Prince Charles pays tribute to genocide victims in Rwanda

The Prince of Wales also met face-to-face with President Paul Kagame, whose pact to resettle asylum seekers deported from the UK reportedly attracted strong disapproval from the British heir to the throne.

Prince Charles pays tribute to genocide victims in Rwanda
Britain's Prince Charles. Picture: AFP

KIGALI, RWANDA - Prince Charles on Wednesday heard harrowing testimony of the genocide in Rwanda from survivors and perpetrators of the 1994 killings during the first visit to the country by a British royal.

The Prince of Wales also met face-to-face with President Paul Kagame, whose pact to resettle asylum seekers deported from the UK reportedly attracted strong disapproval from the British heir to the throne.

Charles is representing Queen Elizabeth II in Kigali at a Commonwealth summit she has championed since assuming the throne in 1952, as the organisation faces questions over its future role and relevance.

The prince and his wife Camilla arrived late Tuesday in Kigali for the 54-nation gathering that was twice postponed by Covid and takes place amid outrage over Britain's migrant deal with Rwanda.

The royal couple began their visit with a sombre tour of the Kigali Genocide Memorial, the final resting place for over 250,000 victims of the massacres nearly three decades ago.

Housing skulls, bone fragments and shreds of clothing, the memorial is a testimony to the horrors of the genocide and a customary stop for foreign dignitaries visiting Rwanda.

The royals laid a wreath of white flowers and paused in silent tribute, before viewing a collection of photographs of victims and their possessions.

They also spoke with survivors of the genocide in which some 800,000 mainly Tutsi people were murdered by Hutu extremist forces between April and July 1994.

Later they visited a village outside Kigali where genocide perpetrators and survivors live side by side -- sometimes even marrying -- and heard stories of loss and reconciliation.

They also toured a nearby church-turned-memorial where tens of thousands were slaughtered and skulls unearthed from mass graves are kept on grim display.

"In special remembrance," the prince wrote in a visitor book, according to photographs of the visit published by Rwandan state media.

  • Migrant controversy -
    The leaders of many Commonwealth nations including Britain's Boris Johnson and Canada's Justin Trudeau are expected in Kigali in the coming days for the meeting of mainly former British colonies.

Rwanda, a former German and Belgian colony, joined the Commonwealth in 2009 and has in recent years moved closer to the English-speaking world.

Charles and Camilla also met Kagame and First Lady Jeannette Kagame at the Rwandan leader's official residence.

Earlier this month, Charles reportedly described the migrant deal as "appalling" and feared it would overshadow the summit.

Those criticisms, reported by The Times newspaper, threatened to make for an awkward meeting in Kigali.

The royals and their hosts gave little away, smiling for photographs flanked by the flags of their respective countries, before a closed-door meeting.

The UK said Wednesday it would introduce legislation allowing it to ignore certain decisions by the European Court of Human Rights after a judge in Strasbourg intervened to halt the first flight of asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Human rights groups and senior Christian leaders have denounced the plan, which supporters say breaks the business model of traffickers who smuggle migrants across the Channel.

The Commonwealth has been accused of turning a blind eye to Rwanda's record on human rights, with critics saying it risks its credibility and integrity by hosting its summit in Kigali.

Charles has been anointed the next head of the Commonwealth when he becomes king, but there is increased discussion about a move away from the royal family as its ceremonial head, and republican movements are taking hold in some member states