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14 Aug 2010 07:28
The United States is “concerned” about human rights violations that occurred before recent presidential elections in Rwanda, the White House said on Friday.
US officials noted that, according to Rwanda’s National Electoral Commission, President Paul Kagame was re-elected to a seven-year term by about 93% of the vote in the August 9 election.
“We remain concerned, however, about a series of disturbing events prior to the election, including the suspension of two newspapers, the expulsion of a human rights researcher, the barring of two opposition parties from taking part in the election, and the arrest of journalists,” read the statement by National Security Council spokesperson Mike Hammer.
“Democracy is about more than holding elections,” read the statement.
“A democracy reflects the will of the people, where minority voices are heard and respected, where opposition candidates run on the issues without threat or intimidation, where freedom of expression and freedom of the press are protected.”
Washington has expressed those concerns to the Rwandan government, “and we hope the leadership will take steps toward more democratic governance, increased respect for minority and opposition views, and continued peace”, the statement read.
Kagame has ruled the small Central African country since his Rwandan Patriotic Front stopped the 1994 genocide against his Tutsi minority that killed about 800 000 people in a 100-day genocidal spree.
“No one should underestimate the enormous challenges born of the genocide in 1994,” the White House said.
“Rwanda’s progress in the face of these challenges has been remarkable”, but its “stability and growing prosperity ... will be difficult to sustain in the absence of broad political debate and open political participation”.
The White House said it was up to Rwanda’s electoral commission “to handle any election complaints fairly and promptly and we look forward to their resolution”.
“We congratulate the people of Rwanda on their national election on August 9,” read the statement.
Kagame has won widespread praise for presiding over a transformation in the country’s economic fortunes and counts former US president Bill Clinton and ex-British prime minister Tony Blair among his admirers.
But human rights activists have become increasingly critical of the situation in Rwanda, with UN chief Ban Ki-moon joining calls for a full probe into the two high-profile deaths in the build-up to the election.
Foreign observers noted no major irregularities during polling, but said the Rwanda election was marked by a lack of “critical opposition voices”.
A Rwandan opposition leader called on Thursday on the international community, which provides half of the country’s budget, to reject Kagame’s re-election.
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