The Fate of Southern Sudanese and Nuba Communities in the Sudanese Conflict
Upon arriving to one of our church feeding centers, Elisabetta joined an endless line of starving mothers and children. 'The situation in our village is very bad," she said. "There is no food and we can't even fish or gather wild vegetables and fruit. The Arab (northern Sudanese) soldiers are everywhere shooting, burning, raping and killing every man, woman in sight, even the very old. The children and cattle, they take away to the north," she reported. It was obvious to us her only surviving child was dying from starvation. The dehydrated eight-month old child was so emaciated by hunger that his skin stuck to his little ribs. The child's eyes were popping out and his face so wrinkled that he looked like a severely ill ninety-year old man. Elisabetta travelled three weeks walking day and night from her village to come to the church where she hoped to find food and safety or at least die in the holy place, the house of God. Through her long journey, she carried her starving child upon her shoulders.
Standing in front of Elizabetta was Joseph, an emaciated eight-year old lad who also looked like an old man. Visibly frightened and confused, he recounted his shocking ordeal. "They (soldiers) came to our village at night and started shooting, burning and killing everybody. My father and three of my older brothers were killed right there in front of us. My mother ran into the grass with my little sister, and I ran after them. They shot at us, but we ran and hid ourselves in the tall grass. They did not see us, it was night. So we ran and walked, ran and walked all night until the red morning sun came up. We walked again, and walked again. The sun was burning my feet. I was exhausted, hungry and thirsty. I did not want to walk any more. But, my mama said, 'If you don't walk along you will die and be eaten on the road by vultures.' I did not want to die and be torn up by those ugly birds. So I walked, and walked. They (soldiers) came again, and we ran into the grass. Then I lost my mother. I cried and cried. I was afraid to walk alone in the wilderness. I walked for two days and nights alone, then I met other people, and I followed them here. I don't know where my mother and sister went."
The Moslem Jihad in Southern Sudan and Nuba Mountains
These two stories shed light on the tragic consequences of the brutal war--which the radical Islamic government has called a jihad, or holy war--upon the lives of thousands of our families, particularly children and women. Our country, the Sudan, is being devastated by a vicious conflict. The war, which pits the Arabized northern Moslems against us Christians and followers of African traditional religions, is being fought mainly in Southern Sudan, a region which is home to about 5 to 8 million Africans. The people of Nuba Mountain and Kurmuk District have also been severely affected. Southern Sudan lies on a strategic commercial route along the Nile valley. The Khartoum-based radical Islamic regime aims to eliminate Christianity in the Sudan in order to establish an Islamic theocracy and Arab political hegemony there.
Beginning of Persecution
To achieve their goal after gaining independence in 1956, the Moslem ruling elites set out to eliminate Christianity from the Sudan, and adopted a policy of Islamization and Arabization. Thus began the ferocious persecution of our Christian communities as well as those southerners who follow their ancestral African traditional religions. The Christians particularly are targeted for a severe punishment. Our schools are nationalized. Our missionaries are expelled. Our clergy, teachers and catechists are prohibited from evangelizing and ministering to their faithful. Our Christians are denied the right to education and employment unless they convert to Islam. The clergy and laity who continue to evangelize and minister to their people, or those parents who attempt to impart their faith to their children and violate the unjust Islamic law, risk being arrested, jailed, and tortured. In the 1960's and 1970's, four of our priests and several catechists and Christians died at the hands of government soldiers because of their faith.
Young people, particularly those who received or were receiving western education, were targeted for elimination. In 1965, under the UMMA government of Sadik al Mahdi, hundreds of educated southern Sudanese were killed. Many of us then were forced to go to exile. Our churches also became catacomb communities as our people sought refuge either in the forest or in the neighboring African countries.
A Brief Lull
There was a lull between 1972 and 1983 when southern Sudan was granted regional autonomy at the north and south Addis Ababa Peace Conference. During the ten years of peace our people began to rebuild their lives. Our Christian communities also began rebuilding themselves, and there was a flourishing, vibrant faith community in south Sudan.
Resumption of War and Persecution
But, in May 1983, war erupted again in southern Sudan, when President Nimeiri unilaterally abrogated the Addis Ababa Accord and divided southern Sudan into three provinces. In 1984, under pressure from the radical National Islamic Front (NIF), a fundamentalist Moslem Party, President Nimeiri intensified the north-south conflict by declaring the Islamic sharia the law of the land, which de facto rendered Christianity and other non-Moslem beliefs illegal and outlawed in the Sudan. Thus began the present bloody Sudanese civil war and vicious persecution of our Christian communities. In 1986, Sadik al Mahdi came to power, thus making ever more difficult the situation of the southern Sudanese Christians. (Al Mahdi is the spiritual head of the Ansar Moslems, and leader of their UMMA Party, the de facto heir of 'Mahdiya' the Islamic Revolution begun by his great grandfather.)
