Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 May 2016, 12:25 GMT

USCIRF Annual Report 2004 - Sudan

Publisher United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
Publication Date 1 May 2004
Cite as United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, USCIRF Annual Report 2004 - Sudan, 1 May 2004, available at: [accessed 31 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The government of Sudan continues severely and systematically to commit violations of freedom of religion or belief, particularly against Christians, disfavored Muslims, and followers of traditional African religions. The Commission has recommended that Sudan remain a "country of particular concern," or CPC. The State Department has repeatedly adopted the Commission's recommendation that Sudan be designated a CPC.

Religious conflict has been a major factor in Sudan's ongoing civil war, which began in 1983. Since its inception, the Commission has identified Sudan as the world's most violent abuser of the right to freedom of religion and belief and has drawn attention to the Sudanese government's genocidal atrocities against civilian populations in the South and in the Nuba Mountains. In the Sudan Peace Act of 2002, Congress found that the Sudanese government had committed acts of genocide. In 2003, while peace efforts reportedly brought improvement elsewhere, government-backed militias committed similar atrocities against ethnically and culturally distinct civilian populations in Darfur, in what the top UN humanitarian official has described as "an organized campaign of forced depopulation of entire areas" and as "ethnic cleansing."

Current and previous governments in Khartoum have attempted forcibly to convert non-Muslims to Islam and to impose Sharia on Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Opposition to these coercive policies has fueled support for armed resistance by non-Muslim and non-Arab populations in the South, the Nuba Mountains region, and elsewhere. The current regime in particular has used appeals to Islam, including calls by senior government officials for "jihad," to mobilize northern Muslim opinion in support of the war effort. Religious prejudice, incited by government officials, contributes to the horrific human rights abuses perpetrated by government security forces and government-backed militias.

In the context of the civil war, which has resulted in approximately two million deaths, predominantly of non-Muslims, government and allied forces have committed egregious human rights abuses, including forced starvation as a result of the denial of international humanitarian assistance; abduction and enslavement of women and children; the forcible displacement of civilian populations (e.g., from oil-producing regions); and aerial bombardment of civilians, church property, and humanitarian facilities. Sites bombed have included clearly identifiable hospitals, schools, churches, markets, and relief organization compounds. Many of these abuses appear to have been the result of deliberate government policies. The need for accountability for these crimes is not diminished by progress in the Sudan peace process, which has been encouraged by the United States and other interested parties.

In early 2004, the government of Sudan and the major rebel group, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), appeared close to a comprehensive peace agreement. In the past, however, commitments have been violated by the government in Khartoum. Close U.S. monitoring of compliance, and sanctions for non-compliance, will be necessary to ensure a just and lasting peace, as will resolution of other regional conflicts not addressed in the peace talks, such as that in Darfur.

The government of Sudan continues severely and systematically to violate the religious freedom of Christians and followers of traditional African religions, as well as of Muslims who are associated with opposition groups or who dissent from the government's interpretation of Islam. Public religious expression and persuasion of non-Muslims by Muslims is allowed in government-controlled areas, but that of Muslims by non-Muslims is forbidden. Conversion from Islam is regarded as apostasy, a crime punishable by death. In practice, suspected converts are reportedly subjected to intense scrutiny, intimidation, and torture by government security personnel.

Religious organizations must be registered by the government to operate legally. Unregistered communities cannot build places of worship or meet in public. Approval can be difficult to obtain, and even registered groups face difficulties. Although permits are routinely granted to build mosques, permission to build churches is routinely denied. For over 30 years, the government has denied permission to construct Roman Catholic churches in areas under its control.

Some children from non-Muslim families captured and sold into slavery by pro-government militias reportedly have been forced to convert to Islam. There are similar reports of coerced conversion in government-controlled camps for internally displaced persons, as well as among prison inmates, Popular Defense Force trainees, and children in camps for vagrant minors. The government has also allegedly tolerated the use of humanitarian assistance to induce conversion to Islam. In government-controlled areas, children who have been abandoned or whose parentage is unknown are considered by the government to be Muslims and may not be adopted by non-Muslims.

The Commission has made a series of recommendations regarding U.S. policy toward Sudan, including that the U.S. government appoint a nationally prominent individual to bring about a peaceful and just settlement of the war in Sudan. In September 2001, President Bush appointed former Senator John Danforth as Special Envoy for Peace in Sudan, energizing the Sudan peace process.

In 2003, diplomatic activity by the United States continued to follow several of the Commission's recommendations. The U.S. government continues to support peace talks between the government of Sudan and the SPLM/A, and grassroots, "intra-South," reconciliation efforts. The United States supported the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team, established as a result of Senator Danforth's efforts, to monitor and investigate alleged abuses against civilians, such as aerial bombardment. The United States also supported the multinational Joint Military Commission to monitor the cease-fire in the Nuba Mountains and the Verification Monitoring Team to monitor the cessation of hostilities between Khartoum and the SPLM/A. These monitoring efforts reportedly have reduced abuses of civilians in the South and the Nuba Mountains, encouraging displaced persons to return home.

The Commission wrote a letter to Secretary Powell in April 2003 regarding the Administration's upcoming report to Congress, required by the Sudan Peace Act, on the status of the peace negotiations. The Commission urged the Administration, among other things, to "frankly address the violations of the Sudanese government's ceasefire commitments and clearly state consequences for non-compliance that will result from any future violations." The Commission underlined its concerns regarding the need for respect for religious freedom and other universal human rights in Sudan in a May 2003 meeting in Washington, D.C. with SPLM/A leader Dr. John Garang, who in turn shared his views regarding the peace process.

In July 2003, the Commission wrote to President Bush to ask that he urge African leaders to support the Sudan peace process. The Commission also submitted testimony to the House Committee on International Relations Subcommittee on Africa at its May 2003 hearing, Reviewing the Sudan Peace Act Report, in which the Commission included further recommendations for U.S. policy.

In addition to recommending that Sudan be designed a CPC, the Commission has recommended that the U.S. government should:

  • oppose the application of Sharia to non-Muslims wherever they may reside in the country and insist that national institutions such as the military, law enforcement, and the highest level of the judiciary be secular institutions;
  • urge the government of Sudan to (a) allow all religious groups to conduct their activities freely; (b) ensure that all religious groups are free to build, repair, and operate houses of worship and social service ministries without delay or harassment; and (c) repeal any laws that punish changing one's faith or encouraging another to do so;
  • prevail upon the government of Sudan to provide needed humanitarian access to international relief organizations and increase U.S. humanitarian assistance delivered outside the Operation Lifeline Sudan system;
  • continue efforts to aid the suffering civilian population of Darfur, including by seeking an end to killing, ethnic cleansing, and forced displacement and Sudanese government impediments to the distribution of international humanitarian assistance; assisting refugees and internally displaced persons to return home in safety; and promoting a ceasefire as well as a peaceful and just resolution of the grievances that underlie the crisis;
  • quickly disperse funding for humanitarian purposes, to build civil society, and to promote economic development in southern Sudan;
  • hold the government of Sudan accountable for significant violations of agreements it has made with the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army;
  • continue to keep in place existing sanctions on Sudan and refrain from upgrading diplomatic relations;
  • build upon the work of the International Eminent Persons Group to combat and end the terrible practice of abduction and enslavement by government-sponsored militias; and
  • work to increase human rights and media reporting on abuses in Sudan and promote grassroots reconciliation among Sudanese.

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