KIGALI, RWANDA –
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid tribute on Thursday to the victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide in Kigali, where he is trying to build consensus with Commonwealth countries to prevent another humanitarian crisis.
Trudeau is the first Canadian prime minister to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial, which serves as the final resting place for more than 250,000 victims.
Trudeau laid a wreath at one of the graves and signed himself as members of the Rwandan army stood guard and played a somber tune on the bugle horn.
More than 800,000 people were killed in 100 days, including Tutsis, moderate Hutus and others during the conflict.
Trudeau is in Rwanda for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, where he hopes to rally support for Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion and provide support to combat the geopolitical fallout from the conflict.
The Commonwealth is made up of 54 independent countries with historical ties to the British Crown, which together represent around 2.5 billion people.
Countries range from some of the richest economies in the world to some of the poorest.
Several of these poorer Commonwealth countries have felt the pangs of famine which is becoming an urgent problem in the world, as access to grain from Ukraine and Russia has been restricted by war.
Trudeau is expected to meet with summit host Rwandan President Paul Kagame later Thursday before attending a state dinner with Foreign Minister Melanie Joly.
This will be an opportunity to try to gain the support of an unlikely Commonwealth consensus on the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.
Rwanda was one of 10 Commonwealth countries that abstained in a United Nations vote to condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine in March.
Canada’s High Commissioner to the UK, Ralph Goodale, said the Canadian delegation hopes to make an impact in critical conversations about the conflict, as well as other key issues like food security and climate change.
Goodale, who sits on the Commonwealth’s board of governors, says Canada has a bigger platform to stand on top because other international powers like the United States, Russia and China aren’t there.
“We will have important contributions to make to some very critical international discussions,” Goodale told reporters in Kigali on Wednesday.
“There are Commonwealth countries which are very directly affected by the threat of famine. And that is due to many factors, including climate change, but it is particularly now the consequence of the war in Ukraine and the aggression from Russia,” Goodale said. .
“It’s extremely important for Canada to have the opportunity in a forum like this, where you really see the impact of the war in Ukraine, for Canada’s voice to be there.”
It will be the first time Commonwealth heads of government have met in person since 2018. The 2020 summit, like most events, has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trudeau arrived in Kigali on Wednesday but the official welcoming ceremony begins on Friday. The leaders are expected to sit down for a series of closed-door meetings on Friday and Saturday.
Although many world leaders, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, are expected to attend the summit discussions, other leaders have chosen to stay home.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and new Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese are among those absent.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 23, 2022.