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Sudan: A Call to Compassion and Caring

Is not this the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. (Isaiah 58: 6-8 NRSV)

Dr. Silvia Regina de Lima Silva, a Brazilian theologian, called for the walls to come down and the pathways to be opened toward a culture of compassion and caring, " . . . the words of Isaiah are directed towards those who have the power because they had the power to untie those who had been subjugated. On the other hand, the prophet also makes a call for solidarity among those who are tied to the same yoke. He invites them to change everyday relations, to seek forms of life in which bread can be eaten and shared, to live together, and to cover each other, and to protect and take care of each person's body. We understand this to be a call to compassion and caring."

"One Million People have died since fighting began in our country in 1983. Three million people are now displaced. Yet there is nothing in your [Western] press about it. Are we not human beings" These words were spoken in March 1989 by the Reverend Ezekiel Kutjok, General Secretary of the Sudan Council of Churches. In 2002 Church World Service (CWS) in the United States expressed similar sentiments "Despite the enormous suffering and flagrant human rights abuses committed on all sides, the Sudan tragedy receives little attention from Western media. Churches and nongovernmental organizations have been at the forefront of efforts to respond to the suffering of Sudan's peoples and support their creative efforts to build a just and lasting peace." That is the solidarity which Isaiah calls for with the people of Sudan as they painstakingly rebuild their country, changing everyday relations and finding ways of sharing with each other.

That same year Church World Service emphasized that the Sudan was as a country 'Hungry for Peace,' "the Sudan suffers from the world's longest running civil war-35 of the last 46 years. Fueled by religious, ethnic, and political differences between the country's northern and southern populations, more than two million Sudanese, mostly in the South, have died as a result of this conflict. Three hundred Sudanese die each day from war-related causes. More than 4.5 million people are internally displaced, and over 500,000 have fled to other countries as refugees." In this civil war the colonial past and the growing economic concerns were also crucial to understanding the roots of the conflict. They included, among others, the sequels of serious drought and famine in Northern and Western Sudan in 1984-85 and in the South in 1986-88; conflicts between pastoralists and agriculturalists and vast resources of oil in the South.

The churches have been involved with the Sudan for many years and in 1971 the World Council of Churches (WCC) helped broker a peace accord between North and South which lasted 11 years-the country's only peaceful period since independence from joint Egyptian-British rule in 1956. In 2002 the WCC appointed a special ecumenical envoy, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia (the current General Secretary of the WCC) to accompany the peace negotiations between the government of the Sudan/National Congress Party in Northern Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) in Southern Sudan. Their Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was finalized January 2005. The agreement included a permanent cease-fire and autonomy for Southern Sudan for 6 years with a referendum about independence to be held in 2011. An autonomous government was formed in the South and a power sharing government was set up in Khartoum with the South represented by a co-vice-president. It was further agreed that North and South would share equally in the oil revenues. The United Nations was authorized to support the CPA and a peacekeeping operation was sent including 10,000 troops and 600 police. International donors pledged $4.5 billion in aid to recover from the decades of war.

The Republic of Sudan is the largest country in Africa. Situated in the Greater Horn of Africa it is surrounded by Egypt to the north and moving clockwise, the Red Sea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Chad, and Libya. The Sudan was one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse countries in the world. "In 1999 it had nearly 600 ethnic groups speaking over 400 languages and dialects. During the 80s and 90s smaller ethnic and linguistic groups disappeared. Migration played a part, as migrants often forget their native tongue when they move to an area dominated by another language. Some linguistic groups were absorbed by accommodation, others by conflict." Arabic is the official language but English and many languages and dialects are spoken in the Sudan. The Sudanese population is approximately 37 million people, 70 percent Sunni Muslim, 25 percent have indigenous beliefs and 5 percent are Christians.

While the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was being negotiated, violent conflict broke out in the Western states. In February 2003 world attention was directed to Darfur (the land of the Fur people). There are several other ethnic groups in Darfur. A rebellion began, initiating a number of military activities leading to a grave humanitarian situation. In April 2003 coordinated attacks against military targets in the regional capital of El Fasher were launched by the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). The Sudan government responded harshly as it had during the conflict with the South, using counterinsurgency tactics and indiscriminate aerial bombings. Its armed forces coordinated with irregular militia (including janjaweed (men on horseback) known for raping women, pillaging, and looting the population in Darfur) to attack not only the rebel forces but the civilian populations causing thousands to die, vast destruction by burning down whole villages, trees, and fields, and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. Rebel groups were also involved in the disastrous consequences of their armed attacks against the government.

Violence in Darfur escalated rapidly leading to more than 200,000 deaths caused by killings, illness and starvation due to the scorched earth policy, 2.1 million internally displaced persons and 236,000 as refugees in Chad. The situation became known as one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the 21st century. The cruelty of the armed attacks on the civilian population was reminiscent of the same in South Sudan and in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo where it is estimated that 4 million people died. Women and children were particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse. The age-old struggle for land suggested that attackers, especially the Janjaweed, were killing and burning down homes to move people away and replace them. A rebellion against the government in Khartoum became an opportunity to revive old rivalries, settle scores, and take over the farm lands for grazing cattle.

Solidarity with the people of Sudan raised an outcry around the world demanding an end to the massacres, the atrocities and bringing the perpetrators to justice for crimes against humanity and as some nongovernmental organizations suggested ethnic cleansing. In the United States, officials and legislators, churches and nongovernmental organizations accused the Sudan of genocide. The United Nations sent a team to investigate but in their report they noted that there were crimes against humanity but not enough evidence that the government of the Sudan had "intent to destroy . . . " The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide does define genocide as any act "committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group. . . ." The protest against the Sudan promoted many demonstrations, vigils, visits to Darfur, and eventually a divestment movement that promoted international sanctions that the Security Council discussed but never agreed to.

