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In Burundi’s Crisis, the Church Stands With the People

As President Attempts 3rd Term, Social Unrest Intensifies

This report is contributed by Marta Petrosillo of Aid to the Church in Need.

“We have no idea how this grave crime will affect the already difficult situation in our country. But undoubtedly this killing will have serious consequences.” Thus declared Father Lambert Niciteretse, the secretary general of the bishops’ conference of Burundi. He spoke to international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need about the Aug. 5, 2015 murder of General Adolph Nshimirimana, close ally of Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza.

General Nshimirimana, the former head of the secret services, was in charge of security for the president as well as chief of the presidential guard. His assassination will no doubt add to the country’s instability.

Unrest began last spring, when President Nkurunziza announced that he would run for a third presidential term, in violation of the two five-year presidential terms limit imposed by the country’s constitution and the 2000 Arusha Peace Accords that brought peace between Burundi’s rival Hutus and Tutsis

The country’s Catholic Church immediately condemned the illegal nature of the president’s candidacy and in May, ahead of the legislative elections, it withdrew its representatives from the Independent National Electoral Commission. “The Catholic Church cannot allow herself to be part of an electoral process that is visibly not consensual and contains legal defects,” Burundi’s bishops wrote at the time in a formal statement.

The bishops have maintained their position, despite the threat of possible retaliation on the part of the government. “The Church continues to pursue her mission,” Father Niciteretse said, by “expounding the principles of her social doctrine even when this does not meet with the favor of the politicians. The truth must be proclaimed and irregularities must be denounced.”

Meanwhile, the exodus of Burundian civilians continues unabated. People are fleeing on account of the instability and the government’s use of violence in repressing protests. Tens of thousands have fled to Tanzania, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and though a few families have returned in order to enable their children to take state exams, sources close to the local Church have reported that the number of refugees could reach as many as 200,000 by Christmas time.

“In addition to the great pain we are feeling because of the political crisis, we are grieving for our brothers and sisters who have been forced to flee,” Father Niciteretse said.

The priest explained that citizens are living in fear and uncertainty, not least on account of the grave lack of information; he transmitters of most of the private radio and television stations have been destroyed.

Father Niciteretse said: “Apart from the radio and TV stations linked to the ruling party, the only stations still working are those transmitting from abroad. It is also a serious limitation for the Church herself, since she can convey its important message of peace only through Radio Maria Burundi. But despite the difficulties, we will continue to support the people, to denounce violence and invite all parties to peace and the respect of human rights.”




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