US senator favours ending aid to Rwanda over human rights abuses

Kinshasa has accused Kigali of backing the M23 rebel group in the DRC’s eastern region, which the latter denies. 

Paul Kagame
Rwanda's President Paul Kagame addresses the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 22, 2016 [Eduardo Munoz/Reuters]

The chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations said he would place a hold on US security assistance to Rwanda in Congress over concerns about the Rwandan government’s human rights record and role in the conflict in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Senator Robert Menendez called for a comprehensive review of American policy towards Rwanda.

Menendez said he would begin by placing a hold on several million dollars in support for Rwandan peacekeepers participating in UN missions, according to the letter, which was leaked to the media and which his office confirmed was authentic.

A hold is a Senate procedure that prevents a motion from reaching the floor for a vote.

Menendez said he feared that US support for the Rwandan military, while it is deployed to DRC and reportedly backing rebels, would send “a troubling signal that the U.S. tacitly approves of such actions”.

The M23 rebel group began a major offensive in DRC’s eastern borderlands with Rwanda at the end of March. Kinshasa has accused Kigali of backing M23, which the latter denies.

In 2021, the US allocated more than $147m in foreign assistance to Rwanda, making it Rwanda’s largest bilateral donor.

Menendez also cited what he said were credible accusations that the Rwandan government was muzzling critics at home and targeting dissidents living outside the country.

The US State Department reviews its policies in response to events on the ground and would consult closely with Congress on the question of aid to Rwanda, department spokesperson Ned Price said on Monday.

“We’ve said before that we’re concerned about the rising tensions between the DRC and Rwanda,” Price told a regular press briefing, urging both sides to exercise restraint and engage in dialogue.

A Rwandan government spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Source: News Agencies