USCIRF urges Obama to appoint special Sudan envoy

WASHINGTON (BP)--The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended Feb. 11 the federal government make achieving peace in Sudan a priority, beginning with the appointment of a special envoy as soon as possible.

The special envoy would be an advocate for the Obama administration in the effort to bring about full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in Sudan. That January 2005 treaty ended a civil war of more than 20 years marked by what has been described as a genocidal campaign by the militant Islamic Arab regime in Khartoum against Christians and animists in southern Sudan and moderate African Muslims.

In a Capitol Hill news conference, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) stressed the need for the Sudanese government to enact its CPA obligations. The danger of the CPA unraveling may create increasing belligerence between Khartoum, in the north, and the south and disadvantage chances of achieving peace in Darfur, where another genocidal effort has occurred during the last six years.

In that western region of Sudan, Khartoum military forces and Arab militias backed by the government have instituted ethnic cleansing against African Muslims, resulting in the killing of about 400,000 people, as well as rampant torture, rape and kidnapping, USCIRF has reported. More than two million people have been left homeless, according to estimates.

Members of Congress at the news conference suggested the Obama administration issue a clear policy to frame what it will do and what the expected work of the special envoy will be. It is important the special envoy is someone who demonstrates credibility when speaking for the president, said Rep. Frank Wolf, R.-Va.

Among USCIRF recommendations presented at the news conference were:

-- Focusing on and advancing implementation of the CPA by building support for peace;

-- Protecting civilians by establishing security guarantees;

-- Stressing the importance of reconciliation and law by monitoring and investigating human rights;

-- Constructing a successful economy by encouraging the development of a banking system;

-- Expanding U.S. diplomacy in southern Sudan.

The recommendations are designed to ensure peace not only in southern Sudan but in the Darfur region of Sudan as well.

"You must understand. Justice is important, but the people in the [Darfur refugee] camps cannot wait," said Rep. Donald Payne, D.-N.J., chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee's Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health. "They need action and need it now."

Payne shared his concern for the necessity of balance and accountability in Sudan. He reminded reporters Sudan accommodated Osama Bin Laden within its borders during part of the 1990s.

The success of CPA is central in promoting peace in Darfur and other regions of Sudan, speakers said. If the CPA collapses, then the crisis in Darfur will continue, Wolf said.

"For six years now, the genocide has unfolded. For four years now, we've watched the implementation of the CPA, as rocky as it is, slowly, steadily grind ...," said John Prendergast, co-chair of the Enough Project, a prevention campaign that takes action to end crimes against humanity, such as the genocide that is going on in Sudan.

"The Obama administration and the United States Congress have a real opportunity now, today, at this moment," Prendergast said. "The U.S. needs to align itself and then work assiduously for peace."

USCIRF identifies what it considers the world's worst religious freedom violators and recommends those governments it believes fit that category to the State Department as "countries of particular concern" (CPCs). The State Department determines which countries will be placed on the CPC list.

USCIRF has recommended Sudan as a CPC, and the State Department has designated Sudan as one of eight CPCs.

All of USCIRF's recommendations for establishing peace in Sudan, as well as its May 2008 annual report on the east African country, may be found online at www.uscirf.gov.

USCIRF is a nine-member panel selected by the president and congressional leaders. It reports to the White House and Congress on religious freedom overseas. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, is a USCIRF commissioner.


Yvette Rattray is an intern in the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.

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