Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

Sudanese Bishops' Appeal for American Help

by Sudan Catholic Bishops' Regional Conference


As a delegation of bishops from the United States visited Sudan on a fact-finding mission, the bishops of that African country issued a statement, signed by Bishop Macram Max Gassis of El Obeid, urging American help to ease the ravages of the civil war in Sudan.

Publisher & Date

Catholic World News, April 9, 2001

The current 18-year-old civil war waged between forces loyal to the government of Sudan (GOS) and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) has resulted in the suffering, deprivation and death of millions in Sudan. The recent escalation of the conflict by the Khartoum regime threatens even greater destruction of lives, property, and whole cultures. The Catholic Church in Sudan, working for an end to the war, and a just resolution of the root causes of the conflict, urges the Catholic Church in the United States to join with us in the pursuit of the following policy objectives:

1. STOP AERIAL BOMBARDMENT OF CIVILIANS. The first policy objective of the USCC must be to work for an end to the aerial bombardment of civilian populations in the Nuba Mountains, Southern Blue Nile and southern Sudan by the GOS.

The Sudan Catholic Bishops' Conference, and the Sudan Catholic Bishops' Regional Conference, and the AMECEA (bishops' conferences of East Africa), have long urged that the only effective means of accomplishing this objective, to protect civilian populations and civilian institutions-- schools, churches, medical clinics, feeding centers, open-air markets, landing strips, etc.-- from the growing scourge of government-sponsored bombing raids, is to work for the imposition of a no-fly zone on the areas of conflict in the Nuba Mountains, Southern Blue Nile and southern Sudan.

Working for an end to the bombing of civilian targets is, we believe, the essential first step toward ending the war. Without it, none of the other measures that need to be taken, nor the creation of a political climate conducive to negotiation, will be possible. At the very least, imposition of a no-fly zone over the principal areas of conflict will act as a sign of the determination of the international community to bring an end to the civil war. The imposition of a no-fly zone will also signal the Khartoum regime that the time for declarations and condemnations is over; and that practical measures are at hand.

A no-fly zone will help create an immediate lessening of hostilities. This will, in itself, save countless lives, allow the return of refugees to begin and humanitarian relief to reach all areas of the war zone.

Once the no-fly zone is in place, a comprehensive cease-fire could and should be implemented.

2. STOP OIL EXPLORATION AND EXPLOITATION. Another policy objective high on the agenda revolves around the issue of Sudan's oil resources and the pivotal role the exploitation of those reserves is playing in the recent escalation of the conflict.

We call upon the USCC to join us in urging corporations, investment firms and other economic entities in North America, Europe, and Asia, to cease profiting from oil riches which are exploited at the expense of millions of central and southern Sudanese citizens, and which only serve to fuel Khartoum's war machine and the gross violations of the fundamental human rights which arise from the exploitation of those resources. In particular, we wish to call attention to the fact that oil exploration and development is serving to justify ethnic cleansing on a mass scale in areas of northern Bahr al-Ghazal, Southern Blue Nile, Upper Nile, and the Nuba Mountains, and the displacement of whole populations. We are calling for a complete halt to the exploration, extraction, production, and sale of Sudanese oil until such practices can be shown, through independent verification, to no longer contribute to the war effort and the human rights violations that accompany it.

As with the campaign to end apartheid in South Africa, the international economic interests that, wittingly or unwittingly invest in injustice and genocide must be confronted if the conflict is to be ended. The Church will also wish to stress in the context of Sudan and oil that the wealth derived from a country's natural resources must be used to benefit the people who live on the land, not empower an unprincipled elite to engineer their dispersal and destruction.

3. STOP "POLITICAL" FAMINE; END KHARTOUM'S FLIGHT BANS ON RELIEF. The use of food as a "weapon" of war by the GOS, and the food shortages and outbreaks of famine that have come in its wake, has been perhaps the single most devastating aspect of the Sudan conflict, resulting in the deaths of countless thousands, the internal displacement of millions and irreparable damage to the health, particularly, of women and children. Much of this tragedy is man-made, engineered by the GOS through the manipulation of humanitarian aid, arbitrary flight bans, and the imposition of relief embargoes on populations in 'liberated' or non-government-controlled areas, particularly the Nuba Mountains Abyei county, and Southern Blue Nile. We call on the USCC to join us in demanding that food and other relief supplies be made available to populations in any and all areas of Sudan where there is need, particularly in famine-affected areas, and to work with the US government and the international community to put a stop to Khartoum's policy of arbitrary flight bans on relief.

