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July 28, 2017
The Honorable Rex Tillerson
Secretary of State
United States Department of State
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Tillerson:
Our Conference of Bishops continues to follow the ongoing crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and as a follow up to my letter to you of May 1, 2017, I send you the latest statement from the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Congo (CENCO) issued at the end of their recent General Assembly.
The bishops are clear that the country is in very bad shape. They are deeply concerned about the economic, political and security instability that has deepened since the beginning of the year. Their list of concerns is long. They fear that youth unemployment, rampant corruption and a collapsing economy will breed unrest. They deplore the fighting in the Kasai provinces that has led to 3,383 deaths, 30 mass graves and 30,000 refugees who fled to Angola. Catholic churches, health centers and schools have been attacked and ransacked. Instead of government efforts to open up civil space for free speech, a free press and political expression, the government has cracked down harder on all views that differ from the ruling party line.
I urge you to work with the international community, regional countries, the United Nations and the Africa Union, to promote free and fair elections and a peaceful transition of government as the way to peace and stability in the DRC. In addition, the United States should promote greater accountability on the part of Congolese Government and the protection of children, religious freedom and human rights.
CENCO concludes that the worsening crisis is due to the striking lack of political will to respect the Saint Sylvester agreement, in particular, the fact that elections have not been organized. CENCO affirms that the Saint Sylvester agreement and the detailed accord that resulted from it are the only roadmap to a peaceful resolution of the crisis. The bishops have repeated this call many times to no avail.
They quote the National Anthem, "Stand up tall; raise your heads that are still bowed and strike out to build a country more beautiful than today." They also quote Africae Munus, the Papal Exhortation from the last Africa Synod and call the Congolese people to be Ambassadors of Christ in the public sphere, playing an active and courageous role in the political realm. They condemn violence in any form and reaffirm the sacred nature of human life.
The bishops' message is clear; they have done all they can. It is now up to the people to defend their fledgling democracy without resorting to fear and violence. I urge you in the strongest terms to increase the pressure on the DRC Government in line with the most recent UNSC Resolution 2348, which was adopted after CENCO's mission to the Security Council in March of this year. As you are aware, the DRC was the scene of Africa's "First World War." Serious unrest in the DRC has already started to spill over into neighboring countries. If elections are not held this year, as the electoral commission CENI has already announced, many fear that the situation in the country could spiral out of control.
I hope to make another solidarity visit to Kinshasa in October. This will be the fifth Committee mission to the DRC since 2010. We will meet with Church leaders, government officials, civil society activists and representatives of the diplomatic corps. As always, we will meet with American Embassy and USAID officials. This will be a crucial period.
I reiterate our Committee's commitment to support your efforts towards this goal and invite you to work with our Committee staff in our search for peace in the DRC.
Most Reverend Oscar Cantú
Bishop of Las Cruces
Chair, Committee on International Justice and Peace
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