SUDANThe people still suffer
Routine abuse of civilian population
After a visit to Sudan, a delegation from the Southern African Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) issued a report denouncing the alarming conditions that face millions of people who have been forced to leave their homes because of the country’s civil war, and the “endless injustice” inflicted on Sudanese Christians.
“In the settlement camps outside Khartoum,” the bishops’ report says, “people live in homes constructed of mud bricks, yet are still often victims of indiscriminate destruction and relocation by the government.” Meanwhile in the south “indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets continues unabated.”
Sudan has been wracked for 17 years by a civil war which pits the people of the South—who are mostly Christians or followers of traditional animist religions—against the Muslim regime based in the North. The Khartoum government has frequently been accused of gross human-rights violations, including the bombing of civilians, the kidnapping of children, and the enslavement of prisoners. The government has also barred the delivery of humanitarian aid to the people of the south, who face a constant threat of starvation and lack of sanitary and medical facilities.
In their report the South African bishops say that close to two million Sudanese people have died as a result of the war, and millions of others are now living in refugee camps “with no access to basic services.” After visiting camps at Jebel Aulia, Jabarona and Dar el Salaam, they witnessed the “harsh conditions: the only water is from sparsely located wells and there are no basic health or education services; there are no schools save those run by the Church.” The Khartoum government has refused permission to build any new structures for education, health, or worship needs for the past 12 years. Yet everywhere there are well-constructed mosques, for which electric power is supplied. “In the face of this, government officials still maintain there is freedom of religion in Sudan,” the bishops remark.
Camp residents told how “women are lashed and imprisoned for brewing and selling traditional beer—in violation of the Shari’a Islamic law—which is often their only means of making a living.” The report also recalls systematic and open destruction of churches and schools, and the delegation saw the Catholic Club located near the Khartoum airport, which was seized without compensation by the government in early 1998.
In the south the delegation visited Torit, Rumbek, Yei and Yambio dioceses, where they say “indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets continues unabated. The use of high-flying Antonov aircraft enables the government of Sudan to hold the local population in a grip of terror; popular targets of the bombers are churches, schools and clinics run by the Church.”
The report denounces the economic motives behind the conflict in which Khartoum is systemically clearing people out of the rich oil-producing areas “to enable companies from Canada, Malaysia, and China, among others, to tap resources unhindered.”
Condemned priest reflects on his reprieve
Hopes to return to his parishioners
In an interview with the Fides news service, Father Hilary Boma—who was arrested by the Khartoum regime in the summer of 1998 on charges of sedition, and held in prison until he was released by a presidential order of December 1999—said: “My release did not end the suffering, because the Church in Sudan continues to suffer.”
Father Hilary was arrested at the end of July 1998, along with 25 other people—including one other priest—accused of being involved in a bombing attack in Khartoum on June 20, 1998. The priests were released on December 6, 1999. Father Boma is now in Germany for medical treatment.
“Mine was not an individual case,” Father Boma told Fides. “We were a group of 26, two of us priests. Five of the group died of torture in prison.” While international protests eventually led to the release of the accused priests, Father Boma points out that the government never retracted its charges against the alleged conspirators.
Sudan’s people continue to suffer today, Father Boma said, because their country is “abandoned by the world; she is not included in the plans of great international movements.” He continued: “The interests of the great nations seem to be more important than our suffering. Our life is the continuation of the Cross. In some cases the result of this suffering is extreme and ends with death; sometimes, as in my case, there is providential intervention, and release from prison. But the suffering remains.” He insisted that the situation in Sudan will not improve until international leaders intervene, forcing the Khartoum regime to respect the human rights of its opponents.
Asked whether he hopes to go back to his parish in Sudan, Father Boma answered: “It is difficult at the moment. But as a priest I am longing to return.”