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Sudan's Christian leaders urge UN: Prepare for humanitarian disaster

Catholic World News - October 13, 2010

Speaking at the UN on October 11, Sudanese Christian leaders, including two Catholic bishops, urged the international community to prepare now for the humanitarian emergencies that may take early next year.

“People in the south see the [January] referendum as their opportunity to choose freedom,” the Church leaders note. “Cancellation or postponement of the referendum, or a perception that the referendum outcome does not match the will of the people, will not be understood by the people and will create a dangerous vacuum which could be filled by violence and even a return to war. The international community must be ready for a disputed referendum result.”

“The safety and human rights (including the right to freedom of religion) of southerners living in northern Sudan are in jeopardy before, during and after the referendum,” the Christian leaders add. “Threats and intimidation are already taking place and there is a climate of fear … The international community and the UN must be prepared logistically and financially to deal with the humanitarian consequences of large scale migration, particularly in the case of forced migration.”

Two million lost their lives in the long Sudanese civil war (1983-2005) between the Muslim north and the largely animist and Christian south. The civil war ended when President Omar Hassan Ahmad Al-Bashir, later indicted by the International Criminal Court, granted the south limited autonomy and promised a January 2011 referendum. Since 2005, the nation’s 5.8 million Catholics have fallen under two sets of religion laws. In the north, all schools-- even Christian schools-- must offer instruction in Islam, and converts from Islam to Christianity face not only criminal charges but also death at the hands of their families. In the south, Christians enjoy religious freedom.

15% of Sudan’s 37.2 million people are Catholic, according to Vatican statistics.

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