KIGALI, Rwanda — Presidents, princes and prime ministers from across the world gathered on Friday in Kigali, the hilly capital of Rwanda, to examine some of the pressing issues facing their nations and the association that unites them: the Commonwealth.
But as the meeting whose agenda included topics like health care, climate change and the effects of the war in Ukraine got underway, nearly everyone — except, it seemed, the Commonwealth leaders themselves — focused instead on Rwanda’s human rights record.
For years, the country and its government, led by President Paul Kagame, has been accused of cracking down on dissent, muzzling the news media and destabilizing neighboring countries — moves that many gathered for the meeting say are contrary to the values of democracy, free expression and peace espoused by the Commonwealth, a 54-nation organization that was born out of the dying embers of the British Empire and includes countries as far-flung as Canada, Malaysia and Nigeria.
The silence from Commonwealth leaders about Rwanda’s transgressions, observers and rights groups say, risks diminishing the authority of the organization, which has existed in one form or another for more than 70 years.
“This summit shows that Kagame’s repression is immune to Commonwealth values and criticism,” said Keith Gottschalk, a political scientist at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, another member country. “It shows that diplomatic alliances trump any human rights convention,” he added.
Rwanda, a landlocked country of about 13 million people in central Africa, is the youngest member of the Commonwealth, having joined in 2009, and it is one of only two constituent nations not historically linked to British colonial rule. (The other is Mozambique,…