Rwanda stands with Syrians

Rwanda has added its voice to the growing international condemnation of the Syrian government’s violent crackdown of its own citizens; calling for respect of the “legitimate and rightful aspirations” of the Syrian people.
Minister Mushikiwabo attended the Friends of Syria Conference. The New Times / File.
Minister Mushikiwabo attended the Friends of Syria Conference. The New Times / File.

Rwanda has added its voice to the growing international condemnation of the Syrian government’s violent crackdown of its own citizens; calling for respect of the “legitimate and rightful aspirations” of the Syrian people.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Louise Mushikiwabo, was among 40 foreign dignitaries who attended the Second Conference of the Group of Friends of the Syrian People in Istanbul, Turkey on Sunday, as the international community stepped up pressure on Damascus to end the violence.

“While it is true that the independence and sovereignty of States are fundamental to international relations; the fight and the right to live – the responsibility to protect – are even more critical for the survival of the community of nations,” a communiqué from the ministry of Foreign affairs quoted the minister telling the conference.

The UN estimates that more than 9,000 people have died in the year-long confrontation, which is part of the Arab Spring of Discontent demonstrations that swept through North Africa and the Middle East. In its wake, it saw regime changes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi was murdered on the streets of his Sirte home town, where he had sought refuge, on October 20, 2011.

Last year, President Paul Kagame was among a handful of African leaders who had the courage to stand firm and strongly condemned Gaddafi’s violence against his own people. He also publicly backed NATO’s controversial intervention to protect Libyan civilians from the government’s brutal attacks.

During Sunday’s Group of Friends of the Syrian People conference, Ms Mushikiwabo spoke of Rwanda’s longstanding commitment to the protection of lives, and referred to Kagame’s open support for the legitimate aspirations of the Libyan people during the anti-Gaddafi protests.

Kagame had said at the time: “No country knows better than my own, the cost of the international community’s failure to intervene to prevent a State killing its own people. Our responsibility to protect is unquestionable and, this view is backed by the authority of having witnessed and suffered the terrible consequences of international inaction.” He was referring to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, in which more than a million people lost their lives at the hands of a fascist regime.

In Istanbul, Ms Mushikiwabo said Rwanda “would not stand by as people face inhumane treatment and threats of extermination”, stressing that all countries are obliged to honour the rightful aspirations of their citizens according to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

Rwanda is a key player in international peacekeeping missions, with contingents in Sudan (Darfur), South Sudan, Liberia, Ivory Coast, and Haiti.

The conference was attended by delegates from 83 mainly Arab and Western countries and saw about 40 Foreign affairs ministers attempt to craft an international response to the deteriorating situation in Syria. Among proposals discussed was the creation of a buffer zone, which was proposed by the host, Turkey. The meeting was expected to bolster the Syrian opposition, but fell short of agreeing to arm the Syrian National Council (SNC) – the main opposition group battling to oust President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

But speaking off the record, some delegates “pledged to send millions of dollars and communications equipment to dissidents inside Syria, signaling a growing belief that diplomacy and sanctions will not end the repression and push Assad from power,” according to American news network, CBS.

The crisis, which started as street protests, has continued for over a year and has evolved into a Libyan-style revolution, with thousands of demonstrators taking up arms to defend themselves against an intransigent and brutal regime that is determined to crush them.

Wire agencies have reported that at least 34 people, including 16 civilians, were killed on Monday as Syrian forces battled the rebels, pounding their positions and clashing with them near the Turkish border, even as it emerged that Assad had accepted an April 10 deadline for the implementation of a six-point peace plan.

The plan by former UN secretary General Kofi Annan proposes the protection of the cities and the withdrawal of forces. Annan is the joint special envoy of the UN and Arab League to Syria. But doubts remain as whether Assad will honour his pledge. “Past experience would lead us to be skeptical and to worry that over the next several days, that rather than a diminution of the violence we might yet again see an escalation of the violence. We certainly hope that is not so,” said Susan Rice, the US representative to the UN.

While Assad’s allies have officially backed Annan’s plan, they have mocked the Friends of Syria Conference, with a Syrian daily, al-Baath, derisively describing it as simply a “regional and international scramble to search for ways to kill more Syrians ... with the aim to jump over the mission of Annan”.

Annan, according to diplomats, told the UN Security Council, this week, that ‘no progress” had been made on a proposed ceasefire.

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