Letter to Secretary of State Tillerson on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, May 1, 2017

Year Published
  • 2017
  • English

May 1, 2017

The Honorable Rex Tillerson
Secretary of State
United States Department of State
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Tillerson:

As a follow up to our enjoyable and productive meeting with you on March 23, I write to update you on the Church's concerns on the growing political crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and to send you a copy of the DRC Catholic Bishops' Conference (CENCO) statement of April 20, 2017. CENCO issued this document following the breakdown of talks on the Detailed Agreement (Arrangement Particulier) and the Government's unilateral nomination of Mr. Bruno Tshibala as Prime Minister over the objections of the Opposition parties. CENCO addresses the state of implementation of the Saint Sylvester Accord and provides guidance to political leaders on preserving democratic rule.

CENCO states that consultations between the Government and the Opposition parties over how to nominate the Prime Minister did not occur as was agreed before Mr. Tshibala's nomination. CENCO considers the nomination as a "twisting" or "distortion" of the Saint Sylvester Accord. In addition, CENCO proposes that the President of the National Agreement Monitoring Committee come from the Rassemblement Opposition Party and that the selection be based on consensus. CENCO insists that deviation from the spirit of political compromise would violate the Saint Sylvester Accord.

CENCO reiterated the parties' agreement that elections must be held at the latest in December 2017. CENCO also called for implementation of confidence-building measures designed to reduce tensions, such as the release of political prisoners, especially Mrs. Jean-Claude Muhambo and Moise Katumbi, and the opening of civil society space, including radio and television stations.

CENCO concludes their statement with a call for calm and inclusive governance in preparation for elections. The bishops urge the building of bridges of dialogue to resolve the remaining controversies. They call on the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo (MONUSCO), the international community and humanitarian organizations to help address this social and security crisis.

The DRC, a country of 77 million that is the size of the United States east of the Mississippi, is in crisis with potentially dire consequences for the entire region. The year 2017 could be when the DRC resolves its crisis, holds free and fair elections and prepares the first peaceful transfer of power in its 57 year history, or it could mark a descent into autocracy, massive riots or even civil war. Already we hear reports that neighboring countries like Angola are deploying military forces along its border with the DRC to contain the fall out of any breakdown in civil order.

CENCO's leaders used their moral authority and held talks under their good auspices to create the conditions for peaceful, constructive dialogue to resolve the crisis. It is not the Church's place to take on a political role by applying pressure on the political parties to resolve the crisis and protect democracy and the common good. The Congolese people need the international community, the United Nations, and the regional countries to work together to convince the Congolese Government to prepare inclusive, free and fair elections, as called for by the Constitution, to allow civil society and the common good of the country to flourish. 

Long experience in Africa and elsewhere in the world shows that United States leadership to promote democracy and address conflict, in concert with the international community, can be effective. I traveled to the DRC last October and met with Church leaders, diplomatic representatives, leaders of political parties, government officials, the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) and civil society. I heard their urgent calls for peaceful, democratic solutions to undeniable political challenges. I urge you to deploy the diplomatic and development resources at your discretion to ensure that the Government honors its Constitution and the democratic principles upon which it is built. An investment in diplomacy and promotion of good governance now will save many millions of dollars of humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping expenditures in the long run. It will also rescue millions of people from needless suffering.

The Committee on International Justice and Peace is prepared to work with you to promote democracy, peace and prosperity in the DRC. Thank you for your attention to the crisis in DRC.

Sincerely yours,

Most Reverend Oscar Cantú
Bishop of Las Cruces
Chair, Committee on International Justice and Peace

cc: Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, National Security Advisor

Attachment: CENCO Statement of April 20, 2017

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