Zimbabwe's Catholic bishops have joined other Christian leaders in an appeal for a solution to the worsening crisis in the Southern African nation.
Zenit reports that the leaders of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, the Catholic episcopal conference, and the Zimbabwe Council of Churches issued a joint statement expressing "deep concern over the deteriorating political, security, economic and human rights situation in Zimbabwe following the March 29 national elections."
The results from those elections have still not been released, a situation that international leaders consider a ploy by President Robert Mugabe to keep his 28 year reign in force.
The Christian leaders lamented that the government's withholding of the election results has turned a peaceful election into a cause of violence.
"Before the elections, we issued statements urging Zimbabweans to conduct themselves peacefully and with tolerance toward those who held different views and political affiliation from one's own," the leaders said.
"After the elections, we issued statements commending Zimbabweans for the generally peaceful and politically mature manner in which they conducted themselves before, during and soon after the elections. Reports that are coming through to us from our churches and members throughout the country indicate that the peaceful environment has, regrettably, changed."
The Christian leaders gave a dire analysis of the situation: "Organized violence perpetrated against individuals, families and communities who are accused of campaigning or voting for the 'wrong' political party has been unleashed throughout the country, particularly in the countryside and in some high density urban areas.
"People are being abducted, tortured, humiliated and ordered to attend mass meetings where they are told they voted for the 'wrong' candidate and should never repeat it in the run-off election for president, and, in some cases, people are murdered."
The nation's electoral commission, in fact, has decided that a recount of votes for the parliamentary election, originally announced to have given a majority to the opposition, is needed. The initial three day time period for this recount was extended, and the commission now says it may need a week.
Opposition leaders failed to win a court case that would have blocked the recount.
The statement from the Christian leaders appealed for help from the international community, asking the Southern African Development Community, the African Union and the United Nations to work toward arresting the "deteriorating political and security situation in Zimbabwe."
The aid group Caritas Internationalis is calling for a move from the United Nations. The group's president, Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, urged the U.N. Security Council to impose an immediate arms embargo on Zimbabwe.
Caritas said reports of increased levels of violence are deeply troubling and in this context the international community must prevent further arms reaching the country.
Cardinal Rodríguez said: "No more arms must reach Zimbabwe unless there is the guarantee that they will not be used against the people. Church workers are reporting an upsurge in violence that is deeply troubling.
"The international community has a clear mandate to act by approving a U.N. Security Council resolution enforcing an arms embargo against the country," Cardinal Rodriguez said.
The U.N. must also act proactively by sending observers to Zimbabwe to monitor any human rights abuses.
"As Pope Benedict said to the U.N. last week, if states are unable to guarantee the protection of their people, the international community must intervene with the juridical means provided in the United Nations Charter and in other international instruments. It is indifference or failure to intervene that does the real damage."
The Zimbabwean Christian leaders urged an "immediate end to political intimidation and retribution arising from how people are perceived to have voted in the March 29 elections and arising from the desire to influence how people will vote in the anticipated run-off in the presidential poll."
"At this difficult time in our nation," the Christian leaders urged their people, "we urge you to maintain and protect your dignity and your vote. We urge you to refuse to be used for a political party or other peoples' selfish end, especially where it concerns violence against other people, including those who hold different views from your own."
SOURCEChurch leaders beg for Zimbabwe solution (Zenit, 23/4/08)