The war [in Darfur], which has intensified in recent months, brings with it ever more poverty, despair and death. Two decades of bitter confrontations have resulted in a great number of dead, displaced persons and refugees in Sudan. How can we remain indifferent? I make a heartfelt appeal to political authorities and international organizations, so that they will not forget these brothers of ours who suffer so much. --Pope John Paul II, July 2004
After more than 21 years of civil war, the government in Khartoum and the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) signed a comprehensive peace agreement on January 9, 2005. This agreement provides an opportunity for Sudanese in the north and the south to walk the path of peace and reconciliation, but it does not resolve the crisis in Darfur, western Sudan, where more than 100,000 people have died, more than 1.7 million are displaced and over 200,000 are huddled in refugee camps in neighboring Chad. Violence and destruction has increased in Darfur since December 2004 and there are few prospects for resolving the crisis in the near future.
Geography: 2.376 million square kilometers (more than one quarter the size of the U.S.); Darfur, which is comprised of 3 states, is approximately the size of France
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement: The agreement provides for a six-year interim period during which the people of the south might create a functioning government, healthcare and educational institutions, a regional army and police, and viable economic institutions. After this interim period, the people of the south 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 oil (50/50 north-south); a special arrangement for people living in three areas of Sudan which, while technically located in the north, sided with the SPLM/A and the south throughout much of the civil war (Abeyei, Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile); representation in the national government and the parliament (John Garang will assume the office of first-vice president.); and civil and religious liberties. The Sharia Islamic penal code will apply only in the north, but it is not yet clear what protections and exclusions will be provided to non-Muslim living in the north. The United Nations has been asked to provide a peace monitoring presence in Sudan to ensure compliance by all parties to the agreement (Chapter VI mandate).
Crisis in Darfur: Despite assurances by the government in Khartoum to rein in its armed militias and defense forces (Janjaweed and other groups), the violence continues unabated. The government continues to deploy Antonov bombers and helicopter gunships in its efforts to break rebel resistance. On the rebels side, there are currently four distinct forces engaged in the conflict. These include: Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A); Justice and Equality Movement (JEM); National Movement for Reform and Development (NMRD); and Al-Shahamah Movement. There are concerns that the Darfur crisis is spilling over into neighboring regions (Al Shahamah in western Kordofan) and is promoting the emergence of other armed rebel movements. Both the government and rebel movements have been accused of committing atrocities against innocent civilians, including the rape of women and young girls and the abduction of young men and boys to serve as conscripts. The government and its armed militias bear the greatest responsibility for these crimes. Efforts by the United States, the U.N., the African Union and other nations to pressure all parties to the conflict to end the violence, provide security for the people of Darfur, particularly the internally displaced, ensure safe and sustained delivery of humanitarian aid and hold accountable those accused of committing atrocities have not been successful. In December 2004 discussions in Abuja, Nigeria between the government and the rebel groups were complicated by unrestrained attacks and counter-attacks in Darfur, and by a lack of political will on the part of all the parties. Unless and until the parties to the conflict respect the ceasefire agreements, the violence threatens to extend to neighboring regions in Sudan and in Chad, and could undermine the comprehensive peace agreement between the north and the south.
Sudan remains a priority for the USCCB with ongoing advocacy and active solidarity with the people of Sudan. We continue 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 and Darfur and has been very active in playing a major 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 non-food items. In addition, CRS manages the Southern Sudan Agricultural Revitalization Project, the largest agricultural development program in Sudan. In partnership with local and international organizations, CRS also supports initiatives focused on peacebuilding, 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; provide protection for 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 April 2004 ceasefire agreement and the November 2004 Abuja Protocols, and to cease hostilities.
- Urge the U.S. to use its influence in the U.N. Security Council to strengthen the mission and mandate of the African Union in Darfur so that it might more effectively monitor the ceasefire, provide protection to innocent civilians and assist international humanitarian relief organizations in their efforts to respond to the crisis.
- Encourage the U.S. Administration to hold the signatories of the recent peace agreement accountable; and honor its promise to provide substantial financial and political support to the south and the north as the parties form a new government, create new security structures, assist people returning to their communities and undertake the reconstruction of the country and its civil society.
- Urge the U.N. Security Council to provide a significant peacekeeping force that will work collaboratively with the military forces of both north and south, and 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.
For further information: Fr. Michael Perry, OFM, Office of International Justice and Peace, USCCB, 202-541-3149, firstname.lastname@example.org; Nazare Albuquerque, Catholic Relief Services, 410-625-2220, email@example.com.