Harper expresses concern about human rights in DRC, won't boycott summit

DAKAR, Senegal – Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he has concerns about human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Canadian government will express those concerns during an upcoming summit.

He says he’s worried about abuses in a country where sexual assault is frequently used as a weapon in conflict between the military and rebel groups.

There were also allegations of myriad irregularities in the election that kept Joseph Kabila’s government in power.

Still, Harper doesn’t appear to have considered boycotting this weekend’s Francophonie summit in Kinshasa.

He has already threatened to skip the upcoming Commonwealth conference in Sri Lanka unless that country makes progress on human rights.

But asked at a news conference why that same standard wouldn’t apply to Congo, Harper sidestepped the question.

He was asked about his imminent visit at a news conference during the first stop on his African tour, in Dakar, Senegal.

“Minister Bernard Valcourt has already visited Congo to express our concerns about human-rights violations and we will express these preoccupations very clearly in that respect,” Harper said.

“And it will be very clear.”

At that same news conference, Senegalese President Macky Sall said not all countries have the same democratic traditions and African countries struggling to make the transition should be encouraged along the way.

Harper also announced several economic-cooperation initiatives with Senegal during his visit, including a a new air transport agreement.