Sudan's untrustworthy peace
Sudan, Africa's largest nation by land mass, has been bloodied by one of the most protracted and brutal civil wars in contemporary times. In its efforts to impose Islamic Shari'a law, the Khartoum regime's attacks against the Christian (and animist) South began in 1983. As a result, an estimated two million South Sudanese have since died, while some four million others have been displaced.
"It is clear that the Bashir government was the author of not one but two genocidal campaigns, one against the South as well as Darfur," insists Nina Shea, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom.
Though it receives far less international attention than Sudan's more recent civil conflict in the western Darfur region, South Sudan's agony is far from over. On September 24, Shea and other members of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom held a hearing on Capitol Hill to examine Sudan's rapidly deteriorating Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the North and the South and to raise urgent questions about the implementation and monitoring of the CPA. The commission's witnesses were not encouraging.
"People are desperate to return home... but the lack of water, sanitation, medical care and other infrastructure is delaying the rebuilding of southern Sudan and leading to a whole new set of tensions between returnees and those who never left," testified Kenneth Bacon, president of Refugees International.
The peace accord was signed on January 9, 2005, amid high hopes for a just and unified Sudan. Today, however, the well-being of South Sudan's Christians, numbering as many as nine million to 10 million people, remains precarious and the peace agreement itself is at risk.
The South's longtime leader, John Garang, became vice president of Sudan under the CPA's terms. He died in a helicopter crash in July 2005 just two weeks after being sworn in. Without Garang's leadership, and due to the duplicity of President Omar al-Bashir, whose Khartoum regime continues to enforce its radicalized interpretation of Islam, essential stipulations of the CPA have not been carried out.
In May, Bashir's forces continued their violent tactics by assaulting oil-rich Abyei, a contested area sandwiched between the North and South. Although the assault on Abyei was eclipsed by the ongoing genocide in Darfur, it confirmed observers' fears that Bashir cannot be trusted and the CPA is indeed collapsing. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Sudanese Christians who fled into other lands have felt unsafe about returning, but remain in limbo in Arab host countries like Egypt, where local Muslims and government authorities harass and persecute them.
SOME 3,000 Sudanese refugees are presently living in Israel, most of them South Sudanese Christians. In light of the genocide back home, the government gave 600 Darfur refugees immediate protection; those from South Sudan were identified as "economic migrants" in search of a more prosperous way of life.
However, international experts, many of whom have recently traveled to South Sudan, report that the region is marginalized by Khartoum.