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October 8, 2019
The Honorable Michael Pompeo
Secretary of State
United States Department of State
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Pompeo:
As Chair of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), I wish to convey to you the deep concerns expressed in a statement (attached to this letter) by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Burundi regarding the political, social, and human rights conditions in the country as they prepare for the elections planned for May 2020. In the statement read out in all Catholic Churches on September 22, the bishops expressed their appreciation for the progress the country has made towards building democracy and ending division in Burundi. They called on all Burundians to participate fully and peacefully in the upcoming elections.
The bishops also raised concerns. They oppose the suppression of and attacks on political parties and on those who disagree with government ideas. They decry the fact that ruling party supporters, especially the youth group (Imbonerakuré), act in the stead of formal security services (the United Nations has accused this group of numerous atrocities). Finally, the bishops call on the government to resolve the problems that led tens of thousands of Burundians to flee the country so they can return to exercise their right to vote in the next elections.
The Burundian authorities reacted strongly to the statement. The General Secretary of the ruling party accused the Church of spreading venomous hatred and sowing division. A UN team of investigators issued a report that warns of a climate of fear and continuing crimes against humanity committed with total impunity. Most alarmingly, “[t]he commission found that the eight common risk factors for criminal atrocities are present in Burundi," insisting that “the evolving situation must be monitored with the greatest vigilance”.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of Burundi is the most prominent and credible civil society group to speak up in defense of peace, democracy, and justice. Over the past four years it has been increasingly relegated to the margins, and its leaders threatened by the government. I urge you to give important consideration to the Church’s concerns, to do everything in your power to avoid escalations of violence and atrocities, and demand the protection of innocent civilians and those leaders who are brave enough to speak out in support of human rights. The USCCB’s Committee on International Justice and Peace is committed to work with you to reach this goal.
(The Most Reverend) Timothy P. Broglio
Archbishop for the Military Services, USA
Chairman, Committee on International Justice and Peace
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Attachment: CECAB Message of September 13, 2019
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