Archbishops appeal to government, international community as Sudan approaches referendum[Episcopal News Service, London] With fewer than 100 days to go before southerners in Sudan vote on whether to remain a unified country or to separate from the north, Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul of the Episcopal Church of Sudan is making every effort to ensure that the Jan. 9 referendum goes ahead as planned and that peace holds in the war-torn country.
Deng and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who are appealing to the international community to support the people of Sudan, briefed media at Lambeth Palace on Oct. 7 ahead of a series of meetings with officials in the U.K. Government's foreign office. The meetings are intended to provide updates on the situation on the ground in Sudan and to ensure that the U.K. Government plays a crucial role in supporting the peace and stability of Africa's largest nation. [A video stream of the full press conference is available here.]
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.
Williams talked about the danger of Sudan "sleepwalking towards disaster … if action does not continue from the international community."
Assuming the southerners vote for separation, "there is no preparation at this moment for how to receive the influx of refugees …from the north … back to southern Sudan," Deng said. "The Government of Southern Sudan really has no capacity at this moment to administer or to welcome these people."
Williams explained that a vote for separation would mean that the status of southern refugees in the north would be "even more vulnerable than it is at the moment."
But the threat of open war "in and after the referendum period is the most serious thing of all," he 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 referendum is one of the major terms of Sudan's Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which was signed in January 2005 by the two warring parties -- the Government of Sudan in the predominantly Muslim north and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement in the mainly Christian and Animist south -- bringing an end to a 21-year civil war that claimed more than 2 million lives and displaced about 7 million people.
The agreement also called for the equitable distribution of oil revenues, drawing of fair borders, the development of democratic governance throughout the country, and the reconstruction of devastated infrastructure. The north has been criticized for failing to live into the terms of the peace agreement.
The U.K. Government, Williams said, "has a good and strong record of supporting the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement … and this is no time at all to ease up the pressure on what our government can give in this way."
Acknowledging that Britain takes over the presidency of the U.N. Security Council in November, Williams said: "There is a good opportunity for Britain to show leadership ... I would like to see and I have confidence I will see our government stepping up to the plate and do the sort of monitoring that is needed in Sudan."
Earlier in the week, Deng attended the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham where he lobbied and met with U.K. Members of Parliament.
The Rev. Ian Woodward, a priest in the Church of England's Diocese of Salisbury, which has a 37-year partnership with the Episcopal Church of Sudan, described the meetings as "very encouraging," noting that the U.K. Government is being "very supportive and open to help the churches in pushing for a better understanding of the dangers of violence if the referendum does not proceed in time."
Woodward, who has been assisting Deng during his visit to the U.K., told ENS that Sudan's churches are in a unique position because they reach directly into the communities.
The Episcopal Church of Sudan -- with its four million members, the vast majority of whom are based in the south -- is considered one of the largest non-governmental organizations in southern Sudan and is strategically placed to serve its people in the face of such great adversity.
During the Lambeth media briefing, Williams described Deng as "a colossally effective advocate for Sudan, a defender of the most vulnerable communities in his country, an eloquent spokesman for church and nation."
Deng's awareness and advocacy campaign will from Oct. 10-22 take him to New York and Washington, D.C., where, as part of an ecumenical delegation, he will meet with senior governmental officials and key members of the United Nations, including Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
The other delegation members are Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Adwok of Khartoum; Roman Catholic Bishop Emeritus Paride Taban of Torit; the Rev. Ramadan Chan, general secretary of the Sudan Council of Churches; the Rev. Sam Kobia, Sudan envoy for the All Africa Conference of Churches (formerly general secretary of the World Council of Churches); and John Ashworth, Sudan advisor for Catholic Relief Services and Sudan Ecumenical Forum.
Other areas of major concern in Sudan include escalating tribal conflict and increased violence inflicted by the Lord's Resistance Army, a Ugandan rebel organization.
"The Lord's Resistance Army should not be part of the problem of southern Sudan because [it was] a group of rebels fighting in Uganda," Deng said during the media briefing, acknowledging that reports indicate the group is being funded by the north in order to destabilize the south.
Williams called the LRA a "regional virus … jumping borders and very difficult to pin down." He noted that there are three dioceses in the Episcopal Church of Sudan where large numbers of people have been displaced because of LRA activity. "They're afraid to go back to their villages to sow their crops and so forth because of the level of indiscriminate violence that the LRA brings."
Meanwhile, a conflict lingers in the Darfur region of western Sudan where northern government-backed Arab militia, known as "Janjaweed," continue to attack civilians and raid refugee camps. In March 2009, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudan's President Omar Hasan al-Bashir on seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur. Experts say the warrant is unlikely to be executed.
"The world's attention has very understandably been on the dramatic violence in Darfur," Williams told the media on Oct. 7, "but because the international community has taken its eyes off the need to implement what has been agreed in southern Sudan, that has simply been growing more and more serious day by day for the last few years largely unnoticed."
The Episcopal Public Policy Network on Oct. 6 issued a policy alert informing its members that their voices are making a difference, but that more advocacy is needed. "After months upon months of seeming invisibility, Sudan's future is finally making headlines," the alert said, noting that U.S. President Barack Obama was among the participants at a high-level meeting on Sudan at the United Nations earlier this week.
The alert calls on its members to send a message to Obama urging him "to apply meaningful pressure to the government of the Sudan to allow the January referendum to proceed freely and fairly and to honor its results. The actions of the world community in the coming months will be critical in determining whether Sudan's future will bring war or peace. A return to war will have deep and lasting consequences not just for the people of Sudan, but for the African continent, the region, and the United States."
The Episcopal Church's long-standing support for Sudan is manifested through its partnerships and companion diocese relationships, programs supported by Episcopal Relief & Development, and advocacy work of the Office of Government Relations. The American Friends of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, which counts many Episcopalians among its members, also is actively involved in supporting its Sudanese partners.
There are currently four Episcopal Church missionaries posted in Sudan.
Current companion relationships include Albany (New York) with the Province of Sudan, Bethlehem (Pennsylvania) with Kajo Keji, Chicago with Renk, Indianapolis with Bor, Missouri with Lui, Rhode Island with Ezo, Southwestern Virginia with the Province of Sudan, and Virginia with the Province of Sudan.
The U.S.-based Episcopal Church also has a number of Sudanese congregations and communities of faith as a result of the "Lost Boys" of Sudan, who immigrated to the United States as refugees beginning in 2001.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori in mid-September called on Episcopalians to observe "A Season of Prayer for Sudan."
Acknowledging Sudan's fragile state following decades of civil war, Jefferts Schori said in her Sept. 15 letter that the Episcopal Church can stand in solidarity "with our brothers and sisters in Sudan as we enter a season of preparation by prayer, study, and action."