History of War and Oppression
For more than 19 years the country of Sudan has been involved in a civil war that has cost more than two million innocent lives and forced another four million people to leave their homes and communities. Some people attribute the war to an intolerant Islamic fundamentalist regime in Khartoum bent on converting all Sudanese to Islam and destroying all non-Arab cultures. Others believe the war is the result of power-seeking, highly politicized tribal groups interested in acquiring absolute control over the resources of the country, both human and natural. The war in Sudan is devastating both Southern and Northern populations and has resulted in death, political and military manipulation of humanitarian relief, destruction of property, loss of religious freedom and individual rights, abduction and enslavement, systematic programs to destroy non-Arab cultural identities, and the exploitation and expropriation of the oil resources belonging to all Sudanese by a few elite. Sudan now receives nearly $1 billion annually in oil revenue, and reports suggest that as much as 65% of this is employed by the government for its war efforts.
On July 20, 2002 the government in Khartoum and the main southern rebel group, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army, signed the Machakos Protocol to help bring an end to the war and establish criteria for addressing the root causes of the conflict. The Protocol provides for a negotiated, internationally monitored ceasefire; a six-year period of transition with provisions for political and religious autonomy for southern Sudan; and economic development for the south, including new agreements for the just distribution of oil proceeds. These political developments have been welcomed by the Catholic Church and its ecumenical partners in Sudan, and by the international community.
The fragility of these agreements is challenged by the increased fighting by all parties in western Upper Nile, Equatoria, Bahr al-Ghazal and elsewhere. The garrison town of Torit fell to the SPLM/A on September 2, an event that led to the immediate withdrawal of the government from the Machakos peace talks. The government continues to bomb civilian targets; it supports the armed Baggara militias who attack civilian villages and carry off women and children who are sold into slavery or employed for forced labor; it bombs villages, schools, hospitals, fields, and other civilian targets; it bans humanitarian relief flights; and it is responsible for other egregious human rights violations in the south and the north.
U.S. Foreign Policy Developments
The Sudan Peace Act was passed by the House and Senate but has been stalled in conference committee because of language in the House version requiring full financial disclosure and capital markets sanctions for companies involved in the oil and gas sector in Sudan. Reports indicate that these requirements have been dropped from the Bill, but several members of Congress are calling for other punitive measures directed against the government in Khartoum should the peace process falter. They would involve the blocking of future IMF funding for the government and the allocation of $100 million to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the SPLM/A.
Senator John Danforth, U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan, continues to play an active and instrumental role in the search for peace, and has recently returned from another visit to the region. Faith-based groups in Washington and around the United States are instituting prayer vigils to keep the war in Sudan in the forefront of U.S foreign policy and in the hearts of the American people.
- The government of Khartoum must return to the Machakos negotiations and both the government and the SPLM/A must strive to dialogue in a way that makes genuine progress towards a just and sustainable peace.
- The government of Khartoum must stop its targeting of innocent civilian populations and open access for the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the people most affected by the war. It also must stop its practice of, and support for, the abduction and enslavement of women and children.
- Religious freedom, human rights and respect for the non-Arab and non-Muslim populations in Sudan must be guaranteed by the Sudanese government. The government must recognize the legal rights of the Catholic Church and other Christian communities and allow them to carry out their work unimpeded.
- Current initiatives by the United States to help bring a just end to the war and to provide additional humanitarian and development assistance to Sudan must continue to be supported by the administration and by Congress.
- Oil exploration and development has led to the forcible displacement of large numbers of people and is fueling the government's cruel war against the south. Both the government and oil companies involved in oil development in Sudan have a moral responsibility to ensure that the otherwise legitimate development of oil does not contribute directly or indirectly to conflict and repression.
The search for peace in Sudan requires vigilance and perseverance on the part of those who are committed with the Church and the people of Sudan. To this end, there are three actions that might be undertaken:
- "Experience shows that a just and lasting peace is not ensured by written documents but rather depends on the participation of all the citizens working to build and maintain such peace" (Sudanese Bishops, August 31, 2002).
- Write to President Bush and express strong support for the Danforth missionin particular, that it create and implement a structure for monitoring the cease-fire, and that it carry out a thorough investigation into the practice of slavery and how to eliminate it.
- Write to Mr. Andrew Natsios, Executive Director of USAID, and call for increased funding for civil institutions in southern Sudan, Nuba Mountains, and other marginalized areas, including increased funding for education, health, agricultural development, technical assistance, and other areas of social development.
- Unite in prayer with the Church and the peoples of Sudan; support the work of Catholic Relief Services in areas of humanitarian relief and peace-building; urge members of Congress to support the work of Migration and Refugee Services and its programs that resettle Sudanese in the United States.
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