Extremism, Human Rights, and Christians: A Small Glimpse into the DRC

World Watch Monitor: Reprinted with permission
Extremism, Human Rights, and Christians

We hear very little about the violence and persecution that goes on within the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  It is in the top 10 countries for Catholicism (by population) and the first in Africa. Yet, the DRC is also known for its violence, corruption, and human rights abuses.

Formerly known as Zaire, the DRC has been riddled with violence and civil war.  From female genital mutilation to child soldiers and more, this country has seen little rest from violence.  Although democratic on paper, the country is struggling to actually be democratic.  It remains to be seen if the elections will be held properly and on time.  In addition, the government cracks down on political opposition, the media, and civil society groups.  Armed groups within the country attack civilians and reports are coming that the government attacks civilians too.  Islamists are fighting for control and rights are being violated on every side.

A new report by the UN Panel of Experts on the DRC discusses the presence of Islamist militants.  These militants are wreaking havoc in the eastern province of North Kivu.  There are numerous foreign armed groups that are entering the country and are responsible for “widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.”  The Allied Democratic Forces-National Association for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-NALU) is one of these groups.

The ADF-NALU was originally based out of Uganda and had the goal of overthrowing the Ugandan government.  Once overthrown, the ADF-NALU would replace the government with an Islamist state, and institute Sharia law.  However, the Ugandan government pushed the group out of its country and into the DRC.  Ever since, the group has been trying to rid the north-east area of the DRC of its Christians.  They rape, loot, kidnap, and murder.  This Islamist group was responsible for killing over 700 people since 2014, including hacking to death 36 Christians in August 2016.

That UN report covered 2016.  However, the violence has not quelled with the new year. In the first quarter of 2017, a rash of vandalism, looting, and arson affected the church of the DRC.  There were a total of 8 instances against the church and its property.  In addition to the attacks against the physical buildings and possessions of the church, 1 priest was kidnapped (and since released) and 25 priests were evacuated by the UN. 

In the DRC, it is sometimes unclear whether Christians are targeted for their faith or for their activism.  The Catholic Church is a heavy presence in the DRC.  Its stances on human rights are very public and strong.  The church often brokers peace agreements, helps mediate elections, and is outspoken about the atrocities committed within the country.  Because of the church’s involvement in politics and human rights, it is often attacked because of those things.  Therefore, whether they are being targeted because they are Christians who stand for justice, or because they stand for justice and happen to be Christians, can be confusing.  In either instance, however, it is apparent that Christians and churches are fair game for violence as they, and their religion, do not support the rebel cause in the DRC.

Archbishop Pasinya said “The material damage is considerable.”  He believes that the Church is “being targeted deliberately, in order to sabotage her mission of peace and reconciliation.”

Christians are not the only targets in the DRC.  As mentioned before, there are many armed groups in the country vying for control.  The UN received a report that in 4 days (February 9-13) soldiers killed 101 people during clashes with local militia members.

In March, 2 UN workers were also kidnapped, along with four citizens of the DRC.  These two men were in the Congo as part of a peacekeeping mission and to investigate possible human rights violations.  It had been reported that government soldiers had killed at least a dozen unarmed civilians, including children. It is suspected that these two UN workers were targeted because of their countries of origin: Sweden and the USA.  Although not related to Christianity, these two instances show the depths of the conflict within the DRC.

Christians within the DRC are not the only ones to experience the violence within the country.  They are, however, targeted.  They are targeted for their beliefs and for their actions upon those beliefs.  To stand for human rights and for peace, is to put a target on your back. 

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