Father Vincent Machozi, an Assumptionist Catholic priest who led the fight against the extractive industries and in support of human rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was assassinated on Sunday night, March 20, when gunmen — reportedly, by members of Congolese military — disrupted a peacemaking retreat at a village in Beni and murdered him in a hail of bullets. According to reports, onlookers said Fr. Machozi’s last words were: “Why are you killing me?”
Machozi, 51, operated an influential website, Beni Lubero, documenting human rights abuses. He had recently posted an online article denouncing the involvement of the Congolese and Rwandan presidents in the massacres of innocent civilians. According to John L. Allen, “Machozi used the site to denounce what he saw as collusion among political elites, armed factions, and commercial interests in what he termed the ‘Balkanization’ of the region in order to exploit its natural resources, especially its rich Coltan deposits.”
Over the years, Machozi has been involved in several protests against illegal trade of coltan, a mineral ore used in electronic devices. The so call “war of coltan” in the mineral-rich eastern Congo has left millions dead and more than a million women raped, as Sojourners magazine has previously reported. Transnational corporations are able to exert extreme pressure on Congo’s weak government and economy. As a result, the country’s natural resources have become an important factor in increasing poverty and violence rather than wealth and development.
The Catholic bishops in Congo (about half of the country’s population is Catholic) repeatedly have denounced three specific kinds of evil: a climate favoring genocide, outbreaks of religious fundamentalism, and a push toward “ethnic cleansing.”
Leocadie Lushombo is an independent consultant and researcher from Kinshasa, Congo, studying theology at Boston College. (Machozi also studied in Boston while in exile in the U.S. from 2003 to 2012 and first launched his website while studying theology there.) Lushombo told Sojourners:
“I did not know Vincent, but I know some priest of his congregation who have been in Kinshasa. Vincent's death is a typical example of the extent to which governmental political leaders are killing people to protect their own interests and ‘nobody is doing anything about it.’
The governments (I use the plural because this is not only a DRC issue, but a Great Lake regional problem) who are involved directly and indirectly in all the massacres that have been going on for more than two decades now are praised and supported by the international community because they are doing well in one area or another. The ‘nobody is doing anything about it’ means a lot to me. It suggests the need to address the deep causes of the situation, not just their consequences.
For example, Jean Pierre Bemba, a former vice-president in the DRC, was just convicted of crimes of war in the DRC by the International Criminal Court. Those who are convicted are not innocents; they must be punished for their crimes, but those officials of the governments and their allies who are involved in the killing in the Great Lake region through their militias are never prosecuted, despite the fact that Vincent and others are dying to make known their involvement and atrocities and despite the fact that several resolutions of the U.N. Security Council have already acknowledged the support to the militias who kill, plunder, and rape women in the Eastern DRC.
One of my cousins was killed in the same way. Floribert Tchebeya was and still is known internationally as a voice of the voiceless. He was doing exactly what Vincent was doing: Making the atrocities of our governments known to the world — especially those of the DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda, which are still involved in sustaining armed groups in DRC. There are few voices of the voiceless who risk their lives to denounce the atrocities of our governments. The latter kill people like Vincent to discourage others who denounce their atrocities and complicity. After killing Floribert, they sent text messages to other prominent activists of human rights saying: ‘We hope you will learn from Floribert's death.’ I pray that Vincent's death bears fruits for justice in the Great Lake region, especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. May the DRC's people stand up and say enough is enough!”
According to the Rev. Emmanuel Kahindo, the Rome-based vicar general of the Assumptionist order and a fellow Congolese, Machozi knew the end was likely at hand, telling him last October: “My days are numbered. I will be murdered, I feel it … but like Christ, for the sake of our people, I will not be silent. I will continue my fight to the end and continue to condemn all those who sow division and hatred between ethnic groups in the region to rule and continue to exploit the riches.”