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Britain urged to use aid to end Rwanda rights abuses

Campaigners are pressing the UK government to use its overseas aids cash to end rights abuses that are ruining Rwanda’s reputation.

After 16 years in power, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame is today set to be announced landslide winner after the country’s election yesterday.

Many Rwandans said they had voted for Mr Kagame for delivering more schools, more roads, decent internet service, peace and security. But some Rwandans claim they were forced to vote for him. And government opposition members and journalists have been threatened or killed and free speech stifled in the run-up to the polls.

It is problematic for the UK government which has poured political and financial investment into Mr Kagame's regime. Mr Kagame is praised for stabilising the eastern central African after the horrors of the 1994 genocide.

British aid to Rwanda is officially under review, but those holding the purse strings worry holding back aid payments to punish the rulers will hit the poor, in a country where more than half the people live on less than 25p a day.

The Labour government last year pledged to give £46m a year in aid to Rwanda, which makes Britain the biggest international donor to the Kagame government. But that aid pledge was on condition that Rwanda committed to reducing poverty, managing its finances properly and respecting human rights.

Now the alleged pre-election human rights abuses could undermine Britain’s investment in the country over the past 16 years, warned Tom Porteous from the campaign group, Human Rights Watch.

"The government should give more thought to using its leverage to restore proper respect for human rights in Rwanda itself instead of just burying its head over this problem," he told the Independent newspaper.

Aid agencies also say the Government should get tough on Mr Kagame’s regime. "In recent years, British aid has helped Rwanda make great strides in tackling poverty,” said a spokesperson for Oxfam. “UK aid can also play a vital role in strengthening Rwandan civil society organisations so that they can hold their government to account and promote human rights."

Mr Kagame won 93 per cent of the votes cast in 11 out of 30 districts, the National Election Commission said, and countrywide results were expected by the end of the day. “This is an indication that Rwanda has respectable citizens,” he told his supporters on his website.

Hayley attribution