October 9, 2010 (JUBA) – The Vice President of the semi-autonomous region of Southern Sudan, Riek Machar, has stressed the importance of establishing the future of the church in northern Sudan in the event of the south voting for independence in the upcoming referendum on 9 January 2011.
- US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice meets Riek Machar Vice President of Government of Southern Government - in Juba capital of south Sudan Oct 2010 (ST)
A conference on human rights and religious freedom involving leaders from Christian and Islamic faiths was organized at the US Consulate in Juba by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, to which Machar was invited as the key speaker.
Also addressing the closing session of the dialogue between the Sudan Council of Churches (SCC) and the government he said there were concerns about the future of the church in northern Sudan should the south secede.
He said it was important to reach an understanding with the north on the future of the Christian faith, the churches including their physical infrastructures.
He told the conference attendees that Sudan has never established a permanent constitution since its creation because of the failure by successive regimes in the north to accommodate the country’s religious and cultural diversity.
Religion and state, he said, have not been separated in Sudan where Islamic Sharia is the religion from which national laws are drawn.
Islamic Sharia law was adopted under the Presidency of Gaafar Nimeiry in 1983 and was one of the triggers of the north-south civil war that ended in a 2005 peace deal.
The north had been running a theocratic state while the South has been calling for a secular state, which it has currently established in the semi-autonomous Southern Sudan. “NCP is a theocracy…while we in SPLM are secularists,” he said.
The Vice President explained that the South had already established the policy of tolerating all religions with all the freedoms provided for constitutionally.
He expressed the need to tolerate religious diversity in the north and allow the freedom to worship, preach and proselytize even after secession of the South.
During the 21 years of North-South war churches in the north experienced mistreatment including confiscation of their buildings by the government.
The US commission for religious freedom has stepped up its mission to advocate for religious freedom in the country as well as in other parts of the globe.