In Sudan, a fragile peace is vanishing at the rate of more than 10,000 corpses per month. Murder, disease, and starvation in Sudan's western Darfur region have taken between 210,000 and 350,000 lives, according to a recent U.N. estimate.
Starting in 2003, Janjaweed Arabs, a Sudan-backed militia, have driven 2 million villagers from their homes in ethnic-cleansing attacks designed to suppress local rebels. Satellite imaging has documented hundreds of burned-out villages. In remote border camps, displaced families live under plastic sheeting with grossly inadequate food and water. They have just enough food to starveslowly. Already 20 children a day may die in these camps, where 70 people sometimes share one pit latrine.
Eyewitness accounts detailing the militia attacks are horrifying. "They killed my 3-year-old son right in front of my eyes," one father from West Darfur said. Since last fall, women have reported more than 500 rapes. Three women said five militiamen beat and raped them last August. The women said, "After they abused us, they told us that now we would have Arab babies. And, if they would find any [more] women, they would rape them again to change the color of their children."
Forgotten by the World
Human-rights activists call the situation in Sudan a "genocide in slow motion." But it has not captured the public's imagination even though the compelling film Hotel Rwanda provides a fresh reminder about genocide. After a recent visit to Sudan, Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., said, "I have seen with my own eyes the crisis of Darfurian refugees, who are being forgotten by much of the world."
Last year, then Secretary of State Colin Powell appropriately labeled the Darfur crisis as genocide. Also, the U.N. Security Council passed resolutions demanding an end to violence. Then in January, Sudan's leaders and southern rebels signed a new peace accord. These were all hopeful steps. But none of them has made a significant difference on the ground.
Even violence in the southern border region has not stopped. Along the Sudan-Uganda border, the Lord's Resistance Army attacks with impunity. Once again, women are the targets. In mid-March, rebels assaulted three women gathering firewood and cut off their ears, lips, and breasts. The attackers often abduct children to serve in their army. Captured children, mostly Christian, are trained to kill. They often go through a perverted baptism-like ritual supposedly making them immune to the penetration of bullets.
To understand Sudan, it's essential to include all the pieces of the puzzle: the Darfur genocide, the Sudan-supported Lord's Resistance Army, the grip of Islamic radicalism in the capital city of Khartoum, and the recent peace agreement. All are connected. A benchmark event in this conflict occurred in 1983 with Khartoum's imposition of Islamic law nationally.
Western Christians can play a vital role in helping to stop violence and start peace on the ground throughout Sudan.
Unless all parties stop the violence, the peace process will shatter within the next few months. The United States, the United Nations, and other peace advocates must talk less and act more. In a small step forward, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution last month to refer war-crimes suspects in Sudan to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The perpetrators of genocide must be stopped and brought to justice.
For Christians, the time for rapid response has arrived. "Islamists in Sudan have not given up their jihad-in-Africa campaign," says Faith McDonnell, director of the Church Alliance for a New Sudan, based in Washington, D.C. "Are we willing to get in there and help southern Sudan? To build schools, churches, hospitals, roads? Are we willing to help train pastors? Will we force the cessation of genocide in Sudan?"
The Sudan Council of Churches USA, based in Overland Park, Kansas, has 38 member congregations that are stepping up to the task of rebuilding. Recently, they said, "We believe God is calling us to reach out to our former persecutors in love, forgiveness, and mercy." These Sudanese church leaders also have rallied Americans to their cause because they see themselves as missionaries to America, not just refugees from Africa.
In November, they helped to lead a missions team to a refugee camp in Chad. This outreach was an important moment of Muslim-Christian reconciliation because the Khartoum government practiced "using a slave to kill a slave." That means Muslim soldiers from Darfur were conscripted to kill southern Sudanese.
Advocacy is also important. American evangelicals are in a rare position to be listened to, not just heard, in Washington and the United Nations. One goal for evangelicals is to bring political priorities closer to biblical values. International relief groups know firsthand that when American evangelicals speak with one voice, policymakers in Washington pay attention. And high-level pressure gets results overseas.
In the face of genocide and crimes against humanity, the consequences of our inaction are staggering. Sudan's January peace accord holds the high promise of a shared future for Muslims and Christians, united under a secular self-government. Their success may model a means for reconciliation in other religio-political hotspots.
Creating peace is costly, but it is well worth our persistence. Paul Aciek Ater, a Sudanese pastor in Kansas, says of the people in Darfur, "They are God's children, and they are suffering terrible injustice."
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Books & Culture discussed the moral and political message of Tears of the Sun, a movie about humanitarian action in Africa.
Our past coverage of the attempts for peace in Sudan include:
Never Again? | Genocide in Sudan tests our commitment to justice. A Christianity Today editorial (Aug. 03, 2004)
Confronting Sudan's Evils | Western Christians and governments should press Khartoum on multiple fronts. A Christianity Today editorial (April 3, 2000)
Fragile Accord | History, resentment, and ethnic tension imperil long-term peace in Sudan. (Feb. 07, 2005)
A False Cry of Peace | Wilfred Mlay, World Vision's regional vice president for Africa, discusses the crisis facing black Muslims in Darfur. (Sept. 09, 2004)
Sudden Death in Darfur | John Danforth, new U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, demands Sudan stop murderous Arab militias (July 16, 2004)
Ethnic Cleansing, Genocide, and Plain Old Murder | What Tony Campolo and the State Department mean in recent comments about Palestine and Sudan. (June 23, 2004)
Freedom for Sudanese Faith | With new peace accord signed, Christians prepare to meet needs (July 12, 2004)
Ambassador: Sudan Accords Only One Step in Peace Process | Continued effort to implement and monitor Sudan's peace agreement will be necessary to ensure safety for its population, Michael Ranneberger says. (June 04, 2004)
Hope, Caution Follow Signing of Sudanese Peace Agreement | After 21 years of civil war, Sudan may finally be on the verge of peace. But don't stop praying. (June 04, 2004)
Submitting to Islamor Dying | Ceasefires and peace talks bow to greater powers in Sudan (Oct. 8, 2003)
More Christianity Today coverage of persecution is available on our website.
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