Sudan Bishops on Referendum: Propose Hope, Warnings

Urge Human Rights, With or Without Secession

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JUBA, Sudan, JULY 27, 2010 ( The bishops of Sudan are calling for a nation that respects life and human rights, regardless of the outcome of the January referendum that could lead to the secession of the southern portion of the country.

In a statement released at the conclusion of their extraordinary plenary session last Thursday, the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference presented what it called a «message of hope and call to action.»

Sudan had irregular elections in April that resulted in reinstating Omar al-Bashir as president of the country, ruling from the northern capital Khartoum.

But as part of a 2005 peace deal, al-Bashir is to allow a referendum scheduled for Jan. 9, 2011, in which southern Sudanese will decide whether to separate from the north and form Africa’s newest nation.

«This is an historic moment. This is a moment of change. Sudan will never be the same again,» the bishops affirm.

But they are quick to point out the problems surrounding the vote. The prelates outline nine elements that «have not been done or are behind schedule,» including demarcation of the eventual border between north and south, regulations for the referendum, definition of voter eligibility and registration. This last element, they note, has not even begun. And «[v]oter awareness and education has barely begun, and indeed cannot proceed without clarification of some of the above issues.»

Human dignity

The prelates reflect on what both potential outcomes of the referendum could or should mean.

«If unity is an option, we must understand what kind of unity we are speaking of,» they note. «It must be a unity embracing all, in a just, free and open society, where the human dignity of every citizen is safeguarded and respected. […] A unity which binds and oppresses, prohibits all opposition, a unity which imposes uniformity and condemns those who differ in faith and culture must be rejected.

«If secession is chosen, what are the challenges that will face the people of both north and south Sudan? How will the precious values of honesty and integrity, tolerance and respect, compassion for the weak and poor, be upheld and guaranteed? «How will good governance and the rule of law be assured? How will the dignity of the human person and the common good be respected and protected?»

Not God’s will

What the prelates are certain about, however, is that life must be respected.

«We believe it is not the will of God for human beings to endure such suffering and oppression, particularly at the hands of fellow human beings, and so we bring a message of hope and encouragement to our people and all people of good will,» they wrote. «The Catholic Church proclaims that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the person is at the core of a moral vision for society. […]

«Our Church teaches that the role of the government and other institutions is to protect human life and human dignity and promote the common good. Human dignity can be protected and a healthy community can be achieved only if human rights are protected and responsibilities are met.»


The bishops conclude with various exhortations, including a request for all people of good will to pray, and the international community to contribute oversight of the election.

«In the event that unity of Sudan is the legitimate outcome of the process, we call for a change of heart among those in power, to bring about a unity embracing all, in a just, free and open society, where the human dignity of every citizen is safeguarded and respected,» they wrote. «In the event that the people of southern Sudan choose secession, we call upon those in power to ensure good neighborly relations and a smooth and peaceful transition. In particular we encourage the parties to reach amicable solutions to practical questions such as oil, citizenship and border issues — solutions which benefit all.»

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