WASHINGTON (July 2, 2004) -— The U.S. bishops have voiced concern about rapes and genocide of Muslims in Darfur, Sudan, in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.
The June 28 letter was sent by Most Reverence John H. Ricard, SSJ of Pensacola-Tallahassee (FL), Chairman of the U.S. Bishops' Committee on International Policy.
Bishop Ricard expressed "grave concern about the humanitarian catastrophe" in the region where, he said, "the lives of tens of thousands of Black African Sudanese, primarily Muslims, have been lost and where hundreds of thousands of others are in danger.
"Catholic Relief Services and our other Church partners on the ground who are providing humanitarian assistance to those most affected testify to the suffering of the people of Darfur, the scores of women and young girls who have been raped, and the systematic destruction of villages, fields and water sources by government forces and their Arab Janjaweed collaborators," he added. "Unless these militias are stopped and unfettered humanitarian access is granted by the government in Khartoum, many more innocent lives will be lost."
The Bishops have long advocated for a just and lasting peace in Sudan. In a tragic turn of events, the region of Darfur, western Sudan, is witnessing a campaign of ethnic cleansing being waged against innocent Black Africa, primarily Muslim, civilians by the Government in Khartoum and its Arab Janjaweed militias.
Bishop Ricard urged Secretary Powell to raise greater awareness of the plight of more than 2 million people in Darfur so that the international community might act in a significant and coordinated manner in order to save many lives and help bring an end to the conflict. Discussions are underway among the U.S. bishops on ways to draw greater attention to this issue, including a possible trip to the region.
Bishop Ricard's letter follows.
Dear Secretary Powell,
I write to express grave concern about the humanitarian catastrophe in the region of Darfur, Sudan, where the lives of tens of thousands of Black African Sudanese, primarily Muslims, have been lost and where hundreds of thousands of others are in danger. Catholic Relief Services and our other Church partners on the ground who are providing humanitarian assistance to those most affected testify to the suffering of the people of Darfur, the scores of women and young girls who have been raped, and the systematic destruction of villages, fields and water sources by government forces and their Arab Janjaweed collaborators. Unless these militias are stopped and unfettered humanitarian access is granted by the government in Khartoum, many more innocent lives will be lost.
I want to thank you for your efforts to bring this issue to the attention of the international community and the American people so that genocide might be avoided in Darfur. Your upcoming visit to the region will do much to highlight the devastating consequences of this conflict for millions of Darfurians, including those who have been internally displaced or who have sought refuge in Chad. I hope your visit, and other efforts, will contribute to more effective action by the U.N. Security Council to provide the mandate and resources necessary to end the violence and address the humanitarian disaster in Darfur. The Africa Union could well be pressed to play an effective role in the promotion of a negotiated settlement and should receive adequate resources for this purpose. New ways must be found to provide protection for displaced persons and refugees in the region, including possible third country resettlement for the most vulnerable. At the same time, the urgent needs of refugees in Chad must not be overlooked by the United States or the international community.
While the conflict rages in western Sudan, the United States must not lose sight of the tremendous opportunities and challenges confronting the peoples of southern Sudan following the signing of a comprehensive framework for peace on May 26, 2004. The United States should provide greater assistance to the whole of Sudan, not only as a 'peace dividend' to support reconstruction efforts in southern Sudan and other parts of the country, but also to demonstrate our resolve to prevent further loss of life and promote a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Darfur.
The time has come to move beyond endless debates about whether the targeting of Black African Sudanese in Darfur constitutes ethnic cleansing or genocide. Thousands of innocent lives have been lost, and hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of starvation. What greater justification is needed in order to save lives, protect the innocent from further violence and dehumanization, and help end this conflict.
I deeply appreciate your consideration of these concerns and pray that your visit to Darfur will help secure peace and prevent further violence and bloodshed.
Most Reverence John H. Ricard, SSJ
Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee
Chairman, Committee on International Policy