Smith ‘extremely concerned’ by democratic backsliding, condemns attacks on Church in Democratic Republic of Congo
Smith calls Church a ‘guardrail for democracy’ in the DRC
Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa and Co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, today issued the following statement on recent developments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) impacting the fairness of elections, civil society and the Church – the Catholic Church in particular:
“I am extremely concerned by steps taken by Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi and his parliamentary allies to neuter the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), curbing the Church’s and civil society’s ability to participate in the Commission,” Smith said.
“As people who follow events in the DRC know, the Church plays an indispensable role in meeting the needs of the Congolese people–whether in terms of health, education or promoting civil rights. The Church is also the one national institution that is able to hold the government accountable—including when it comes to electoral fraud and democratic backsliding. It plays a significant role as a guardrail for democracy, defending the rights of all citizens regardless of religion,” said Smith.
“I also strongly condemn the politically-motivated attacks on the Catholic Church and other churches throughout the DRC. These attacks on churches, in apparent retaliation for the support of the Catholic Church and other denominations for democracy, are outrageous. President Tshisekedi needs to use his security forces to protect these churches, and he needs to support freedom of expression,” Smith said.
Politically-calibrated attacks and church desecrations throughout the country have accelerated since July 10, when Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo publicly denounced a proposed electoral law that would disenfranchise any Congolese citizen whose mother and father were not born in the DRC.
That law, which will be voted on in the parliamentary session that begins this Wednesday, September 15, appears directed at opposition leader Moïse Katumbi and seems to be in violation of both the DRC constitution and Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the DRC has ratified.
Though some DRC officials have condemned the attacks, other senior officials like Augustin Kabuya, the Secretary General of Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), have fueled tension by accusing Cardinal Ambongo and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference (Conférence Épiscopale Nationale du Congo, or CENCO) of politicizing the Church.
Following Kabuya’s statement, Cardinal Ambongo’s residence was attacked by a group of youths repeating the Secretary General’s words, which was condemned by CENCO in an August 2 statement.
“I call upon our Ambassador Michael Hammer to reiterate how important it is that President Tshisekedi respect electoral independence and the role played by the Church and civil society, and that all attacks on the Church cease. The Ambassador’s voice is particularly important, especially given the circumstances in which Tshisekedi assumed the presidency,” said Smith.