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Archbishop Speaks Out On South Sudan

The Archbishop of York speaking in the House of Lords

Wednesday 17th October 2012

The Archbishop of York today spoke in the House of Lords concerning the situation in Sudan and South Sudan. His speech follows....

My Lords, in May, I attended a three-day retreat of Anglican and Roman Catholic Bishops in Yei, South Sudan. Unfortunately, the bishops from the Republic of Sudan could not be there because of the political situation. I was struck by how, as Anglicans and Roman Catholics seeking to work as one across both nations, they were committed to working with each other and with Muslim leaders as well for the good of all.

These bishops are close to the grass roots. In their joint statement, they said:

“We begin to wonder whether the International Community still understands the aspirations of the people of South Sudan, as well as the marginalised communities in Sudan”.

The fact is that the needs and aspirations of these noble people are not actually understood in the West.

One thing is absolutely clear: the future well-being of both Sudan and South Sudan depends on achieving peaceful and constructive relations between the two countries. The agreement reached in Addis Ababa between the Presidents of Sudan and South Sudan on 27 September in the course of talks mediated by the African Union high-level panel is good news and represents a significant step back from the brink of war and towards peace. The African Union’s role and, in particular, that of President Mbeki in heading the panel is to be applauded. The support of the international community, including both Her Majesty’s Government and the European Union, has also played an important part.

However, the 27 September agreement is only partial. The oil agreement enabling the resumption of oil production is critical to the economies of both countries, but the oil deal on its own is not enough. Achieving border security, particularly establishing a demilitarised zone along their common border, will be a prerequisite for stability. Stability will require agreement on disputed border areas and, most notably, on the future of Abyei. This needs to be resolved as soon as possible. Although the basis has long been agreed, the Sudan Government have so far rejected every attempt to make progress, despite the considerable efforts and concessions made by South Sudan.

A church delegation led by Archbishop Daniel Deng returned from a visit to Abyei last week. It was shocked by what it saw. The town is deserted and has been completely destroyed. The Catholic church, Catholic and Episcopal Church of Sudan schools, boreholes, administrative offices, government houses, the power station, shops, and even the latrines have all been destroyed. There appear to be no humanitarian agencies working there as, apparently, it is considered part of Sudan, and they do not work cross-border. A huge number of displaced people from Abyei, perhaps as many as 100,000, are in Agok with very few basic services. The people simply ask for what is their right under the Abyei protocol of the comprehensive peace agreement agreed by both parties: a referendum in which they can choose their destiny. All parties should be ready to accept the African Union high-level panel proposal. Abyei cannot endure this much longer. There are some real signs of hope. The four freedoms agreement, under which rights are granted reciprocally to the two countries’ citizens to allow freedom of movement, property ownership, work and residence, is much to be welcomed. This offers much needed safety and stability. The 27 September agreement did not address conflicts internal to Sudan in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, which nevertheless affect both countries.

There can be no military solution. Both parties to the conflict—the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in the north—are militarily well equipped and are set on military success. Both urgently need persuading of the need for a negotiated resolution, which must safeguard the rights of the indigenous population and resist any attempts to force them to flee south and take over their lands and resources. Attacks on civilians by either side must immediately cease, particularly the aerial bombing of civilians by the Sudan armed forces.

Resolving the conflicts in South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur remains critical for the future stability of the Republic of Sudan. Key to this will be the recognition of the reality of Sudan as a multiethnic, multicultural and multireligious nation. The UK and the EU need, in their engagement with the Government of Sudan, to encourage respect for this reality and a constitutional process that enables the inclusion and participation of the whole of Sudanese society.

Freedom of religion is an essential element of respect for human rights in Sudan and needs to be emphasised. There is a significant indigenous Christian presence in Sudan whose rights must be respected. There was a marked deterioration earlier in the year following dangerously provocative language from President Bashir, which included the destruction by a mob of a Presbyterian evangelical church and community centre in Gereif and the destruction by police of an Anglican church in Haj Yusef, both in Khartoum. Anglican church premises in Kadugli were also badly damaged by government forces in June 2011. It is welcome that the local government has taken some steps to work with the church in repairing that building.

Back in South Sudan, the church has a significant role in supporting the transition from armed conflict and in addressing development needs. The church makes a unique contribution in peace-building, and great leadership has been shown by Archbishop Daniel Deng in achieving a regional peace agreement in May 2012 between the different groups in Jonglei State. Development support should be encouraged to ensure a peace dividend becomes apparent so as to consolidate such efforts. In education and health initiatives, the church continues to be a strategic major player. On the first anniversary of South Sudan’s independence in July this year the two archbishops, Anglican and Roman Catholic, Daniel Deng and Paulino Lukudu Loro, reiterated the dream expressed when we met back in May:

“We dream of two nations which are democratic and free, where people of all religions, all ethnic groups, all cultures and all languages enjoy equal human rights based on citizenship. We dream of two nations at peace with each other, cooperating to make best use of their God-given resources, promoting free interaction between their citizens, living side by side in solidarity … We dream of people no longer traumatised, of children who can go to school, of mothers who can attend clinics, of an end to poverty and malnutrition, and of Christians and Muslims who can attend church or mosque freely without fear”.

I call upon Her Majesty’s Government to do all in their power to assist both countries in making this dream a reality, and I welcome this short report.

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