June 27, 2017
Wilberforce A!ert: Sudan Suffers While U.S. Considers Lifting Sanctions
Around the world, religious freedom is a crucial right because it is the basis for so many other liberties. Perhaps the clearest example of this is Sudan.
According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the government continues “to arrest, detain, and prosecute Christian leaders.” The current criminal code assigns the death penalty to Muslims who convert to a different faith.
In a June 22 press release, USCIRF released a letter it sent to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asking him to maintain sanctions against Sudan that are set to expire July 12 because the country has not “shown sufficient progress on allowing greater religious freedom.”
Ryan Boyette, a journalist and human rights advocate who has lived in the Nuba Mountain region of Sudan for years, reports that two churches in the capital city of Khartoum have been bulldozed in the past two months. Two dozen more churches await a similar fate pending upcoming court cases.
For Ryan, who started the journalism organization Nuba Reports, much more than buildings are under threat. Reporting on religious freedom and other issues is not popular with President Omar al-Bashir’s government, because where religious liberty is not granted, often there is no freedom of the press. In 2012, the military bombed Ryan’s house.
“I was there. My pregnant wife was there. Thanks be to God no one was hurt, but the shrapnel went through the roof of my house,” he said.
This was part of a coordinated campaign that, as Nuba Reports has documented, has dropped 4,000 bombs on civilian targets. In the Nuba Mountains, if a church is found in a village, that community can be targeted for destruction.
Also at risk are personal property rights. Today the humanitarian condition in Nuba Mountains is dire. The government has seized farmland, and the people have been cut off from aid and government relief.
Disappointingly, recent evidence has come to light that President Bashir – an indicted war criminal and state sponsor of terrorism – has hired a major law firm in Washington D.C. to represent his government for hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. President Bashir is trying to get the Trump Administration to continue a process started by the Obama Administration to remove sanctions on the Khartoum government.
This would be a bad deal for America. Bashir has killed more innocent people than ISIS, and while the government has halted the bombing runs of innocent civilians, it has laid siege to the Nuba Mountains by cutting off the aid supplies and conscripting land. It is a quieter but no less deadly war. President Trump should not now surrender the policy leverage of sanctions. We know they are having an impact, because Sudan is trying to get them removed.
The sanctions, along with smart Sudan policy, could help steer that country to a place that honors human rights and religious freedom. Its people are ready. As Ryan notes,
“Sudan is one of the most diverse countries in the world with many languages, tribes, and religions. My hope is that people will get the rights they deserve, will feel that they are all first-class citizens. And the government will treat individuals like people treat each other: with dignity and equality.”
Frank R. Wolf, Distinguished Senior Fellow