The horror of events unfolding in Darfur, to which my beloved predecessor Pope John Paul II referred on many occasions, points to the need for a stronger international resolve to ensure security and basic human rights. Today, I add my voice to the cry of the suffering and assure you that the Holy See will continue to do everything possible to end the cycle of violence and misery.
After more than two decades of civil war, the government in Khartoum and the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) signed a comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) in January of last year. While this agreement provides an opportunity for Sudanese to resolve the north-south conflict through a peaceful process, it does not address the crisis in the Darfur region of western Sudan, where more than 180,000 people have died, 1.8 million are displaced inside the country and over 200,000 are huddled in refugee camps in neighboring Chad. Talks sponsored by the African Union aimed at opening a dialogue have stalled. The situation on the ground has grown increasingly untenable for humanitarian efforts to alleviate massive suffering. This new wave of violence points to a collective failure on the part of the international community to stem what can only be described as a catastrophe.
The North/South Peace Agreement: The comprehensive agreement provides for a six-year interim period during which the people of the south will create a functioning government, healthcare and educational institutions, a regional army and police, and viable economic institutions, as outlined in a regional constitution signed into law in December 2005. After this interim period, the people of the south will have the right to decide whether to remain part of Sudan or to declare independence. Other provisions of the peace agreement include: a wealth-sharing mechanism to manage an equitable distribution of revenues from the sale of petroleum; a special arrangement for people living in three northern areas of Sudan (Abeyei, Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile) who were allied with the SPLM/A throughout much of the civil war; representation in the national government and the parliament; and civil and religious liberties. Although the Sharia Islamic penal code will apply only in the north, concerns remain over the sort of protections and exclusions that will be provided to non-Muslims living in the north. The United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) has been monitoring compliance by all parties to the peace agreement, but SPLM withdrawals scheduled under the CPA have stoked fears of renewed fighting between government forces and remaining rebel groups. Concerns center on the growing catastrophe in Darfur, lying on the border with increasingly belligerent Chad, and Eastern Sudan, which would be flooded with refugees if hostilities were to break out between neighboring Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Crisis in Darfur Despite regular discussions in the UN Security Council and the ongoing AU mission, recent reports indicate that large-scale attacks on civilians, including the rape of women and girls and the burning of villages, continue unabated, as thousands more join the two-million people who have already fled their homes. Proposals have been made to greatly expand the AU presence or to transform it into a UN mission. Negotiations between the government and Darfur rebels have been hobbled by an internal leadership struggle within the main rebel grouping, while an influx of Chadian military deserters has also contributed to the growing instability in Darfur, where the situation has only deteriorated since September 2005. AU officials complain of a lack of resources and warned that they may have no choice but to hand their mission over to the UN if no further commitments are received before current funding is exhausted in March of this year. Although the government in Khartoum denies allegations of links with the Arab militias known as Janjaweed, undeniable military action by the government has contributed to the wave of violence. A resurgence in fighting among the various warring parties and renewal of scorched-earth tactics of the militia groups mean that prospects are bleak for ending the cycle of violence without a focused and concerted international effort.
Sudan remains a priority for USCCB with ongoing advocacy and solidarity with the people of Sudan. USCCB continues to work closely with the Catholic Church in Sudan so that the benefits of peace and stability might be extended to all Sudanese. Our Conference has repeatedly visited northern and southern Sudan, as well as Darfur, while playing an active role in the U.S. policy debate. Catholic Relief Services (CRS), one of the largest non-governmental organizations operating in Sudan, has extended its services to Darfur, where it is providing desperately needed food and other basic assistance. In addition, CRS manages the Southern Sudan Agricultural Revitalization Project, the largest agricultural development program in the country. In partnership with local and international organizations, CRS also supports initiatives focused on peace-building, health and education.
- Urge the U.S. to press the government in Khartoum to disarm the Janjaweed and other armed militias; cease all attacks against innocent civilians; protect unimpeded humanitarian access throughout Darfur; and bring to justice those perpetrating crimes against humanity.
- Ask the U.S. to pressure both the government and the rebels to respect the existing ceasefire agreement and to intensify the search for a durable peace during ongoing negotiations in Abuja, while simultaneously urging both Sudan and Chad to retrain from any escalation that might lead to threatened hostilities.
- Urge the U.S. to use its voice in the U.N. Security Council to ensure the continuation of the mandate of the African Union (AU) in Darfur to monitor the ceasefire, protect innocent civilians and assist international humanitarian relief organizations, while urging NATO to provide the AU with all possible logistical support.
- Encourage the U.S. Administration to hold the signatories to the peace agreement accountable and to honor its promise to provide substantial financial and political support to the government of national unity, create new security structures, assist people in returning to their communities and undertake the reconstruction of the country and its civil society.
- Urge the U.N. Security Council to continue its support for the peacekeeping mission that is working with all parties to the national-unity government to implement the peace accord, as well as with the forces of the African Union in Darfur. The United States should provide adequate funding and logistical support so that peace and security might be achieved.
Resources: See Bishop John H. Ricard, SSJ, A Milestone for Peace in Southern Sudan, A Call for Peace in Darfur (January 13, 2005), Statement on National Day of Action for the People of Darfur, September 21, 2005, and Statement on the Death of Dr. John Garang de Mabior,August 3, 2005 and other related statements on Sudan at: www.usccb.org/sdwp/international/callafrica/sudan.shtml.
For further information: Theodore Rectenwald, Office of International Justice and Peace, USCCB, 202-541-3149 (voice), 541-3339 (fax), TRectenwald@usccb.org