NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) — Burundi’s Catholic bishops have expressed their concern at rising political intolerance in the east African country.

“We are worried about the progressive increase of political intolerance which, in different parts of the country, provokes clashes,” the bishops said in a statement June 7 at the end of their four-day plenary meeting in the capital, Gitega.

Burundian authorities and ruling party youths “have carried out dozens of beatings, arbitrary arrests, disappearances and killings against real and suspected political opposition members,” Human Rights Watch noted June 12.

Political tensions over many years have forced more than 374,000 Burundians to take refuge in neighboring countries, including Tanzania, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, the bishops said.

Many of the 192,000 Burundian refugees in Tanzania are in camps that lack adequate security and humanitarian assistance, they said.

“We have learned with pain of the insecurity in some refugee camps in Tanzania,” the bishops said.

Burundi has been in crisis since 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for a third term and was re-elected in elections boycotted by most of the opposition.

At least 1,200 people were killed and more than 400,000 displaced in violence that the United Nations said was mostly carried out by state security forces.
Burundi shut down the U.N. human rights office in Bujumbura, Burundi’s largest city and main port, in March.

It has since suspended the country’s last independent civil rights group, called Parcem, accusing it of disturbing peace and public order, AFP news agency reported June 18.

“Armed banditry, numerous cases of witchcraft accusations that sometimes lead to the murder of alleged offenders, as well as the trafficking of girls in certain areas,” are among Burundi’s other problems, the bishops said.

They also discussed the church’s contribution in helping ensure that Burundi’s 2020 elections are peaceful and promote democracy.