Church appeal for solidarity with suffering in Sudan

Church appeal for solidarity with suffering in Sudan

By staff writers
25 Jul 2008

Anglican bishops from Sudan, who are part of the meeting of the Lambeth Conference, have issued an appeal to Christians to stand in solidarity with the suffering people of their country.

Their statement, which was overshadowed in the media by one of less certain provenance concerning Bishop Gene Robinson, details what has been happening in Darfur and elsewhere.

It offers support for the recent Comprehensive Peace Agreement, but notes that there is much to be done to ensure that this is implemented, as well as ongoing problems that need addressing.

On Darfur, it declares: "Continuing international pressure is needed on both the Government of Sudan and the now numerous armed groups to bring an end to the violence, to hold its perpetrators accountable, and to engage in constructive negotiations to address the grievances of the region."

In full, the ECS statement reads:

We, the Sudanese Bishops gathering at the Lambeth Conference, would like on behalf of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan (ECS) and the whole Sudanese people, to acknowledge and appreciate your prayers and support during the 21 years of war in Southern Sudan and in reaching the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement / Army (SPLM/A) on 9th January 2005. The CPA provides the basis for a just and sustainable peace in the Sudan. We give thanks to God for the agreement and express our support for all efforts to ensure its full and timely implementation.

After 21 years of war, in which more than 2 million people lost their lives and more than 4 million people have become refugees or internally displaced, we are greatly encouraged at thenew future offered by the CPA. However, we remain deeply concerned that the conflict in Darfur, in Western Sudan, continues unabated, and at the localized conflict in several places which threatens stability and the sustainability of peace. We therefore wish to share with you thefollowing concerns:

1. Situation in Darfur

Despite the Government of Sudan's official estimate of not more than 10,000 people killed in the fighting in Darfur, the UN has estimated there to have been some 300,000 war-related deaths since the conflict escalated in 2003. Whatever the exact figures, this continuing loss of life is an affront to all people who value human life and to religious faith in the God of mercy. The finding of a political solution remains an urgent priority as well as the full deployment of an effective UN/AU joint mission. Continuing international pressure is needed on both the Government of Sudan and the now numerous armed groups to bring an end to the violence, to hold its perpetrators accountable, and to engage in constructive negotiations to address the grievances of the region.

Although Darfur is a predominantly Muslim region, the Church is playing a growing role in responding to the humanitarian needs and providing education to displaced communities as part of its practical witness to the Gospel. Substantial humanitarian assistance will continue to be needed for whole communities displaced with no early prospects of return.

We are concerned that the Darfur situation cannot be viewed in isolation. Continuing conflict in Darfur would undermine the prospects of peace in the South, while the going back on commitments made to achieve peace in the South would remove any credibility from the Government of Sudan in negotiations over Darfur. We therefore call for a whole Sudan approach, within which implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, plays an essential part.

2. Implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA)

For the opportunity for a just and sustainable peace to be realized, full implementation of the CPA needs to be ensured. We recognize the holding of the Referendum in 2011 on the future political status of Southern Sudan as being of key significance in its implementation. We affirm the right of every human being to decide his or her destiny and accordingly we support the right of self-determination for the people of Southern Sudan to decide their future, whether for unity or separation. We have therefore committed ourselves to raise awareness of the Referendum, as well as the whole CPA, to ensure that the process is carried out with proper transparency

While progress has been made in several significant areas, including the establishment of the Government of National Unity and of the Government of Southern Sudan to look after the affairs of the South, we remain concerned at the delays or refusal to implement other elements, such as demarcation of the North-South border. This risks undermining confidence between the patties or in the wider communities.

3. Destruction of Abyei

The destruction of the town of Abyei and displacement of the area's population of over 90,000 people in May 2008 represents the most serious violation of the CPA to date. As an oil-rich area on the border between Northern and Southern Sudan, Abyei was accorded special administrative status under its own Protocol within the CPA. The Government of Sudan failed to honour these terms, declining to accept the binding recommendations of the Abyei Boundaries Commission and delaying in providing an administration for the area. Instead, a build-up in troops of both parties to the CPA resulted in fighting and the destruction of the town and displacement of its entire population, for many people the third time they have been displaced by their own government. They are now in urgent need of assistance and of support for re-building Abyei and resettling there.

The non-implementation to date of the Abyei Protocol constitutes a serious threat to the CPA. Vigilance will be needed from the international community to ensure that the parties' commitments are honoured.

4. Position of the Church in Northern Sudan

Although the country's new Constitution under the CPA provides for freedom of religion and the protection of non-Muslims in the national capital, the church continues to face pressure and discrimination in Northern Sudan. Leverage is needed for the repealing of discriminatory laws, such as those which restrict access to land for the building of churches. Constructive dialogue between Christians and Muslims is needed at all levels.

We are further concerned at the church's vulnerability in the North in any future political dispensation. We see the need for the unity of the church whatever the political boundaries and for efforts to consolidate the position of the church through capacity building and developing church links both inside and outside Sudan. The early church in Northern Sudan1 died through its isolation from the outside world amid the growing influence of Islam. The church there is now alive again and needs sustained support to safeguard its brighter future.

5. Atrocities of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and Ambororo

The Ugandan rebels known as the Lords' Resistance Army (LRA) arc adversely affecting the stales of Western Equatoria, Central Equatoria and Eastern Equatoria, with their forces stationed in the borders of Sudan with Congo and Central African Republic. Despite efforts to mediate between the Ugandan Government and the LRA, attacks continue on villages, such as the attack on Nabanga in Ibba Diocese on 5th June 2008 in which 500 people were internally displaced and left dispossessed. The LRA presence, together with that of armed Arab nomads known as the Ambororo, is causing fear and instability in the region, disrupting cultivation and schooling. Continued pressure is needed to bring the LRA talks to a successful conclusion and to end these armed attacks.

6. Return of Refugees and Internally Displaced People

The return of refugees and those internally displaced is one of the fruits of the CPA but presents major practical challenges. Lack of support for repatriation is hindering their return, as is fear of insecurity in their areas. The Church is assisting with the re-integration of those returning, co-operating with local government to welcome them on their arrival and helping to prepare communities for the diverse cultures from which people are returning, whether from. Khartoum, East Africa or overseas. Much support will be needed, both in terms of relief and development, to help communities to provide clean water, security, health and education.

On all these issues which are key to the prospect of peace for Sudan, we appeal to those attending the Lambeth Conference, and the whole Anglican Communion, to continue to stand in solidarity with the Sudanese church and people. We request support in political advocacy to tackle the challenges before the country. We appeal for practical support to help respond to the many needs faced. But above all we request your continued prayers and fellowship to encourage and support the church in its mission. We believe that God has called us to preach the Good ' Christian kingdoms were present in Northern Sudan from 6th -15th centuries News in the Sudan, the land referred to in the Bible as the land of Cush2, to reach the unreached so as to fulfill His great commission in Matthew 28.16. Our people are hungry for spiritual food and seek to grow to maturity so that they may propagate the culture of love, peace and justice which we have lost during the struggle. May God bless us all in this mission.

The Most Revd Dr Daniel Deng Bul Archbishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan and Bishop of Juba

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