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‘Christians Continue to Suffer’ — Over 13,000 Dead, Millions Displaced in Forgotten Sudan War

Jonatan Soriano, Evangelical Focus, April 19, 2024

In April 2023, a war between Sudan’s Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) broke out.

The SAF is led by the President of the transitional council, Abdelfattah al Burhan, and the paramilitary group by his former vice-president, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (alias Hemedti).

One year later, “the war continues and, according to our sources, the partners we work with, peace does not seem to be coming any time soon,” Fikiru Mehari, the operations head of Open Doors East Africa, told Spanish news website Protestante Digital.

With around 14,000 civilians killed and over 8,000 wounded, the conflict concerns international organizations. Amnesty International lamented that “for one year, the people of Sudan have been neglected and ignored as they bore the brunt of violent clashes.”

The non-profit also denounced that “the international community has not exerted sufficient pressure on the warring parties to stop violating the human rights of people caught up in this war.”

The conflict in Sudan is causing the worst displacement crisis in the world, worse than those in Ukraine or Gaza, with over seven million people internally displaced and another two million abroad, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Mehari recalled that “last month, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director Cindy McCain warned that the displacement crisis now also risks becoming the world’s largest hunger crisis.”

“It is truly sad that the war in Sudan does not receive the same international attention as other wars in the world,” he added.

Peace is far away

The last time the two sides met to discuss an agreement to end the conflict was in January 2024, in Bahrain. The meeting only made it clear how far away peace is.

In addition to the repeated ceasefires violated by regular army troops and paramilitaries, there are objectives that no one is willing to accept.

On the one hand, the Sudanese army still includes high-ranking officers from the era of the Omar al-Bashir regime, ousted in July 2019, and the military institution de facto governs the country after the October 2021 coup that interrupted a peaceful transition that was making progress in terms of human rights, including religious freedom.

One of Hemedti’s demands is to remove all those residual positions from the dictatorship era, but the army refuses to accept this demand and some analysts believe that if Al Burhan attempted to negotiate, he would be overthrown by other generals.

On the other hand, the Hemedti paramilitary group, once created by al-Bashir as an elite personal guard in case any of his generals revolt against him, is still viewed with great suspicion within the ranks of the regular army and many are against their taking control of the official armed forces, one of the demands for which the war began.

According to Open Doors source in the region, other factors must be considered, such as the fact that “the war seems increasingly tribal in nature. The forces backing the National Army and President Al Burhan, as well as those backing the Hemedti commander, are supported by their own tribes”.

“Even if the SAF and RSF would try to mediate and decide to make peace, the tribal chiefs would not support that. This is according to our communications with local leaders and church members. They have to make sure that they have the tribal support when they go into peace negotiations”, he added.

An entrenched violence that leads to “the general population, and especially Christians, continue to suffer”.

“The poverty in the country already pressured the population to help each other. And then because of the ongoing fighting, which created an insecurity vacuum, both NGOs and UN agencies are finding it very difficult to move around and provide the necessary support to the displaced. Once again, this is another challenge, because aid and support is not getting to the extent that people need it”, says Open Doors’ official.

Christians worst off

Although the religious minority population had begun to see an opening by the government and slight improvements in their situation, for example with the removal of the death penalty for apostasy (from Islam), the war has meant a return to the levels of the Al Bashir regime.

Mehari underlined that “though all Sudanese suffer because of the war, Christians experience exceptional hardship because they do not receive the same support from communities.”

“Our contacts recently reported on Christians sheltering in a church or other places where they do not mix with the rest of the population, because if they do so they are discriminated for being Christian and it becomes even more difficult for them to survive. If relief aid is distributed, Christians do not have equal opportunity to receive it because of their faith”, he pointed out.

According to the Open Doors’ official, “before the war, Christians were disadvantaged and isolated because the country is Islamic, and now this war will not bring anything different because those people who are treating Christians badly are still in the fighting groups on both sides”.

He explained that “Christians are largely from the African tribes, but also from Arab backgrounds. Christians remain largely neutral in this context. Their hope is that should peace be negotiated, the agreement will be supported by the international community and religious freedom and other basic human rights will be emphasized”.

Mehari warn that “the international community should not be deceived by the thinking that either Al-Burhan or Hemedti are better for democracy or for Christian rights. Both have the same ideology and practice, neither of them are favourable for Christians”.

“Christians hope the international community will strongly encourage the exercise of freedom of religion and basic human rights when there is a peace agreement.

It does not help to favor one group over the other. Even though they both accuse each other of being Islamist and fighting terrorism, they are Islamists in their agenda”.

‘Do not stop praying’

For all that, Mehari asks Christians to pray for “a peaceful resolution. It is hard to find the exact words to pray, because this problem is too big for our brains to comprehend or try to solve, but pray that God will intervene”.

Open Doors “has received reports that church leaders are suffering. They are overwhelmed by the need and also struggle to take care of their own families”.

That is why they also asked to “pray for Christians in the country who are especially vulnerable because of their faith. Pray that God will provide safe sheltering/hiding places for them and provide miraculously in their basic needs”.

“Pray that relief aid will reach people and that Christians will be able to benefit from these distributions, that even amidst all this fighting the Gospel will advance through the Church, and for the faith of Christians in Sudan, that God’s Spirit will strengthen them and guide them”, concluded Mehari.

Editor’s note: This article was republished from Evangelical Focus under a Creative Commons license.

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