Catholic Bishops Call on Congolese to ‘Stand Up’
Religious leaders in the Democratic Republic of Congo have expressed concern that the country is in a “very bad state” and called on Congolese to “stand up” and “take [their] destiny into [their] own hands.”
The dire warning came in a statement on Friday from the 49 archbishops and bishops of Congo’s influential national Episcopal conference (CENCO) after a week-long meeting in the capital, Kinshasa.
The church leaders painted a somber picture of the country’s challenges: The economic crisis is worsening “by the day,” leading to an “explosion” of unemployed youth and making families struggle to make ends meet. They decried the “almost generalized insecurity,” from the horrific violence in the central Kasai region to the presence of foreign armed groups, clashes between government security forces and armed groups, inter-ethnic violence, kidnappings, abductions, and “apparently planned” prison breaks across the country. The bishops said restrictions on free expression and peaceful demonstrations have only increased, and that “instead of confidence building measures,” we have instead seen a “hardening” of those in power.
The bishops blamed the dizzying array of challenges largely on the failure to hold elections in accordance with the constitution. They said it was “unacceptable” that a minority of Congolese people had “decided to take hostage the lives of millions” of others.
They reiterated their call for all signatories to respect and fully implement the New Year’s Eve agreement, which was mediated by CENCO and signed on December 31, 2016. The deal included clear commitments to hold elections by the end of 2017 and that President Joseph Kabila would not be a candidate or amend the constitution. The deal also provided for the main opposition coalition to lead the transitional government as well as a national oversight council, and measures would be taken to open political space. These commitments have largely been ignored, and as a result, CENCO withdrew from its mediation role in late March.
The bishops also called for the establishment of a “serious and objective” investigation in the Kasai region. The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on Friday directing the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to send a team of independent international experts to investigate alleged human rights violations and abuses in Congo’s central region. The resolution’s full implementation will be critical for ensuring justice.
Read CENCO’s full statement here (in French).