The cruel, fratricidal conflict in Sudan continues with few signs that an end is in sight. One of the worst human tragedies of our times has been met with relative indifference by the international community.
During the last 17 years, more than two million men, women and children have died and twice that number have been driven from their homes and ancestral lands. While this war is fueled and perpetuated by the drive for political and economic power, people continue to lose their lives and be denied their rights, in part, because of their faith. A government that does not represent the people of Sudan has waged a systematic campaign of terror against Christians, practitioners of traditional African religions, and non-Arabs, in the southern and eastern parts of the country, while in the north, Christian churches have been destroyed and voices of opposition have been brutally repressed.
The bishops of Sudan are clear that all sides are implicated in egregious human rights abuses, including the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). The Sudanese government, however, bears the greatest responsibility for abuses against civilian populations. Slavery, torture, executions, religious persecution, discriminatory laws, unconscionable restrictions on aid to populations threatened by famine, indiscriminate bombing of churches, hospitals and schools, and the systematic destruction and expropriation of property and resources are just some of the horrors perpetrated on the people of Sudan. These horrors have only intensified in recent months.
The government in Khartoum, bolstered by increasing oil revenues, appears to be pursuing a military buildup in the hopes of winning the war by force. At the same time, recent military gains in the south by the SPLM/A have emboldened it to step up its military campaign. No satisfactory solution to this conflict can be achieved through military means. In place of war and violence, the proper way to pursue the goal of peace is to seek a political solution through dialogue.
The peace process sponsored by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), despite its particular challenges and complexities, deserves support as the only viable means to a just and sustainable peace. With the Bishops of Sudan, we urge our government to use its influence with those involved in this process to renew their commitment to finding a just peace by fully implementing the Declaration of Principles to which they have already committed themselves. Ways also should be found to open this process to civil society representatives so as the better to ensure that it will reflect the aspirations of all Sudanese.
As new efforts are made to revive the peace process, efforts also must be taken to avoid actions that risk exacerbating the conflict and increasing the suffering of already vulnerable populations. All parties to this conflict, but particularly the Sudanese government, must end the use of food as a weapon of war. The international community must secure guarantees from the government so that humanitarian aid reaches the most vulnerable populations, wherever they might be.
We share the fear of the Sudanese Bishops that new oil revenues "will not be used for the welfare of the Sudanese". The Bishops are convinced that these revenues "will fuel the war rather than expedite its termination." We call on all those involved, including international companies involved in oil exploration and development in Sudan, to use their influence to promote basic human rights and to urge the equitable distribution of the benefits of the country's oil resources for the good of all.
As Catholic Bishops, we seek to strengthen the bonds of solidarity with a suffering Church and people in Sudan. We ask U.S. Catholics and others of good will to join with us in finding more concrete and effective ways to act in solidarity with the Church in Sudan as it works for a peace which at present seems so distant.
One way continues to be the crucial role that Catholic Relief Services is playing not only in aiding displaced persons and other victims, but also in helping people rebuild their lives and communities out of the ruins of this conflict. In addition, more support should be given to grassroots efforts that seek to strengthen the role of civil society in conflict resolution, especially the peace initiatives undertaken by the religious bodies of Sudan. The Church also needs the assistance of more missionaries, especially in regions where the Church is experiencing severe difficulty and where bishops are denied access to those entrusted to their pastoral care.
The violence and repression in Sudan cannot be allowed to continue. Sudan's political and military leaders must abandon their current path, which has led only to endless death and destruction, and embark on a new path of freedom, justice and peace for which their people so deeply yearn. Our government and other members of the international community should stand ready, in the words of the Sudanese bishops, to "come to the rescue of the people from an impending genocide." The international community can do more to help the people of Sudan achieve an end to this dreadful war. Peace is not easy, but it is possible, and it is the only way forward.
We must pray for the people of Sudan. Our spiritual solidarity is indispensable to those in Sudan who, despite everything, have not lost hope that their work for a just peace will ultimately bear abundant fruit. Let us turn to the intercession of St. Bakhita Josephine of Sudan, who was released from the oppression of slavery, that her native land may be at peace.