The Catholic Church in Burundi has raised the alarm over human rights violations in the country. In a statement issued at the end of their June 4-7 plenary meeting, the bishops said: “We are worried about the progressive increase of political intolerance which, in different parts of the country, provokes clashes and even victims.”
They noted that political tensions that have been stirring in the country for years have forced more than 374,000 Burundians to take refuge in neighbouring countries: Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and above all Tanzania, where Burundian refugees number more than 192,000. This is in a nation with a population of just 10 million.
“We have learned with pain of the insecurity in some refugee camps in Tanzania,” said the bishops, who held their plenary meeting at Gitega, which last year replaced Bujumbura as the country’s capital city.
According to Human Rights Watch, “A concerted campaign against people perceived to be against the ruling party has continued since the May 2018 constitutional referendum, but there appears to have been an increase in abuses since the registration of a new opposition party in February.”
The bishops committed themselves to working for peace in the country, especially in the run-up to next year’s scheduled presidential election.
“We tried in particular discerning what the Church’s contribution should be in light of its mission, so that these elections [can] take place in peace and promoting the cause of democracy,” the bishops said.
Burundi has a long history of political instability: from 1891 to 1962 it was part of German East Africa, and since gaining independence has been riven by infighting. The country has witnessed two events widely described as genocides: mass killings of Hutus by the Tutsi-dominated armed forces in 1972 and the mass murder of Tutsis by the Hutu majority in 1993.