MADRID, (Reuters) – Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero pulled out of a meeting with President Paul Kagame yesterday after receiving a petition alleging the Rwandan leader has violated human rights, an ally of Zapatero said. The two leaders had been scheduled as drivers of the Millennium Development Goals — a United Nations initiative to erradicate extreme poverty and reduce infant mortality along with other goals by 2015.
“The prime minister yesterday received a petition from various political groups saying that they didn’t think it was appropriate for the meeting to take place”, Vice President Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said on Spanish television.
She said Zapatero had been “sensitive” to the petition and would meet other political parties to explain why he had decided not see Kagame.
Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos took Zapatero’s place at the meeting, which was also attended by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Kagame has ruled Rwanda since 1994 when his victory over Hutu extremists ended mass genocide there. He was initially hailed as a hero, but critics have since accused him of trampling on political and press freedoms.
The government rejects the accusations, saying it has pursued dialogue and accepted opposing views since the 1994 genocide. Kagame is expected to win re-election in August.
In 2008, a Spanish judge issued a writ accusing Kagame of crimes against humanity, genocide and terrorism. The court did not issue an indictment, however, since Kagame has immunity as a head of state.
Two years earlier, a French judge accused Kagame and nine aides of shooting down former Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane in April 1994 — the catalyst for the killing of 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus in less than 100 days.