Church leaders from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi and Rwanda made a "firm commitment" to be protectors of human rights during a workshop earlier this month in the DRC capital of Kinshasa.
Hosted by the World Council of Churches (WCC), the workshop brought together some 45 heads of churches, ecumenical agencies, and NGOs to address how they can combat the corruption, impunity and poverty in the DRC and other countries.
In a declaration issued at the end of the workshop, the group declared their "firm belief that human rights are prerogatives without which human dignity is merely an empty wish" and said that they are "aware that ignorance of human rights violations is a primary reason for the conflicts which have devastated the world and the sub-region of the Great-Lakes in particular."
The declaration further requested the immediate creation of a framework for consultation and action to be supported by the WCC and the workshop's co-sponsors, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Bread for the World, and the European Union (EU).
"The Congolese people have been suffering for much too long from a series of human rights violations," WCC head the Rev. Olav Tveit, said in a written message to workshop participants. "Despite significant efforts made by the Government to improve the promotion and protection of human rights, the situation today unfortunately remains serious".
Tveit encouraged the churches in Congo, which are "among the strongest advocates for the promotion and protection of human rights", to continue their struggle in this regard: "We will carry the cross together, working faithfully together for a better future."
Signers on the declaration included Marini Bodho, National President of the Church of Christ in Congo; Yemba Kekumba, Bishop of the United Methodist Church in the DRC, and Bishop Kabamba Mukala, President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Congo, among others.
A full text of the declaration can be found here.
Meanwhile, several global organizations along with the Vatican have increased their efforts in bringing relief to the DRC.
The United Nations voted unanimously on Thursday to extend its peace keeping mission in the region (UNMIS) operating for another year.
The DRC has become especially important for the U.N. Security Council as Sudan prepares for a referendum that will split the country into northern and southern regions.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is also continuing their efforts in the region, placing special attention on the security situation in Kivu in eastern DRC, which they say remains "extremely fragile."
In Kivu's southern region, the government estimates that military operations have displaced more than 30,000 people this year, bringing the total number to nearly 500,000. Earlier this month, several ICRC team members were held captive there for a week.
People in Kivu "are still subject to rape, robbery, cattle theft, extortion and arson, as well as forced labour for armed groups," the ICRC reported.
"Access to this area is extremely difficult owing to logistical conditions and the lack of safety," they added, noting that security concerns are also present in the DRC's Oriental and Eqauteur provinces in the northeast and northwest parts of the country, respectively.
Meanwhile, the Vatican has appointed Jean-Pierre Hamuli Mupenda as its new ambassador to the DRC. Meeting with Mupenda on Thursday, Pope Benedict XVI said the Catholic Church should participate in laying the foundations for security, stability and development in the country.
"Little by little, the badly-frayed fabric of society must be mended, helping the first natural form of society, which is the family, and consolidating interpersonal relations among Congolese people on the foundation of integral education, which is a source of peace and justice," Benedict said.
He added that "peace is not just the absence of conflict, it is also a gift and a task that involves obligations for both citizens and the State."