KINSHASA, Congo - Prime Minister Stephen Harper stressed the importance of human rights on Saturday during a visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Every country has a responsibility to safeguard the rights of its people, Harper said in a speech at the opening ceremony of the summit of French-speaking nations.
"All governments, without exceptions, must guarantee their citizens good governance, the rule of law, and respect for human rights," he said.
The comments hint at the poor human rights record in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is playing host to the international gathering, known as la Francophonie.
There have been allegations of irregularities and fraud in the most recent election, which kept Joseph Kabila's government in power.
The country has also been criticized for its high level of sexual violence. Human rights organizations report the country's military and rebel groups have targeted civilian women during conflicts between military and rebel groups in the eastern part of the country.
The Harper government announced $18.5 million in new funding over five years to help in the fight against sexual and gender-based violence in the DRC.
Before arriving in the capital of Kinshasa, Harper said Canada would express its ''grave'' concerns about human-rights violations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Bernard Valcourt, minister responsible for la Francophonie, also visited the country in the leadup to the summit to outline Canada's position.
French President Francois Hollande, who had considered boycotting the summit, was more forthcoming in his criticisms of the African country.
In a speech, Hollande said France supports the Congolese people and their aspirations for "peace, security, and democracy."
"La Francophonie must support democracy, human rights, pluralism, respect for freedom of expression, and the right for every citizen to choose their own leader," he said.
Kabila defended himself against the comments, saying the country was still working toward its goals after years of conflict. He said the DRC remains committed to the "rule of law, democratic principles, and the fundamental rights and freedoms" outlined in la Francophonie's charter.
Hollande had a 35-minute meeting with Kabila and also met with people opposed to the president.
Harper was scheduled to attend an official dinner with Kabila and other leaders on Saturday night.
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