controlling faith-based institutions.
The action brought mixed reactions in Rwanda, where human rights groups have long accused Kagame’s government of clamping down on freedom of expression, which the President has denied.