Cry of the People of Darfur, November 17, 2004
A Statement of the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Bishop Wilton D. Gregory
Bishop of Belleville
November 17, 2004
Gathered in our Fall Plenary Assembly, we continue to hear the cry of the people of Darfur. The conflict in this western region of Sudan has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people and forcibly displaced over 1.5 million others.
For the past several years, as the people of Sudan have suffered and died, our Conference of Bishops has repeatedly called for decisive action by the international community to save human lives and restore peace and security. We have sent a number of delegations of bishops to Sudan and have heard first hand reports of the desolate and deadly situations there. Recent developments that hold both peril and promise move us to raise our voices once again in defense of human life in Darfur and Sudan.
Tragically, human beings are still being killed, raped, starved and driven to desperation. We strongly condemn the action of the Government in Khartoum against thousands of displaced persons in Otash and El-Geer Sureaf camps for displaced persons who were surrounded by military forces on the night of November 2, 2004, and forcibly removed. Credible reports indicate that Government forces have conducted similar raids on camps of displaced persons elsewhere in Darfur and have denied humanitarian workers access to some camps. These actions violate international law, agreements between the Government in Khartoum and the main rebel groups, and international memoranda of understanding which the Government signed. Most importantly they violate the sacred life and dignity of innocent people.
At Abuja, Nigeria, the Government in Khartoum and the rebels agreed to a "no-fly" zone prohibiting aerial attacks against civilians and rebels in Darfur, and to security provisions for humanitarian aid workers. These protocols, while important, will only make a difference for the hundreds of thousands of lives at risk if the parties abide by them.
We are particularly discouraged that another raid on the El-Geer Sureaf camp came just one day after the peace agreements were signed in Abuja. Another disappointing development is a report by the World Food Program that 175,000 people were cut off from food aid in October, with that number expected to increase to 200,000 this month.
The Government in Khartoum must be held accountable by the international community for the violence it continues to perpetrate against its own people, for its failure to implement Security Council resolutions 1556 and 1564, and for promoting insecurity throughout Darfur. Although the Government bears the greatest responsibility, the rebel groups should also be held accountable for violations of ceasefire agreements and the violence perpetrated against civilians and international aid workers. Pressure must be brought to bear on all parties to the conflict to compel them to respect the agreements they have signed and to foster a peaceful and just solution.
We welcome the upcoming Security Council session in Kenya and its focus on the Naivasha Peace Process and securing a comprehensive peace agreement between the Government in Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). This meeting could also provide the Security Council with an opportunity to unite its member states in order to act more forcefully in defense of peace. The Security Council should consider imposing targeted sanctions and an arms embargo to ensure compliance on the part of the Government in Khartoum.
In addition, the United States and the international community must immediately provide sufficient financial and logistical support to the African Union monitoring mission so that it can move quickly to protect innocent civilians, ensure safe delivery of humanitarian assistance, monitor ceasefire violations, and improve the security situation throughout Darfur.
The Catholic Church in the United States continues to pray for the peoples of Sudan and will continue to provide assistance to the most vulnerable through the work of Catholic Relief Services. It is past time for the world to act together in effective defense of human life in Darfur.