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“We are in a state of utter misery”: Catholic Bishop on Human Right Violations in DR Congo

Bishop Melchisedec Sikuli Paluku ordaining a Priest. Credit: Aid to the Church in Need

The Bishop of Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) Butembo-Beni Diocese has denounced terror attacks and far-reaching human rights violations that seem to target Christians in the East of the country, a region covered by his episcopal see. 

In a report published by the Pontifical Charity Organization, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International, Bishop Melchisedec Sikuli Paluku says that the number of terror attacks seem, “particularly high in the Northern part of our Diocese. Armed groups are destroying schools and hospitals.” 

“They are even killing the sick as they lie in their hospital beds. Not a day goes by without people being killed,” Bishop Paluku laments in the ACN report shared with ACI Africa Thursday, May 20. 

The Congolese Bishop adds, “Many have watched as their parents were killed. There are many orphans and widows. Villages have been burned to the ground. We are in a state of utter misery.”

He continues, “Public life has come to a standstill out of fear of terrorist attacks and to protest at the collapse of the government.”

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Bishop Paluku appeals for support for victims of these attacks saying, “We need centers where people can go for therapy. Many people are traumatized.”

For decades, the Eastern region of the DRC that is rich in natural resources has been engulfed in violent attacks reportedly by soldiers of the rebel group, Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).

ACN reports that “ethnic conflicts, demographic displacement and access to raw materials” are important factors that fuel the crisis in the East of DRC. The attacks have led to a massive internal displacement of populations.

Bishop Paluku has been quoted as saying that the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) calculates there having been over 6,000 people killed in Beni since 2013 and over 2,000 in Bunia in the year 2020 alone.

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“In addition, there are at least 3 million displaced persons and about 7,500 people have been kidnapped,” the Congolese Bishop has said.

Earlier this month, the leadership of CAN reported that since the beginning of April, a wave of protests, some of them violent, have shaken the DRC, those taking part in the demonstrations calling for an end to insecurity.

Justifying the protests, Bishop Paluku was quoted as saying in the May 3 report, “You cannot ask people who are being slaughtered like animals to simply shut up and do nothing. They have every right to demand security, every right to demand freedom. We simply urge that this should be done with respect for the law, peacefully and without violence.”

In the May 3 ACN report, Bishop Sikuli described the Islamist insurgency as a “path towards Islamization, also seen in the mushrooming of mosques.”

The Bishop who has been at the helm of DRC’s Diocese of Butembo-Beni since August 1998 said that those behind the persecution of Christians have “a grand scheme to Islamize or expel the local populations.”

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Asked why he spoke of Islamization when those involved in the abductions and the attacks in the region are part of ADF, a rebel group that does not claim to be an Islamist entity, the Bishop said, “All those who have been kidnapped by these terrorist groups and who have escaped alive from them report the same thing.”

“They (victims) were given the choice between death and conversion to Islam,” Bishop Paluku recounted in the May 3 ACN report, adding in reference to those survived after being abducted, “They are given Muslim names to cement their identity.”

“What kind of relationship should we have with this form of Islam, which is not only a religion, but also a political movement that is linked to terrorism?” the Bishop has posed.

The Catholic Church has remained at the service of the people the 69-year-old Bishop says in the May 20 ACN report shared with ACI Africa, and explains, “We are 1500 miles from the capital. As the government is doing nothing here, we must take care of ourselves. We do not receive any help. However, the Church has still managed to build schools in the region.”

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The Bishop of Butembo-Beni adds, “The people cry because they have reason to. But they also carry a seed of hope within them. They have a natural resilience that is strengthened by evangelization.”

The greatest challenge, Bishop Paluku says, is “strengthening the faith of Catholics. Islam is being forced on us. Mosques are being built everywhere, even though no one needs them. They do not look like the traditional ones we are familiar with.”

He notes that “Christianity was introduced in this region about 120 years ago” and “evangelization is bearing fruit. We have many vocations in our Diocese.”

“Our presence gives the people hope that they will be able to overcome their current adversities and that better days will come,” Bishop Paluku says.