Democratic Republic of Congo: Church leads way defending human rights and peace
16 August 2017
The Catholic Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) plays a vital role defending human rights. But this means that church members have faced threats, attacks and even been killed.
“The Church in the DRC is being attacked, people are being killed and schools have been burnt,” said Bernard Balibuno, CAFOD’s Country Representative for the DRC.
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In 2016, pro-democracy protests in the capital, Kinshasa, led to at least fifty deaths, and hundreds of human rights abuses.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the DRC (Cenco) has been mediating talks between the government and opposition. In December 2016 they brokered a deal that President Kabila will step down after an election at the end of 2017. However, talks to agree a timeline for an election have stalled.
Bernard Balibuno said: “The situation in the DRC has been largely ignored by the international community, but since 2006 the Church has been at the forefront of brokering peace between the government, the opposition and civil society. Their efforts have saved an unquantifiable number of lives.”
Standing up to mining companies
Father Alfred Buju is Director of our partner, the Justice and Peace Commission in Bunia (JPC Bunia), a diocese in the north-east of DRC.
Their work includes defending the rights of local communities against mining companies. Decades of gold mining in the DRC has trapped the country in a cycle of violence and poverty.
The work of Father Alfred and JPC Bunia is well known locally and has an excellent reputation because of their boldness in addressing matters that affect the community. But this work has many challenges. JPC staff have been directly attacked by armed men as they travel to remote areas. The aim is to silence them into not pursuing this work.
Father Alfred has been attacked several times and has received death threats from unknown sources sent via phone. In 2016, he was threatened and accused by the local security agency of having encouraged young people to protest against proposed changes to the constitution.
Inspired by others
Despite the risks, Father Alfred continues to dedicate himself to this work. “I felt committed to work for the poor and, as the son of a miner who had also experienced the hard life for myself, I understood the difficulties faced by those who wanted to pay the school fees for their children,” he says.
“I am inspired by the stories of others such as Martin Luther King and Oscar Romero. Faith is a journey and you have to walk in the footsteps of those who came before you. Without sacrifice, there cannot be change.”
JPC Bunia educate people about their rights and work with local authorities to demand better public services, including hospitals and schools. This involves educating people through community radio and workshops, and supporting communities to develop plans for action. At the national level, they monitor parliamentarians as well as government contracts with multinational companies.
Promoting peace through music
Our partners in the DRC also educate young people about their rights.
The Kivu Youth Peace Music Festival, held in June 2017, saw more than 7,000 young people gather in Goma to hear local pop stars, like Fonkoji Balume, sing to the beat of non-violence and exercising democratic rights.
The music festival, supported by CAFOD, was part of a voter education project for young people.
The project focuses on claiming rights through peaceful means, and educates young people about preventing escalation of violence and unrest arising from the postponement of the country's elections.
“Young people are asking for the rights peacefully,” said CAFOD’s Bernard Balibuno.
“All the efforts of the Church have put them in danger, but despite this, the Church has maintained its pastoral message of standing by the people.”