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KIGALI, June 25 (Reuters) – The newly expanded Commonwealth on Saturday made broad pledges to tackle climate change and boost trade, concluding a summit aimed at boosting the relevance of a group stemming from the British empire.
The club, whose 56 members range from India to the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru, covers some 2.5 billion people, or about a third of the world’s population. It bills itself as a cooperative network, but critics say it needs to carve out a more hands-on role and talk less.
The week-long summit in Rwanda’s capital Kigali included comments from Britain’s Prince Charles expressing sadness for his country’s role in the transatlantic slave trade, the first time the Commonwealth has publicly addressed the subject. Read more
Some members have urged the organization to go further by discussing reparations to countries affected by the slave trade.
There was no mention of the subject in the final statement or press conference, which instead focused on general policy statements on sustainable development, health care and gender equality.
A “Living Lands Charter” stipulated that Commonwealth countries would strive to implement previously signed international agreements, such as the Paris Climate Accord.
“We know we are code red on climate change and that smaller member states are facing a crisis that could be existential,” Patricia Scotland, re-elected at the summit as Commonwealth Secretary General, told reporters.
Scotland has also touted increased trade between members of the Commonwealth, which it says will reach $2 trillion a year by 2030 after collapsing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gabon and Togo were newly accepted into the Commonwealth, part of a trend of French-speaking African states seeking new alliances beyond Paris’ old networks of influence.
“If the Commonwealth were not alive, vibrant and constructive, why would countries like Gabon…and Togo join?” Michael Moussa Adamo, Gabon’s foreign minister, told Reuters.
Difficult issues regarding the host country were mostly absent from the summit’s public discussions.
Many human rights groups consider Rwanda one of the most repressive countries in Africa. The US State Department cited credible reports of arbitrary killings by the government, including politically motivated retaliatory killings abroad.
Neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo accuses Rwanda of backing rebels who are waging a major offensive in eastern Congo.
Rwanda denies all these accusations. At the press conference, Rwandan President Paul Kagame defended Rwanda’s human rights record and accused Western governments of hypocrisy.
“There is no one in prison in Rwanda who shouldn’t be there,” he said. “In fact, there are people who are not in prison who should be there.”
Britain’s controversial policy of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda, described as “appalling” by Prince Charles, according to British media, was also in the spotlight.
Kagame has defended his country’s role and denied he was motivated by the 120 million pounds ($147 million) Britain is initially paying Rwanda to house asylum seekers. The arrangement was suspended last week after the European Court of Human Rights blocked the first flight to Rwanda.
“We try to do our best to give them a sense of safety and normality,” he said. “If they don’t come, we won’t complain. It’s not like we’re dying for people to come to us like this.”
($1 = 0.8155 pounds)
Reporting by Ayenat Mersie; Written by Aaron Ross; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Peter Graff
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