In 2005, a peace agreement was signed which brought to a close the 21 year civil war between the North and the South of Sudan that cost more than two million lives and another four million displaced from their homes. In addition to working behind the scenes to help bring this about, ICRD undertook two complementary institutional initiatives designed to ensure that once peace was achieved, it would be lasting in nature (unlike the earlier peace of 1972 that ended Sudan’s first civil war and later broke down).
Thanks to extraordinary indigenous leadership, the performance of both bodies, the Sudan Inter-religious Council (SIRC) and the Committee to Protect Religious Freedom (which functions under the Council’s auspices), has exceeded all expectations. It is significant that these two independent bodies were formed in a totalitarian context. Not only did the Islamic regime permit the establishment of this independent body that has as part of its mandate holding the government accountable for its religious policies, but it also agreed to give serious consideration to the Council’s recommendations.
Notwithstanding the subsequent conflict in Darfur, the government honored the above commitment to the tune of more than $500,000 in the form of land and funds to permit the building of new churches and to provide restitution for the past seizure of church properties (see accomplishments). With the financial backing of the U.S. Institute of Peace, the SIRC worked to mobilize Muslim and Christian religious leaders on a regional basis to work together in bringing peace to Darfur and in solidifying it in other parts of the country, including the South.
Among other accomplishments, the SIRC
- Was instrumental in arresting the rioting within four days after its outbreak following the death of John Garang (leader of the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement) under suspicious circumstances. Untold lives were saved as a result.
- Secured permits and the necessary land (valued at $326,000) from the Sudanese government to build 3 new churches in Khartoum (the first new churches to be built in the last 25 years).
- In cooperation with the U.S. Institute of Peace, organized a meeting of 40 Christian and Muslim leaders on the role of religious leaders in peace-building and on the role of religious communities in healing the wounds of war (with a particular focus on the related provisions of the North/South Comprehensive Peace Agreement).
- Defused a highly-charged political/legal confrontation between the Episcopal Church and the Government of Sudan (the subject of a subsequent congratulatory message from the U.S. Chargé in Khartoum).
- Secured compensation of $230,000 (in the form of land and cash) for the Catholic Church from the Government of Sudan for the government’s illegal confiscation of a major church property in 1997 (thereby removing an ongoing obstacle to Catholic cooperation with Muslim religious leaders).
- Facilitated a ban on commercial development adjacent to Christian churches.
- Prior to the North/South peace agreement, conducted a major conference for 600 Muslim and Christian leaders on “The Role of Religious Leaders in the Peace Process.” This was a major event that attracted the attention and participation of top political leaders and inspired extensive press coverage.
- Conducted a three-day training workshop for 30 next-generation Christian and Muslim leaders (an equal mix of college graduates under the age of thirty from both faith communities) on “Protecting Religious Freedom in the Sudan.”