Lifting of moratorium on death penalty in Congo ‘a step backwards,’ cardinal says — By: Catholic News Agency

Map of Congo. / Shutterstock

ACI Africa, Mar 22, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

The decision by the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to lift a 2003 ban on the death penalty is retrogressive, the local ordinary of the country’s Kinshasa Archdiocese, Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo, has said.

In a statement issued March 13, DRC’s justice minister, Rose Mutombo, announced the lifting of the two-decade-old moratorium on the death penalty in the Central African nation.

Mutombo has been quoted as saying that “acts of treachery or espionage have taken a toll on the population and the Republic” and that the restoration of the death penalty is to “rid our country’s army of traitors … and curb the upsurge in acts of terrorism and urban banditry resulting in death.”

In a March 17 interview with the French-language Catholic television channel KTO, Ambongo faulted the justice minister’s pronouncements, saying he finds it “abnormal that a government that claims to be responsible could take such a decision.”

“This is a step backwards! I don’t think that a responsible government can raise such an option to punish people who are called traitors,” he said. “First of all, on the notion of traitors, we must first agree on what that means. And when I look at the reality here in the Congo, the great traitors to the country are precisely those in power.”

When those in power “don’t serve the interests of the people, they are the ones we have to start considering as traitors, because they don’t assume the roles for which they have been entrusted, that is, service to the population,” Ambongo said.

“I wouldn’t want us to take advantage of a vague notion of traitors to settle political scores,” said the cardinal, who is also the president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conference of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM).

With the lifting of the moratorium in DRC, the death penalty is to be carried out following any judicial conviction for offenses that include criminal conspiracy, treason, espionage, participation in armed gangs, participation in an uprising, crimes against humanity, military conspiracy, and rebellion, among others. 

In his March 17 interview, Ambongo also addressed a number of issues in his country including violence in the Eastern Province and the Church’s stance on political and social issues.

“I always say the Catholic Church, and especially the cardinal, is not neutral. Jesus Christ was not neutral,” he said. “The political class would like to see the Catholic Church, and especially the cardinal of the Congo, maintain an attitude of neutrality with regard to their actions.”

The Congolese cardinal, who has been a member of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals (C9) since his appointment in October 2020 and reappointment in March 2023, went on to clarify the position of the Church against oppressors, seeking justice for the oppressed and marginalized.

“But if the Catholic Church comes to this, it’s because the Church has taken a stand for the powerful against the little ones. But we have taken up the option of accompanying our people in their quest for a little more dignity,” he said. “Naturally, our words, our stance, irritate those who make the people suffer.”

Reflecting on the violence in the eastern part of the country, Ambongo highlighted bad governance and the influence of western countries as some of the reasons behind the security challenge. 

“There’s an internal cause; what we call bad governance on the part of the Congolese themselves, because we can ask ourselves why this is only happening in the Congo and not elsewhere,” he said.

“From independence to the present day, we have the impression that the Congolese man, the Congolese human being, has never been at the heart of the concerns of our leaders,” Ambongo added.

Another reason behind the violence in the eastern part of DRC, he said, “is a sort of combination of economic interests — big oil, forestry, and mining companies want to operate in the Congo, but they sometimes use neighboring countries, hence the current anger in the Congo towards Rwanda.”

“The majority of the population is the victim of all this violence, and we have some absolutely terrible accounts of the violence taking place in the country,” Ambongo lamented.

This article was first published by ACI Africa, CNA’s news partner in Africa, and has been adapted by CNA.

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