In Rwanda to meet with Commonwealth leaders, Trudeau remembers a genocide

It was a visit heavy with political and perhaps even personal significance, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau laid a wreath on Thursday at the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda.

The site contains the remains of more than 250,000 Rwandan Tutsis who were slaughtered by Hutu extremists in the spring and summer of 1994.

Former Canadian general — later Liberal senator — Romeo Dallaire, who was an early backer of Trudeau, led the peacekeeping mission that failed to prevent the genocide.

More than 800,000 Tutsis lost their lives in the organized campaign that stretched over 100 days.

The prime minister paid his respects as Commonwealth leaders gathered in Kigali to discuss, among other things, human rights and increasing food insecurity on the continent.

The genocide memorial contains not only the remains of victims but photographs and personal items.

Trudeau was greeted by the executive director of the center and had an opportunity to speak with a survivor of the genocide.

Many of the victims’ names have yet to be collected and documented and many of the victims who remain in the grave are unknown.

Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, paid a visit to the site on Wednesday.

After also laying a wreath, Charles — the first member of the Royal Family to visit the country — met President Paul Kagame, who played a major role in the military victory that ended the genocide.

Trudeau met separately with Kagame on Thursday.

Canada expanding diplomatic mission in Kigali

Human rights groups have long criticized the choice of Rwanda as host for the Commonwealth meeting, citing Kagame’s restrictions on press freedom, the arrests of high-profile critics and allegations that authorities have failed to conduct credible investigations into cases of enforced disappearances and suspicious deaths of government opponents.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rearranges the flower on a wreath at the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Kigali, Rwanda, on Thursday. More than 250,000 victims of the genocide against the Tutsi have been buried in a mass grave at the memorial. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Rwanda, a former German, and later Belgian colony, was admitted to the Commonwealth in 2009 over the objections of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and Human Rights Watch.

Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly announced Wednesday that Canada would upgrade its diplomatic mission in Kigali to a full embassy and high commissioner. An ambassador will also be appointed to the African Union.

“We know that Rwanda is playing a leadership role, and is showing a lot of progress” as a Commonwealth member, Joly said. “And so that’s why it’s strategic to be here. We believe that more than ever, Canada’s voice needs to be heard. And to do that, we need to have more tools, we need to have more resources, we need more boots on the ground.”

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