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Canada Must Follow Through on its Promise to Rwanda

12/05/2014 09:15 EST | Updated 02/04/2015 05:59 EST
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Rwandan children listen and pray during a Sunday morning service at the Saint-Famille Catholic church, the scene of many killings during the 1994 genocide, in the capital Kigali, Rwanda Sunday, April 6, 2014. Rwanda will commemorate on Monday the 20-year anniversary of the genocide when ethnic Hutu extremists killed neighbors, friends and family during a three-month rampage of violence aimed at ethnic Tutsis and some moderate Hutus, leaving a death toll that Rwanda puts at 1,000,050. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

Since the 1994 Rwanda genocide, Canada has significantly contributed to Rwanda's rebuilding process through both moral and material support. Twenty years later, Rwanda appears to be on the verge of descending into another round of bloodshed. But, surprisingly, Canada is not leveraging its considerable influence to remind Rwandan President Paul Kagame of his government's obligations to basic human rights.

By appearing indifferent, Canada is failing to fulfill an important promise it made to Rwandans and the world. The Canadian Parliament has committed Canada to solidarity with the victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, raising hopes that this country will oppose mass killings and ethnic cleansing wherever such atrocities may occur.

Canada-Rwanda relations go back to 1963, when Canada helped establish the Rwanda National University. Cooperation between the two countries has evolved over a wide range of issues, such as building the capacity of the system of justice, furthering legal reforms, and promoting trade.

Canada's bilateral aid to Rwanda rose from U.S. $11 million in 2000 to a peak level of US $58 million in 2009 before sharply scaling down in 2012. However, Canada remains a major contributor to the World Bank's International Development Association (IDA) and the African Development Bank (together with its African Development Fund). These two banks provide the bulk of the grants that fund budgets and capital formation in Africa's least developed countries including Rwanda. In total, Canada's development assistance in 2012 was U.S. $4.7 billion, of which U.S. $441 million was allocated to IDA and U.S. $164 million to the African Development Bank.

Beyond development assistance, both Canada and Rwanda are members of La Francophonie, the international organization of countries in which French is the "mother language," and its English-speaking counterpart, the Commonwealth, which Rwanda joined in 2009, despite its reservations. Within these contexts, Canada says it "encourages Rwanda to remain vigilant about policies that could interfere with democracy" and "regularly stresses to Rwanda the importance of a pluralist society, respecting commitments on human rights, and seeking concrete solutions to challenges in the region related to peace and security."

Demonstrating Canada's commitment to supporting Rwanda, Parliament in 2004 declared April 7 as a Day of Remembrance of Rwandan genocide victims. In 2008, Parliament unanimously adopted a resolution designating April 7 as a Day of Reflection on the Prevention of Genocide.

Canada's famous activist stance sharply contrasts with its silence on Rwanda's descent into repression of troubling proportions. The 2013 U.S. State Department's Human Rights Report on Rwanda provides chilling cases of "arbitrary or unlawful killings both inside and outside of the country, disappearances, torture, harsh conditions in prisons and detention centers, arbitrary arrest, prolonged pretrial detention, and government infringement on citizens' privacy rights."

Because of Rwanda's record of killing critics, even in exile, the South African government took the extraordinary step of expelling three Rwandan diplomats and a diplomat from Burundi in March, 2014. These expulsions followed the murder in January, 2014, of former Rwandan intelligence chief Patrick Karegeya, a high-profile critic of Kagame, and the third attempted assassination of Kayumba Nyamwasa, former army chief of staff, both whom had fled to South Africa in 2007 and 2010, respectively. In sentencing would-be assassins of Nyamwasa, a South African court ruled that the conspiracy was "politically motivated and emanated from a certain group of people from Rwanda."

Canada is uniquely positioned to remind Rwanda that political thuggery has serious consequences, including being shunned as a pariah state by the International community. In addition to Canada and Rwanda both being members of La Francophonie and the Commonwealth, Canada is also a major funder of multilateral aid agencies, including the World Bank and African Development Bank, on which Rwanda depends for budget support and capital formation. In short, Canada does not lack the means to hold Rwanda to account for its terror against its own people at home and abroad.

Now is the time for Canada to play its rightful role by adding a voice of reason before the unthinkable happens -- Rwanda descending into another round of mass violence and bloodshed.

Canada can -- and must -- tell the Rwandan government: Never again!

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