Harper said Sunday that he had definite reservations about taking part in the weekend's international gathering of la Francophonie in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The African country has been widely criticized for abusing human rights and allowing widespread sexual violence against women.
President Joseph Kabila was returned to power last year amid allegations of electoral fraud, something Harper described as "completely unacceptable."
But Harper said his visit allowed him to meet people who are changing things in the country — and that made the trip worthwhile.
"What struck me most was not what they said in particular, but the courage these people have demonstrated in promoting their cause, and expressing their opposition in a place where this is obviously not easy to do," Harper said in the capital of Kinshasa as the summit wrapped up.
Harper, though, expressed hope that future summits would be hosted in countries with a better track record on human rights.
"I hope that in the future, la Francophonie and other major organizations will decide to hold a summit only in countries with democratic standards," he said.
Harper has already threatened to skip the upcoming Commonwealth conference in Sri Lanka unless the country improves its human rights record.
The decision to hold the 14th summit of la Francophonie in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was made before the country's controversial election last December, in which Kabila was declared the winner.
At the DRC's request, Harper agreed to a private meeting Sunday with its prime minister, Augustin Matata Ponyo. In the meeting, Harper reiterated Canada's "deep concern" about the country's weak governance and high rate of sexual assault, according to a Harper aide.
At his news conference, Harper stressed the need to improve the business climate in the DRC, "especially in the natural resources sector." The Conservative government announced $20 million over four years toward an international fund that helps developing countries manage their natural resource industries in "a responsible and transparent manner."
Quebec Premier Marois also met with Ponyo on Sunday. Marois told reporters she wasn't necessarily opposed to holding future summits in countries with spotty human rights records, since it can be a way for foreign leaders to pressure the country for change.
"When we say these things in their own country, it's more embarrassing, I think, than when you do it from away," she said.
A day earlier, Harper and Marois met to discuss domestic issues. Speaking about the meeting for the first time, Harper described the encounter Sunday as "cordial" and focused on the economy.
"Obviously, Ms. Marois and her government have a concern with sovereign governance, as she calls it, and I have a concern with national unity," he said.
The priority remains the economy, he said. When the two levels of government are on the same wavelength on issues, Harper said he will be ready to work with Marois' Parti Quebecois.
"If our governments have different positions, we intend to respect jurisdiction," he said.
On Saturday, Marois described the meeting as "almost warm," but suggested future encounters could be more acrimonious.
Also on HuffPost