A meeting of Commonwealth leaders in Trinidad and Tobago, an island nation in the Southern Caribbean, has given its approval to Rwanda, the Central East African country in which 800,000 people lost their lives as a result of genocide in 1994, becoming the newest member of the organization which consists largely of countries that were once under the rule of the British Empire and still has as its head Queen Elizabeth II.
In 1995 Mozambique, a former colony of Portugal which gained its independence in 1975, became the first country without any colonial or constitutional links with Britain to join what is now an organization with 54 members.
Queen Elizabeth, who was crowned in 1952, is the Head of State of 16 of the countries within the Commonwealth, countries that are known as the Commonwealth Realms.
As France 24
confirms Rwanda was first a colony of Germany, before being colonized by Belgium. But its strongest ties have been with France.
Those ties have, confirms France 24
, weakened considerably in recent years, with the Rwandan authorities temporarily breaking off diplomatic relations with France in 2006 over arrest warrants issued by a French judge in respect of aides of current Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who came to power in 2000.
The warrants were linked to the 1994 assassination of former Rwandan President, and Hutu, Juvenal Habyarimana, an act which reportedly led to the genocide which saw 800,000 people, predominantly members of the Tutsi ethnic group, killed by Hutu extremists. Hutus are the largest ethnic group in Rwanda, a country of between 9 and 10 million people.
France is said to have sided with the Hutus during the years of tension and violence between the more extreme Hutus and the Tutsis.
Louise Mushikiwabo is the Information Minister in Rwanda and as her country's newly acquired membership of the Commonwealth was announced on Sunday she said:
My government sees this accession as recognition of the tremendous progress this country has made in the last 15 years.
Rwandans are ready to seize economic, political, cultural and other opportunities offered by the Commonwealth network
A spokesman for the British Foreign Office echoed the sentiments expressed by Ms Mushikiwabo. According to the Independent
the unnamed official noted:
We strongly welcome the admittance. Rwanda has made progress towards meeting the Commonwealth's core values in areas of democratic process, rule of law, good governance, protection of human rights and equality of opportunity and economic policies aimed at improving the welfare of the public
However serious doubts have been raised by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
as to whether Rwanda's record on human rights and the country's governance meet the standards expected of Commonwealth members.
But France 24
reports that Canada is one country which believes that welcoming Rwanda in to the Commonwealth will enable it to implement further democratic reforms.
Apart from the U.K. and Canada, other prominent members of the Commonwealth of Nations include Australia, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan and South Africa.