Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sudan’s church leaders are concerned about upcoming referendum.

A delegation of Sudanese church leaders has traveled to the United States and United Kingdom to warn about threats to the Sudanese people as Jan. 9, 2011, approaches--the date Sudan is supposed to vote on a comprehensive peace agreement that ended its decades-long civil war between north and south.

"At the referendum the people of Southern Sudan will exercise their right to self-determination to decide their future," explained a release from the All Africa Council of Churches (AACC), which has declared 2010 a special year for Sudan. "They will choose whether to remain as part of a united Sudan or separate to become a new nation state."

The Church of the Brethren currently has a mission worker in southern Sudan, Michael Wagner, who is serving as a peace worker seconded to the Africa Inland Church-Sudan, a member of the Sudan Council of Churches.

Last week the Sudanese delegation met with officials of the National Council of Churches (NCC) and Church World Service (CWS) in New York to warn that the safety and human rights of millions of Sudanese continue to be in jeopardy despite hopes raised by the referendum. Previously, the delegation was in the UK to meet with the Archbishop of Canterbury and other church leaders and politicians.

According to the NCC, the Sudanese church leaders are skeptical that the referendum will be carried out as planned, or that it will solve problems brought on by years of bloodshed. And they warned US church leaders that "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 Sudanese civil war began in 1983 and has claimed more than 2 million lives and displaced more than 4 million people, the NCC release noted. More recent violence in Sudan's Darfur region has killed upwards of 300,000 people and displaced 2.7 million. The NCC release added that the current concern for the peace process goes far beyond Darfur and extends to all of Sudan.

The US leaders supported their Sudanese colleagues as they called on the UN to "hold all parties and guarantors of the CPA (comprehensive peace agreement) accountable." The group called on the UN and the international community to "listen to and respect the voice of the voiceless, the voice of the suffering people of southern Sudan in the transitional areas, as expressed by the church."

In the UK, the Anglican Communion News Service reported, "The archbishops explained that the critical issues related to the referendum include delays in voter registration, tensions in the border regions, and the future for some 4 million refugees from the south who are currently living in the north."

The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke about the danger of Sudan "sleepwalking towards disaster...if action does not continue from the international community." The threat of open war "in and after the referendum period is the most serious thing of all," Williams said, "and that signals a return to what have been decades of slaughter and poverty and utter instability in a very large and very vulnerable country."

The AACC expressed concern "that the CPA implementation process is behind schedule. Specifically we note with concern that the work of the referendum commission has not started in earnest." The emphasis of the message from the Sudanese churches is, "The integrity of the CPA must be respected by all. The self-determination referendum must take place on 9th January 2011 as provided for in the CPA," the AACC said.

The Sudanese church leaders delegation included Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul, Anglican Primate of Sudan; Bishop Emeritus Paride Taban; Bishop Daniel Adwok Kur, auxiliary bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Khartoum; Ramadan Chan, secretary general of the Sudan Council of Churches; Samuel Kobia, ecumenical special envoy to Sudan and former general secretary of the World Council of Churches; John Ashworth, Sudan advisor for Catholic Relief Services and the Sudan Ecumenical Forum; and Rocco Blume of Christian Aid.

(For more about the work of Church of the Brethren mission staff in Sudan, go to

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