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Bernard Cardinal Law
Archbishop of Boston
Chairman, International Policy Committee
U.S. Catholic Conference
March 28, 2000
For more than 16 years the peoples of Sudan have been subjected to the devastating effects of civil war, which, according to the Catholic bishops of eastern Africa, have " assumed savage, fratricidal and genocidal dimensions." Some two million have died and twice that number have been displaced, with Christians and practitioners of traditional African religions in southern and eastern Sudan the principal victims. The litany of horrors includes:
...slavery and related practices; torture of persons in security detention; extra judicial punishment and executions; disappearances of persons; lack of freedom of expression; laws, attitudes and practices that discriminate towards non-Arabs and non-Muslims; the manipulation of the media in favor of all that is Muslim and Arab to the exclusion of other religions and ethnic groups; the lack of genuine dialogue between Christians and Muslims because of political manipulation; the use of food for proselytism or as a weapon of war; and the systematic depletion and expropriation of property and resources of the population in the war zones.
(Statement of Catholic Bishops of East Africa, August 6, 1999)
The bishops of Sudan are clear that all sides are implicated in egregious human rights abuses, including the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), but the Sudanese government bears the greatest responsibility for abuses against civilian populations. The Sudanese government must end its aerial bombing of civilian targets, remove its restrictions on delivery of humanitarian aid to areas affected by famine, and cease government-sponsored militia raids on civilian villages, which include abduction of women and children into slavery. The Sudanese government must also end efforts to enforce Sharia law on its non-Muslim peoples. People are losing their lives and denied their rights in part because of their faith.
Every effort should be made by our government and others to press for greater respect for human rights, but there must also be renewed efforts to bring an end to this cruel war. The end of the war would not resolve all of Sudan's problems, but it would make it possible to address some of the most egregious suffering of the people of Sudan -- hunger, displacement, economic underdevelopment, and slavery. As Bishop Joseph Gasi Abangite of Tombura-Yambio pleaded, "We need peace; we must put an end to the war and the culture of hatred and violence that is spreading among our people."
There is no military solution to this conflict; as difficult as it may be, a negotiated solution is the only way forward. The bishops of East Africa have given their full support to the peace process sponsored by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which, despite its particular challenges, seems the most promising vehicle for negotiations at this time. We strongly encourage the United States government to pursue vigorously efforts to encourage IGAD negotiations, to help strengthen its mandate and to bring additional pressure on the Khartoum regime and opposition groups to make a good faith effort to end the war.
Given the urgent need to find a just peace to this interminable conflict, actions that risk exacerbating the conflict deserve careful scrutiny. While the Sudanese government has promised to use the proceeds from the recently opened oil pipeline (in which Chinese, Malaysian, and Canadian interests are involved) to assist those most affected by the war, especially the peoples of the South, and to improve the South's infrastructure, there is a real risk that oil revenues could further fuel the war.
Food aid and other humanitarian and development assistance for Southern Sudan must be an urgent priority. Every effort must be made to ensure that this aid reaches the most vulnerable populations, wherever they might be. Moreover, "civil society" initiatives, critical building blocks in constructing the basis for a lasting peace, are in need of additional aid.
In the spirit of solidarity, the U.S. Catholic bishops will continue to seek ways to respond to the needs of the Church and the people in Sudan. Through Catholic Relief Services, we continue to build effective relief and development programs in this war-ravaged country. We support efforts to respond to serious violations of human rights, from slavery and attacks on civilian populations, to egregious violations of religious liberty and the use of food as a weapon. We encourage peace initiatives undertaken by the churches in Sudan. We are working with others in support of renewed efforts to help find a just and lasting political settlement to this war. We encourage the sending of missionaries to those regions where the Church is experiencing severe difficulty and where bishops are prevented from visiting the people entrusted to their pastoral care. We urge religious and humanitarian agencies to help support educational initiatives undertaken by the Church in Sudan. Finally, we call upon all Catholics to lift up the Sudanese people in prayer. Our spiritual solidarity provides encouragement to those seeking an end to the war and the beginnings of a national dialogue based upon respect, the dignity of all persons and the right to self-determination.
The violence and repression in Sudan cannot, indeed, must not continue. The people of Sudan yearn for a just peace. They cry for an end to the enslavement of their women and children. They yearn to be free from indiscriminate violence and the constant threat of famine. They long for equal rights, for Muslims, Christians, and practitioners of traditional African religions. They search for an opportunity to build a just and prosperous society that is a valued member of the family of nations. It is long past time for the international community to overcome its indifference toward the humanitarian nightmare in Sudan. It is long past time to do what can be done to help the people of Sudan realize their yearning for a just peace. Peace is not easy, but it is possible, and it is the only way forward.
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