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US sees some gains in religious freedom in Sudan

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By Daniel Van Oudenaren

September 21, 2008 (WASHINGTON) — There are some improvements since last year in religious freedom throughout Sudan, where restrictions on Christians in the north were relaxed, said a new report released by the US State department on Friday.

"Unlike prior reporting periods, the Government did not engage in severe abuses of religious freedom," said the State Department’s annual report on religious freedoms around the world for the period between July 2007 and July 2008.

The State Department nevertheless singled out the fact that Muslims in the north who expressed an interest in Christianity or converted to Christianity faced strong social pressure to recant.

The report detailed few instances of specific abuses of religious freedom, but cited limitations on Christian missionary activity and dwelled heavily on the legal framework and political context within which past abuses have occurred. "There are no legal remedies to address constitutional violations of religious freedom by government or private actors," said the report.

The interim national constitution of 2005 and the constitution of Southern Sudan both deny recognition to any political party that discriminates on the basis of religion. The report implies, however, that the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) discriminates on the basis of religion: “Overwhelmingly Muslim in composition, the ruling NCP favors members of its political and tribal clique. Opposition political parties, often composed of adherents of different Sufi sects and non-Arab northern Muslims, are systematically excluded from the political process and national policymaking.

“Although the Interim National Constitution and the Constitution of Southern Sudan specifically prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion for candidates for the National Civil Service, the selection process favored party members and friends of the NCP,” said the report.

The State Department’s position on religious freedom in Sudan likely will be closely monitored by a U.S. constituency of evangelical Christians, who have long viewed Sudan’s civil wars largely as a religious struggle between the Muslim north and the Christian south, and whose influence with President George W. Bush drove him to push for the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the two largest warring parties in Sudan, the northern government and the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement.

The 2008 report estimates that Sudan’s population is 40.2 million: 70 percent of the population is Muslim, 25 percent of the population holds traditional indigenous beliefs (animism), while the Christians are the third largest religious group, traditionally concentrated in the south and the Nuba Mountains.

The State Department, which is generally uneasy with Islamist governments and more supportive of secular ones, cited concerns about aspects of Shari’a law that have been codified into civil and criminal law, including penalties of death or imprisonment in the north for apostasy from Islam, and lashings for consumption of alcohol. There were, however, “no reported incidents of this punishment being applied during the reporting period.”

The report mentions the creation of the Commission for the Rights of Non-Muslims in the National Capital and says it made little progress in changing official government policy towards non-Muslims in Khartoum. However the State Department acknowledges that it provided a forum for dialogue on religious matters that was previously nonexistent.

Also, according to the report this commission was successful in obtaining the release of some non-Muslims arrested for violating Islamic law.

Specific instances of concern raised in the report are the July 2007 arrest of a Catholic priest in connection with a woman’s planned conversion to Christianity, routine monitoring of religious activity by the National Intelligence and Security Service, and lack of enforcement of legal guarantees to respect the Islamic or Christian holy days and workweek, which require employers and schools to give two hours before 10 a.m. on Sunday to Christians for religious purposes, or two hours on Fridays to Muslims for religious purposes.

In this regard the report also mentions that Muslims in southern Sudan are not given 2 hours to perform Friday prayer as required by the national law. GoSS offices and businesses in the south follow the Monday through Friday workweek, with Sunday as a day of religious observance.

Although the report said optimistically that “the Government toned down public rhetoric aimed at religious minorities, permitted the publication and distribution of Christian newspapers in the north, and allowed a church to broadcast religious radio programming from Khartoum,” it also cited a July 25, 2007 interview of Sudan’s Defense Minister as a disturbing instance of religious propaganda.

The minister, Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein claimed in the Saudi Arabian newspaper Okaz that "24 Jewish organizations" were fueling the conflict in Darfur. According to representatives for Darfur Muslims, the war in Darfur is not caused by Jewish organizations but rather by racial and political divisions and economic marginalization. “Anti-Semitic rhetoric is common in both the official media and statements by NCP officials,” said the State Department report.

The U.S. Administration discusses religious freedom with Sudanese government officials as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. Since 1999 the Secretary of State has designated Sudan a "Country of Particular Concern" annually under the International Religious Freedom Act for particularly severe violations of religious freedom.

Also on Friday, another government organization, the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom, criticized Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for not using her authority to make annual updates to the list of “Countries of Particular Concern,” including reiterating this designation for Sudan.

The commission, which was created by Congress to monitor religious freedom and advise other parts of the government, is hosting a hearing in Washington on Wednesday, “Sudan’s Unraveling Peace and the Challenge to U.S. Policy,” featuring distinguished scholars, diplomats and humanitarians.

(ST)

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The Sudan Tribune editorial team.
  • 22 September 2008 20:56, by Mabor Adut Mayor

    I have realized that in old sudan but not this sudan of CPA , the islamic religion was the consitution, rule of law and religion enforce to the people by force not religious influence it was resisted by the real black African people particulary Dinka which lead immigrant Arabs to wages the war against southernes and when astupid person get annoyed it will be hard for him to be advices. so the Arabs are stupid.

    repondre message

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