Unfortunately, relief embargoes are not the only form that the GOS's starvation campaigns take. Government-sponsored raiders frequently burn crops, fields and food stores, particularly in 'vulnerable' districts, in order to create conditions conducive to famine.

4. ENSURE RELIGIOUS FREEDOM FOR ALL CITIZENS. Religious persecution stands at the center of the tragedy of modern Sudan and is one of the principle causes of the war. We know that the USCC will stand with us in our demand that the right to freedom of religion-- with the right to life, foundation of all human rights-- become a legal and constitutional reality in Sudanese life. That, naturally, will include the rights of the Church to exercise its ministry and preach the Gospel without hindrance.

The call for religious freedom is at the heart of the political reforms that will be required to end Sudan's long nightmare of war and destruction. Khartoum's decades-old assertion that Sudan is an Arab, Muslim country and its campaign to realize, by force if necessary, the dream of one nation, one culture, one religion, has deprived millions of non-Arab, non-Muslim Sudanese of their most basic rights as citizens and as cultures. As the IGAD Declaration of Principles rightly recognizes: Sudan will not resolve its fundamental problems, nor secure a lasting peace without firmly establishing in law a constitutional separation of religion and state. In a country of nearly unparalleled cultural and religious diversity, Shari'a cannot function as the source of law and public policy.

In the short term, this means that we urge the USCC to join us in opposing not only the infamous Missionary Societies Act of 1962, but also its various modifications and revisions, most of which have only made the situation of non-Muslims worse. A fundamentally discriminatory law cannot be 'modified' or ameliorated; it must be abrogated in toto.

It should also be stated that we recognize that the Islamist ideology undergirding the current Khartoum regime is a travesty of normative Islam and the views of many Sudanese Muslims.

5. STOP SLAVERY AND PROMOTE THE WELFARE OF FORMER SLAVES. Slavery - the abduction, especially, of women and children - is yet another weapon in Khartoum's campaign of 'total' war against the populations of the Nuba Mountains, southern Blue Nile and southern Sudan. We urge the USCC to stand with us, not only in condemning this heinous violation of human rights, but in helping us to end the practice on the ground, and to care for and educate the thousands of former, or 'redeemed' slaves, especially those who live in IDP camps and settlements.

It deserves to be noted that the GOS helped revive this horrific trade on a mass scale, armed the principal perpetrators, and continues to employ slave taking as part and parcel of its strategy of war.

Khartoum targets the most vulnerable members of the community - women and children - knowing that, in doing so, it strikes at the very heart of the resistance to its policies, and at the morale, indeed, the very future of the communities against which it wages its campaigns.

6. DEFEND THE RIGHT TO SELF-DETERMINATION. The right to self- determination is one of the major components of the resolution of the Sudan conflict - a fact to which all parties to the conflict agree, and which forms part of the IGAD Declaration of Principles as well. We ask the USCC to join us in underling the importance of this principle, and in urging the international community to ensure its implementation.

To speak of self-determination is not to imply support for southern independence, or other secessionist aims. It is to recognize that the citizens of Sudan, who, in differing ways, have suffered so deeply as a result of the conflict, have their necessary and decisive role to play in deciding the shape of a future Sudan.

In making these recommendations, we recognize the timeliness of the delegation's visit to Sudan and the emergence of a bipartisan political climate in the US increasingly favorable to making Sudan and a negotiated settlement of the war a foreign policy priority. In order to take advantage of this situation and to further the implementation of these recommendations, we urge the USCC to form an ad hoc committee on lobbying strategy at the earliest possible opportunity. In our view, the task of this committee would be to develop precise goals and objectives for each of the above recommendations and to coordinate efforts to achieve them, both in Washington, DC, and in the international arena.

A final note: We urge the USCC to include the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile as well as the South in their declarations and statements on Sudan. It is not an accurate representation of the situation to refer to southern Sudan as if it were the sole arena of the war. The conflict affects not only the populations of the South, but all African ethnic groups in the country, threatening the loss of their incomparable cultures, traditions and languages.

Submitted on behalf of the bishops of the Sudan Catholic Bishops' Regional Conference (SCBRC) by:

Most Rev. Macram Max Gassis
Bishop of El Obeid
Chairman of the Department for Advocacy and Media

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