Declaration of Scorched-Earth Policy in Southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains
In 1989, radical Moslem military officers, members of NIF, took power and declared jihad against the southern Sudanese "infidels," Christians and traditional believers. Under the guidance of Dr. Hassan al Turabi, their shrewd founder and Party leader, members of the of the National Islamic Front (NIF) penetrated the Sudanese army during the last years of the Nimeiri regime. Having gained power, the Islamists adopted a scorched-earth policy in southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains,which they began to implement in earnest.
Rampage by Jujhidin, Government Soldiers and Islamic Militia in Southern and Nuban Villages
The people of Southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains must convert to Islam or face exile and extermination, the Moslem extremist government insists. Consequently, government soldiers and Islamic militia armed by the government are on a rampage throughout South Sudan and the Nuba Mountains, killing, raping, burning villages, destroying crops and cattle, and bombing refugee camps within the Sudan and across the borders. As whole villages are burned to the ground, the people who are not killed are herded to the north, where some are starved to death, some, mainly children, are sold as slaves, and others are kept in concentration camps, dubbed re-education centers, and "peace villages," where they are forced to profess Islam. The enslaved children are tortured and sexually abused by their Moslem masters.
The vast majority of the southern Sudanese and Nuba population is displaced. Even according to usually conservative reports by UN and human rights groups, in the sixteen years (1983-1999) of conflict between north and south, 1.9 million Southern Sudanese and Nubans have already died, 4.5 million are displaced and 2.5 million are starving to death. Most of the displaced and starving are children and women.
As I speak, the murderous war in our country is claiming hundreds of thousands of innocent lives. A few days ago I received over fifty letters bearing harrowing tales of gun fire, arrest, torture, rape and painful death. In one of the letters the writer reported the following: "Southerners are tormented by police brutality and inhuman treatment by the Sudan security forces. In those southern towns, like Juba, Malakal and Wau which are under occupation by government forces, able-bodied males, even able-bodied children as young as ten, are harassed, arrested, jailed and tortured. Many of those picked up by the security forces during the night are never seen again by their families. They disappear without any trace. Any person who dares inquire about them meet the same end. Every evening, soldiers round up women and girls even as young as seven, and take them to their garrisons where they are gang-raped. Often to humiliate, demoralize, and break southerners, soldiers and militia rape women and girls in front of their fathers, husbands, brothers and children. This is an everyday ritual in places like Juba, Wau and Malakal." Many women and vulnerable children have died either from the physical and psychological injuries they suffer in such assaults. My own twelve-year old niece was kidnapped in 1995 and died in 1996 as a result of repeated torture and rape by government forces.
Khartoum is also killing hundreds of thousands of southern Sudanese and Nuban people by land mines and by deliberately withholding food aid from them in order to starve them to death. Our people living in government-held towns are surrounded on the inside by military garrisons and on the outside by rings of hundreds of land mines. Since the people cannot grow food and obtain wood for cooking in the town center, they try to escape to the surrounding area to look for wild vegetables, fruit, roots and wood. While attempting to break out, many people have stepped on the mines and been killed or mutilated. Sometimes security forces plant land mines by night at the entrances of our houses. Many of our people have been killed as they exited in the morning or at night going to the toilet. There are hundreds of such mutilated land mine victims in southern Sudan today.
Cholera, typhoid and other diseases resulting from malnutrition and squalid sanitary conditions are also endemic in the war-torn regions. Health care is virtually non-existent in the south and in the Nuba Mountains. There is no medicine. People just die like animals in the forest. There is no family or community which has not lost members in the jihad. My own only sister Mary and her daughter Pierina died from starvation. My nephew Philip died at the hands of the government forces together with hundreds of other southern civil servants. We were never given Philip's remains to see and bury with dignity according to our tradition.
Against all odds we are struggling for life and dignity, supporting the survivors morally, sheltering and feeding the starving, particularly children, many of whom are orphans. We are trying to heal the deep wounds of our people particularly the traumatized children through education and faith in our loving and caring God. We are struggling to keep the flames of life alive in our country despite the vicious persecution of our communities by the Moslem extremists. We cannot survive this brutal onslaught-- this genocide-- by ourselves.
The Khartoum regime is using Islam to establish Arab hegemony in the whole Sudan. Southern Sudan is the gate to the rest of black Africa. I am therefore appealing to you the leaders and government of this blessed, powerful nation to help us in our struggle for survival and faith. I am also appealing to you to call on world leaders through the United Nations to stop the ongoing genocide in our country, southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains.
I refer you to the ten peaceful actions urged by the Campaign of Conscience for Sudan that has been organized by Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom.