June 19, 2008 10:00 ET

United Church Calls for Prayer and Diplomatic Action for Zimbabwe

Attention: Assignment Editor, City Editor, News Editor, World News Editor, Government/Political Affairs Editor TORONTO, ONTARIO, NEWS RELEASE--(Marketwire - June 19, 2008) -
The United Church of Canada is inviting its congregations to join with churches worldwide in celebrating a day of prayer for Zimbabwe on Sunday, June 22. The invitation was extended by the World Council of Churches in a letter this week to its member churches.

The day of prayer for Zimbabwe, which is an initiative of Christians in the southern African country, is timed to take place shortly before the runoff election for the presidency scheduled for Friday, June 27.

"It is impossible to overstate the importance of this election, its fairness, its outcome and its aftermath," writes World Council of Churches (WCC) General Secretary the Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia. "Events in the coming weeks will challenge the people of Zimbabwe and the world to find means of overcoming violence in the exercise of democracy, and the results will influence the future of the nation and the region," he adds.

Writing also to the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, the World Council of Churches expressed continued concern about the situation in Zimbabwe and asked the world body to use its resources to assure an end to pre-election violence in the southern African country and a free and fair election on June 27.

Referring to President Robert Mugabe's statement last week that he would "go to war" rather than acknowledge an election victory by the opposition, Kobia writes, "This attitude on the part of the president undermines the integrity of elections and belittles the Zimbabwean electorate."

"Where the Mugabe government fails in its responsibility to protect the Zimbabwean people, the international community must assume that burden; in this endeavour, the United Nations should assume a leading role," the WCC letter adds.

In a similar initiative, The United Church of Canada has sent letters to the presidents of Zambia and South Africa and to Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs, urging the three men to redouble their efforts to ensure that Zimbabwe's presidential election is free and fair.

Regrettably, the Government of Zimbabwe appears to be refusing to comply with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Guidelines and is turning a blind eye to, if not orchestrating, a campaign of election-related violence across the country.

In a letter to Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, who is also the President of the SADC, the United Church states that some of its partners in Zimbabwe have reported many acts "of politically motivated violence…including the torture, killing, and jailing of opposition party officials and supporters and the withholding of desperately needed food aid to influence people to vote for President Robert Mugabe." For security reasons these partners cannot be named, but similar reports have been filed by Zimbabwean human rights groups and Amnesty International.

The United Church urges both President Mwanawasa and South African President Thabo Mbeki to use their considerable influence within SADC to ensure that the regional body presses Zimbabwe to abide by the SADC election guidelines. "This would include ensuring freedom of access by all parties to all areas of the country, equal access to the media, and campaigning that is peaceful and free of the violence that prevails at the moment," the letters state.

SADC can also act to ensure that election results are again posted outside polling stations and that the numbers of SADC election observers are scaled up considerably, the letters add.

"Indeed, we believe that SADC observers should be on the ground in Zimbabwe now to monitor the pre-election environment and that they should stay until the election results have been released," comments Gary Kenny, The United Church of Canada's program coordinator for Southern Africa.

In the letter to Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs, David Emerson, the church calls on the Government of Canada to use its diplomatic offices to press SADC heads of state to enforce the SADC election guidelines. "If the SADC Guidelines are enforced by SADC members and respected by the Zimbabwean government, there is a good chance that the June 27 presidential election will be free and fair," the church says. If not, "we fear that the elections will sentence the people of Zimbabwe to yet more economic hardship and misery and the entire region of Southern Africa to growing political instability."

The United Church's three letters also draw attention to the Zimbabwean government's ongoing interference with domestic and international aid organizations that are trying to deliver urgently needed food aid. In Zimbabwe during election time, food is often used as a political weapon.
/For further information: Mary-Frances Denis
Communications Officer
The United Church of Canada
416-231-7680 ext. 2016 (office)
1-800-268-3781 ext. 2016 (toll-free)
416-885-7478 (cell)
416-766-0057 (home)

Contact Information

  • Mary-Frances Denis, Communications Officer, The United Church of Canada
    Primary Phone: 416-231-7680 ext. 2016
    Secondary Phone: 416-885-7478
    Toll-Free: 800-268-3781