US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday rebuked Rwanda over perceived human rights and democracy failures, saying the country must protect political freedoms to reach its full potential.
“In politics, harassment of those who express opposition views to the current government, we believe, undermines total peace and stability and success which has been extraordinary in the case of Rwanda,” Mr Blinken said at a press briefing in Rwanda's capital of Kigali.
He also toured a memorial for victims of Rwanda's 1994 genocide, saying he was “moved by this memorial and inspired by the resilience of the survivors and the remarkable progress of this country”.
Mr Blinken laid a wreath at the mass graves honouring the more than 800,000 victims of the genocide perpetrated by Hutu extremists against the Tutsi ethnic group and moderate Hutus.
“My family experienced the horrors of Holocaust and I appreciate the importance of memorialising such tragic events,” Mr Blinken wrote in a guest book at the memorial.
“The United States strongly supports Rwanda’s continued efforts towards renewal and national reconciliation.”
While in Rwanda, Mr Blinken addressed the detention of Paul Rusesabagina, portrayed in the film Hotel Rwanda, who sheltered hundreds of people during the genocide.
Mr Rusesabagina was sentenced last year to 25 years in prison over terrorism charges linked to an organisation that opposes President Paul Kagame's rule. He has denied the charges and the US has classified him as wrongfully detained.
Speaking at a joint press conference with Rwanda's Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta, Mr Blinken said the White House has been clear about its concerns over Mr Rusesabagina's trial and conviction.
“We continue to urge the government to address concerns about the legal protections afforded to him and his case and establish safeguards to prevent similar outcomes in the future,” Mr Blinken said.
Mr Biruta pushed back, saying Mr Rusesabagina had been tried and convicted lawfully.
US President Joe Biden has faced increasing pressure by Mr Rusesabagina's family, as well as the families of Americans detained abroad, to secure their release.
Families of Americans 'wrongfully detained' abroad gather in Washington
Agencies contributed to this report