Statement of the US Catholic Bishops Delegation to Sudan
April 5, 2001
I am Bishop John Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee and Chairman of Catholic Relief Services, the overseas relief and development agency of the U.S. Catholic Bishops. I also am a member of the U.S. Bishops' Committee on International Policy, which is chaired by His Eminence Bernard Cardinal Law, Archbishop of Boston. I am joined by Bishop Edward Braxton of Lake Charles, Louisiana, also a member of the U.S. Bishops' Committee on International Policy. A third member of our delegation, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Camden, New Jersey and chairman of the U.S. Bishops' Committee on Migration, returned to the United States yesterday.
We are here today to report to you about our recently concluded visit to Sudan. In January 2000, the Catholic Bishops of Sudan invited the U.S. Bishops to send a delegation to Sudan to witness first hand the human consequences of their suffering nation's nearly 18-year civil war. Cognizant of the suffering of the Sudanese people and desirous of supporting our brother bishops and the Church in Sudan, we have come as representatives of the U.S. Bishops and the Catholic Church in the United States to learn more about this interminable and seemingly intractable conflict.
During our visit, we have met with authorities in both the North and South of Sudan. We also met with leaders of the Catholic Church, other Christian bodies, the Islamic community and civil society. In these meetings, we raised issues of peace, religious freedom, human rights, and displaced persons. We also visited areas hardest hit by the war as well as the Sudanese who have borne the burden of this conflict, in camps for both the internally displaced and refugees.
From our discussions and visits, we have found, first and foremost, that this conflict cannot be characterized in simple terms. All attempts to reduce the war to any single factor distorts reality and does not serve the cause of peace. Despite all the complexities involved, however, our mission has deepened our conviction that efforts toward peace in Sudan can no longer be neglected by the international community. The judgment of history will be determined by the courage and determination of the international community to take bold steps now to help bring this cruel war to an end. In our judgment, the United States must play a central role in this effort.
While a heightened engagement by the international community, especially the United States, must take place, we hold serious concerns about the intentions of the Government in Khartoum. It is perfectly clear to us that the primary responsibility for the prosecution of this war lies with the Government in Khartoum. The Government's systematic denial of religious liberty to Christians and other non-Muslims in both the North and South, use of aerial bombings and other tactics to terrorize and displace populations in contested areas, and documented violations of basic human rights provide evidence of a regime intent upon accumulating political and economic power and creating by force an Islamic state. Such reprehensible behavior only prolongs the violence and suffering and precludes any serious efforts towards peace.
In our view, a just and lasting peace must be based on the following principles:
The right of the people of Sudan to determine for themselves how they are to be defined as a people and governed as a society;
The right of all Sudanese to have their basic human rights respected, including the right to practice their religion freely;
The right of all Sudanese to return to their homes;
The right of all Sudanese people to live in peace and security.
In order to create an environment in which a just and lasting peace can be achieved, we believe that the United States and the international community should take the following immediate steps:
Call for and help negotiate an immediate and verifiable cessation of hostilities, monitored by the United Nations or another international body, which includes a halt to the expulsion of civilian populations from their homelands;
Urge corporations involved in the exploration, extraction, production, and sale of Sudanese oil to recognize the impact of these activities on the escalation of the war;
Do more to end human rights abuses by parties to the conflict, particularly the abduction and enslavement of Sudanese citizens, especially women and children, and the forced recruitment of minors into military service;
Press all parties to the conflict to end the use of food as a weapon and to guarantee unhampered delivery of humanitarian aid to affected populations, as outlined in the Beneficiaries Protocol and the Declaration of Principles.
In making this visit to Sudan, our overriding concern has been to help bring attention to the terrible human suffering caused by this war and the urgent need for a just peace. When we return to the United States, we will share what we have seen and heard with our fellow Catholic bishops and the Church in the United States, as well as our political leaders and the wider American public. We will continue to focus attention on the plight of the Sudanese people and work tirelessly toward a just peace in Sudan.
Above all, we invite all people of good will, regardless of their religious identity, to join us in our prayer that God will deliver the people of Sudan from the ravages of this terrible conflict.