CSW welcomes calls for establishment of an independent religious freedom commission

CSW welcomes calls by the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), led by Malik Agar, to establish an independent religious freedom commission in Sudan.

The SPLM-N is an armed group based in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states which fought against the government of former president Omar al-Bashir, and called for the right to self-determination for the two states. The group split into two factions in 2017 over the issue of self determination for the people of the Nuba Mountains. The SPLM-N led by Abdel-Aziz al Hilu supported self determination while the SPLM-N Agar, led by Malik Agar, argued that it would lead to a further fragmentation of Sudan. With the advent of the transitional government following al Bashir’s ousting, there have been peace talks with armed groups aimed at resolving the country’s internal conflicts.

In a statement to the Sudan Tribune, the Deputy Leader of the SPLM-N Agar, Yasir Arman, called for the creation of a commission that would address the “systematic religious-based discrimination carried out by the former regime.”

Freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) has been a central issue raised by both SPLM-N factions. The SPLM-N al-Hilu faction joined the Sudanese National Alliance to call for the formulation of a secular constitution and legal structures with a clear separation of religion and state. Peace Talks between the transitional government and the SPLM-N al-Hilu faction have stalled over the inclusion in the agenda of plans for a secular constitution and self-determination for South Kordofan and Blue Nile. 

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “We welcome the recommendation for the creation of a commission on freedom of religion or belief that will address the systemic violations that have been committed against Christians and other religious or belief communities in Sudan. There is considerable evidence of the systematic targeting of civilians, supporters of the SPLM, Christians and ethnic Nuba by the al Bashir administration. It is therefore essential that FoRB is included in the peace talks and historic violations are addressed through transitional justice processes.”

The Blue Nile and South Kordofan, often referred to as the two areas, were included in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that led to the South Sudanese referendum and decision to form a new nation. Elements in the agreement that referred to the two areas were not fully implemented and there is evidence that the al Bashir-led government undermined and delayed implementation of the peace deal. In June 2011, CSW warned of possible war crimes being committed in South Kordofan after the Sudan Armed Forces increasingly made use of aerial bombardments against civilian targets.

Since the formation of the transitional government in September 2019, Prime Minister  Abdalla Hamdok has emphasized the importance of resolving Sudan’s internal conflicts. The Juba Peace process brought together the government of Sudan and armed groups based in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile to negotiate a new peace agreement. The government has also made statements supporting the protection of FoRB in Sudan.

There has been a rise in attacks on churches in Khartoum and Blue Nile State since December 2019. However, the government has responded differently to incidents in the two states.

After the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) Jabarona was attacked on multiple occasions in December and January, the Ministry of Religious Affairs appointed a five-person commission to investigate the incidents.

Meanwhile, the Sudan Internal Church, the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church in Bout Town, El Tadamon locality, Blue Nile state were attacked on 28 December 2019 and again on 16 January 2020. However, despite assurances from the federal and state governments that the churches would be rebuilt and perpetrators would be brought to justice, the churches are still waiting for a resolution. Subsequently, on 9 March extremists razed the Sudanese Evangelical Presbyterian Church (SEPC), in Bout town to the ground.

CSW, csw.org.uk