British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie Johnson arrive at the Heads of Government Banquet hosted by President Kagame of Rwanda on June 23, 2022, at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Kigali, Rwanda. DAN KIGALI Commonwealth leaders meet in Kigali on Friday to discuss cooperation on topics from trade to health to climate, despite criticism of host Rwanda's human rights record and British policy to deport asylum seekers there.
The Commonwealth, a club of 54 countries, which are most of which are former British colonies, includes about a third of humanity and presents itself as a network of equal partners with shared goals such as democracy, peace and prosperity.
Britain's Prince Charles and Prime Minister Boris Johnson will attend an opening ceremony, along with heads of state and government from most member countries, before the leaders hold two days of talks behind closed doors.
Applications by former French colonies Togo and Gabon to join the Commonwealth are one of the items on the agenda, a sign of disenchantment within France's influence in Africa and the attractions of an English-speaking club.
The theme of the summit, Delivering a Common Future: Connecting, Innovating, Transforming, offered few clues as to what outcomes were expected.
Some of the richer members have pledged funding for specific initiatives, and they have agreed on declarations and targets on specific challenges such as malaria at previous summits.
More junior delegations led by ministers to Kigali sent to some prominent countries, including South Africa, India, Pakistan, Australia and New Zealand.
Human Rights Watch said earlier this month that the Commonwealth's human rights mandate would be undermined if leaders fail to challenge Rwanda on its record.
They said that the Rwandan government was responsible for abusive prosecutions, harassment and torture of dissidents, which Rwanda denies.
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The hosting of the summit by Rwanda has kept the spotlight on Britain's policy to deport asylum seekers to the country.
Prince Charles was reported by British media to have described it as an uneasy backdrop to his interactions with both Johnson and Rwandan President Paul Kagame at the summit. Any tensions were unlikely to be aired in public.
Johnson, asked by Reuters on Thursday if he would visit detention centers prepared by the Rwandan authorities to receive asylum seekers from Britain, said he was flat out and would not be able to do so.
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