World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Release
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10 December 1998

WCC Eighth Assembly - Press Release No. 34

A "crisis meeting" of delegates and visitors from Sudan Thursday (10 December) called on the World Council of Churches, meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe, not to be party to a "conspiracy of silence" on genocide in Southern Sudan. The meeting also called on the WCC to intercede with the world community for the people of the area.

A statement issued after the meeting said: "We, the Sudanese delegates and participants and supporters of the Sudanese people's struggles for justice, freedom and religious tolerance, are deeply disturbed by the lack of concern by the WCC on the issue of the Sudan conflict.

"We earnestly encourage Assembly members and the governing structures of the WCC to discuss and to treat as an emergency priority the present genocide being perpetrated by the Islamic fundamentalist regime in Khartoum against the people of Southern Sudan. We urge the WCC to call for an end to religious persecution, slavery, economic injustice, political oppression and racism.

"We call on the WCC to support the IGAD [Inter-Governmental Authority on Drought and Development] peace initiative with the Declaration of Principles as the basis for resolving the Sudanese conflict. The WCC should not be a party to the international conspiracy of silence on the genocide in Southern Sudan."

An official of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement for Southern Africa said in an interview Thursday: "The churches are in danger of showing the same indifference to the plight of the people of Southern Sudan as they did to the plight of Jews under Hitler."

Dr Barnaba Benjamin, an Assembly visitor and regional representative of the Liberation Movement, said: "The churches watched in silence when Hitler carried out his programe of genocide against the Jews. Will they repeat the mistakes of the past? Will they watch in silence the genocide Khartoum is carrying out against the people of Southern Sudan?

"Bishop Paride Taban has made a dramatic appeal to this Assembly. If, in spite of that appeal, the WCC remains silent, it will amount to complicity in the killings. The Pope and other church leaders have apologised for the churches' failure to speak out for the Jewish people. Will the WCC in the future be apologising for what it fails to do in Harare in the next few days?"

The Right Rev. Paride Taban, Roman Catholic Bishop of Torit, Sudan, said at an Assembly Africa Day service last Saturday (Press Release No. 10) that his people had asked him to challenge the WCC about the war in Sudan. He said: "Can anyone assist us to bring a lasting and just peace to the people of Sudan?"

Dr Benjamin said: "Bishop Taban has spoken in a ringing voice about the problems of Southern Sudan. The issues have never been put so prophetically to the churches before. Bishop Taban is the voice of the voiceless. Will the churches despise him and reject what he has said?

"He has lived with the people of Southern Sudan. He has suffered with them. He has starved with them. He has shared the little he has with them. He has seen his churches destroyed and his priests killed. How could the churches ignore him?"

Dr Benjamin said that 1.5 million people had died in the war since 1983. "Thousands are in slavery. Some Canadian churches recently bought some of the slaves their freedom.

"There are four million people displaced in their own country. They are living under bushes and in squatter camps, without food, without water, without services of any kind. Another one million live as refugees in neighbouring countries. There has been no education for our children since 1983. Our people's sufferings seem to be without end.

"Two Catholic priests are being tried in a military court in Khartoum. The Vatican has interceded for them. Will the WCC help them? Will the WCC help us?

"It is not enough to pour aid into Southern Sudan. The WCC must exert all the pressure it can on the international community to stop the killing and to work for a just and lasting peace. As Bishop Taban asked, why has the international community taken no action to protect the people of Southern Sudan as it did for the Kurds and the people of Kosovo?

"Many Christians are being tortured and killed. They are being martyred because they will not renounce their Christian faith and accept Islam."

In a paper prepared for the WCC's Central Committee, its governing body between the seven-year Assemblies, and released Wednesday (9 December), people of the Sudan have listed five major areas of concern. They claim that:

  • Religious intolerance: the Jihad (Muslim holy war) has undermined the basis of a peaceful solution to 42 years of civil war.
  • Chemical and biological warfare: chemical and biological weapons have been banned by the UN but are being used against the Southern Sudanese.
  • Conscription of students and minors: the Sudan government has closed schools and universities and forcibly conscripted males between the ages of 14 and 45. "Boy soldiers" are fighting on military fronts in the South.
  • Government plunder and destruction of the environment: oil is being taken from Sudan without the consent of local people. Large teak forests in the South have been destroyed by the government and the army.
  • Slavery and the slave trade: the revival of the slave trade "must be a shame to humanity" but the "conscience of the international community and of the universal Church does not seem to be pricked".

Contact: John Newbury, WCC Press & Information Officer
Press and Information Office, Harare
Tel: +
E-Mail: WCC media

The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 339, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the Assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.