Sudanese church leaders differ on war crimes tribunal impact

By Ecumenical News International
January 20, 2009

Some Sudanese church leaders are warning of serious consequences if the International Criminal Court issues a war crime indictment against President Omar al-Bashir, while others are quietly backing his prosecution - writes Fredrick Nzwili.

On 16 January 2009, the Christian Science Monitor newspaper reported that the arrest on 14 January of veteran Sudanese opposition leader Hassan al-Turabi, days after he called on Sudan's al-Bashir to turn himself in to face war crimes charges, was indicative of what could lie ahead in the capital, Khartoum.

"This year there should be general elections ? They will not take place along with the census connected to the elections," Roman Catholic Bishop Antonio Menegazzo, the Apostolic Administrator of El Obeid diocese, which covers Darfur told Ecumenical News International on 14 January. "Even the CPA [Comprehensive Peace Agreement] will be in danger," he said referring to a 2005 accord after a decades-long North-South civil war ended.

Sudan, Africa's biggest country, has Darfur, an area the size of France, in the west, where a UN official has said more than 300 000 people have been killed in five years of conflict, and for which al-Bashir faces allegations of war crimes. Then there is the South Sudan region where people are mainly Christians or follow traditional religions.

Menegazzo said many leaders in the Islamic north opposed the CPA pact, which related to the semi-autonomous South Sudan region as they feel it grants that area undue benefits. "This could be the good opportunity to abolish the agreement," Menegazzo warned. "Certainly the difficulties will increase especially in the first months after the warrant."

Violent protests are feared at the announcements of an arrest of the country's leader, with the bishop warning of further difficulties for international humanitarian groups.

At the same time the Rev John Okumu, the South Sudan regional co-ordinator for Africa Inland Church, an Evangelical grouping, said many church leaders quietly backed al-Bashir's arrest or surrender to the ICC.

"He should go there and defend himself," said Okumu. "He should resign. Someone else will take over."

The Sudanese church leader said al-Bashir was not keen to implement the accord relating to South Sudan, noting that he was slowly destroying the section on self- determination.

"We are not happy. He does not want peace in South Sudan. His arrest could be a good chance to implement the CPA," said Okumu.

The ICC on 14 July 2008 named 10 counts against al-Bashir, which include three relating to genocide, five of crimes against humanity and two of murder. He is also accused of masterminding the annihilation of the African tribes of Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa in the Darfur region.

The Rev Fred Nyabera, who heads the Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches

in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa, said the indictment would threaten stability in the region.

"Justice must be seen to be done. But, the indictment must be considered in relation to stability of the region," said Nyabera. "We must also ask ourselves whether the timing is right."

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

Keywords:war crimes | Sudan
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