Leaders of the organization’s 54 countries, representing 2.6 billion people, are meeting this week in Kigali.
The leaders of the 54 Commonwealth countries are meeting this week in Rwanda for a summit organized at a time when the future of the organization led by Elizabeth II is questioned and in the midst of controversy over the British project of deportations to the country of East Africa. The summit, originally scheduled for June 2020 but postponed several times due to the pandemic, must “strengthen multilateral cooperation, explore new opportunities and address common challenges for the well-being of future generations”. An ambitious project for a Commonwealth whose role and relevance are increasingly questioned, at a time of transition for the British monarchy and questioning of the colonialist past.
The Commonwealth, of which Queen Elizabeth II is the head, is an association of 54 member states including 15 kingdoms, often former territories of the British Empire. The organization covers 2.6 billion people, or a third of humanity. The 96-year-old monarch has always chaired the meeting of heads of government since taking the throne in 1952, but will for the first time this year be replaced by her son Prince Charles for the summit meetings scheduled for Friday and Saturday. The heir to the throne, who is making his first visit to Rwanda, is to meet survivors of the 1994 genocide, during which 800,000 people were killed, according to the UN, mainly from the Tutsi minority.
His actions will be watched closely because of the criticisms he allegedly made, according to the newspaper The Timesagainst the project described as “appalling” of the British government to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda. The first departures were canceled at the last moment last week by the courts. Enough to predict an awkward interview with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a fervent defender of the system and also expected in Kigali. The government project, which claims to curb illegal crossings of the Channel by discharging the responsibility of receiving asylum seekers, is criticized as much by human rights associations as by the UN. “Commonwealth member states must seize the opportunity presented in Kigali to speak out against this inhuman deal and pressure the UK and Rwanda to end” to the device, insisted Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s director for East and Southern Africa.
“Climate of Fear”
In Kigali, schools in the Rwandan capital are closed and many roads blocked while an important security device has been put in place. Flags of Commonwealth countries fly at the airport and the local government has multiplied international communication videos to improve its image. The choice of Rwanda to host the summit is controversial. The country ruled by Paul Kagame since the end of the 1994 genocide is regularly accused by NGOs of repressing freedom of expression, criticism and political opposition. “Rwanda does not respect the values of the Commonwealth, democracy, the rule of law, human rights, freedom of expression”, listed to AFP Victoire Ingabire, the leader of the opposition in Rwanda. There reigns a “climate of fear”far from the image that the country seeks to give, estimated about twenty civil society organizations at the beginning of June, denouncing the multiplication of enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, torture and extrajudicial executions. “The Commonwealth’s silence on human rights in Rwanda risks undermining the organization’s mandate in this area, as well as its integrity and credibility”warned the NGOs.
Especially since the summit comes as voices are being raised within the Commonwealth to abandon the monarchy, following the example of Barbados which became a republic in November. In March, Prince William, the Queen’s grandson, made a rowdy tour of the Caribbean, criticized for its colonialist overtones. Reproaches that Prince Charles also suffered during a visit to Canada a few weeks later. “The new generation wants to question the history of the British Empire, which is a good thing”said Meghnad Desai, a British economist and former Labor politician, recently.