The Sudan government, the militias, the rebel movement, and neighboring governments as the conflict spilled over their borders were among those with influence or power to end the conflict. Other actors included the United Nations Security Council and the African Union, headquartered in Addis Ababa, which responded with help in containing the chaos by sending in monitors, peacekeepers, and police.

The Security Council was sending peacekeeping forces and police to the South of Sudan. The Council was already responsible for 18 peacekeeping operations on four continents involving 100,000 personnel, directly impacting the lives of hundreds of millions of people. Yet, the African forces needed reinforcement and support and the Council began to discuss how they could raise another peacekeeping mission. Other involved powers were the 5 Permanent Members in the Security Council, the United Kingdom, China, France, Russia, and the United States. Each of which have political and strategic interests, as well as economic stakes, in the Sudan that is rich with resources such as oil, natural gas, uranium, gold, silver, chrome, manganese, and other minerals.

Finally, all those in power or with influence including the worldwide protesters against continued violence and those in the solidarity movement with the Sudanese people were able to agree on common solutions symbolized by the renewed peace talks between the Sudanese government, the rebel groups and militias and the unanimous approval in the Security Council to authorize "hybrid UN-African Union operation in Darfur." In the United Nations Press Release of July 31, 2007, the Security Council approved the creation of a hybrid United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force to quell the violence and instability plaguing the Darfur region of Sudan . . . In what Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called a "historic and unprecedented resolution," Council members unanimously backed the establishment of a force of nearly 20,000 military personnel and more than 6,000 police officers.

Decades of negligence and marginalization by both the former colonial powers and the Sudanese government were major causes for the rebellion. "Over the course of the 20th century, colonial and independence governments in Khartoum (the Capital of Sudan) devoted few resources to developing the human potential of Darfur. There were limited investments in infrastructure, schooling, and economic activity." In addition, since most residents were either involved with raising livestock or in low-productivity agriculture, recent droughts and the advancing desert exacerbated tensions over access to water and fertile land, crucial causes for the rebellion. Fredrick Nzwili, a freelance journalist from Kenya writing for the Ecumenical Water Network agrees. "From Darfur in western Sudan to Mt. Elgon in Kenya, the absence of water for rural communities is emerging as a major cause of conflict on the African continent. In Darfur, the story is one of pain and desperation for the nearly two million displaced persons. And the organizations that work in the area are convinced that it is battles for water and pasture that sparked it off."

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) released a report in June 2007, "indeed historical data in Darfur indicates that rainfall declines of between 16 per cent and over 30 percent have occurred turning millions of hectares of marginal semi-desert land into desert. . . . Overall, deserts in some northern regions of Sudan may have advanced by an average of 100km over the past 40 years. . . . The scale of climate change recorded in Northern Darfur is almost unprecedented, and its impacts are closely linked to the conflicts in the region, as desertification has added significantly to the stress on traditional agricultural and pastoral livelihoods . . . the crisis is being aggravated by degradation of water sources in deserts known as wadis or oases. 'Virtually all such areas inspected by UNEP were found to be moderately to severely degraded, principally due to deforestation, overgrazing and erosion.'"

United Methodists praise God for signs of hope. As in the Social Principles (¶ 165B), we can applaud worldwide efforts to develop more just international economic systems in which the limited resources of the earth will be used to the maximum benefit of all nations and peoples. Another sign of hope is the ability of UMCOR to work in southern Darfur, an area which its assessment team determined was underserved by other agencies. UMCOR'S programs in southern Darfur assist hundreds of thousands of people, including providing seeds and tools to farmers, schools and supplies to children, training for teachers, vocational training programs, and establishing water points. Ten water points have been completed, giving some 250,000 Sudanese, access to water. In 2006, UMCOR began working in South Sudan to assist the people returning home after nearly 20 years of war.

As Dr. Lima Silva says, solidarity means finding ways "to seek forms of life in which bread can be eaten and shared to live together, and to cover each other, and to protect and take care of each person's body." For United Methodists this is a call to compassion and caring.

Therefore:

  1. The United Methodist Church shall affirm and call upon all parties to work through and with the United Nations and the African Union to secure justice for all Sudanese.
  2. United Methodists in every country shall encourage their governments and the economic entities within their societies to aid and work for the development of more just economic system in the Sudan.
  3. United Methodists shall examine all methods of protest and solidarity before undertaking them. Recent efforts by the divestment movement in the United States, in which many United Methodists participated, is an example of a nonviolent strategy to effect change and has contributed to raising awareness of the plight of the people in Darfur. As United Methodists continue to seek a just and lasting peace in Sudan, we shall ensure that none of their actions cause violence.
  4. United Methodists shall commend the General Board of Global Ministries for its development of a mission study on the Sudan for 2009 and shall take advantage of all opportunities to study and develop a better understanding of all the people in the Sudan.
  5. United Methodists shall continue to contribute to UMCOR and commend them for their ongoing work in the Sudan, remembering that the 2004 General Conference commended them for their concern and caring for Darfur refugees in Chad.

ADOPTED 2008

See Social Principles, ¶ 165A, B, and D.

From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church - 2008. Copyright © 2008 by The United MethodistPublishing House. Used by permission.

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