Sudan's Push toward Islamic Fundamentalism Breeds Widespread Rights Violations
by Mary Edington Rand
The bloody 14-year civil war raging in Sudan is in large part due to a government attempt to establish a state based on Islamic fundamentalism-at the expense of the rights of non-Muslim tribes to choose their own forms of religious expression. The forced Islamization began in 1983 and has resulted in the virtual genocide of non-Muslim Sudanese peoples. An estimated 1.5 million people have died and 5 million have been displaced since the war began.
The civil war has pitted the predominantly Arab and Islamic north against the predominantly Christian and animist south. Seventy percent of the nation's 30 million population is Sunni Muslim, 25 percent practice indigenous beliefs, and 5 percent are Christians.
There are reports of widespread government-sponsored abductions of children as part of a campaign of cultural cleansing targeted at African Christians and animists. Children are subjected to military training and Islamic indoctrination as a way of enlisting them in the war. Security forces routinely use aerial bombings, burning of villages, and arbitrary arrests. Children who have been abandoned or whose parentage is unknown are considered Muslims and can only be adopted by Muslims.
While non-Muslims may convert to Islam, the 1991 Criminal Act makes apostasy (which includes conversion to another religion) by Muslims punishable by death. Muslims may proselytize freely. According to U.S. State Department reports, authorities harass foreign missionaries and religious-oriented organizations, and their requests for work permits and residence visas are often delayed.
Popular Defense Force (PDF) trainees, including non-Muslims, are indoctrinated in the Islamic faith. In prisons, government-supported Islamic non-governmental organizations offer inducements to, and pressure on, non-Muslim inmates to convert. Islamic non-governmental organizations in war zones are reported to withhold food and other services from the needy unless they convert to Islam. Children, including non-Muslim children, in camps for vagrant minors are required to study the Koran.
In recent years there has been an alarming increase in slavery, according to a report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Sudan, Gaspar Biro, in February 1996. Biro earlier described camps where people from northern Sudan and abroad came in to buy captured Christians and animists as slaves. The Baltimore Sun documented the Sudanese slave trade with three front-page articles beginning June 16, 1996.
Adding to the religious warfare is a rebel group operating out of Khartoum. Joseph Kony, a former Catholic altar boy seeking to overthrow the Uganda government and rule by the Ten Commandments, enjoys support form the Sudanese government. His group, the Lord's Resistance Army, has reportedly killed an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 people, kidnapped and forced children into its movement, and conducted a reign of terror in the Gulu and Kitgum districts of Uganda. According to reports by a United Nations children's program in the country, the group has kidnapped and estimated 8,000 children in the past five years. Khartoum supports the supposedly Christian rebels because Uganda's government is backing Sudanese Christian rebels in their fight against Sudan's Islamic fundamentalist government.
The Clinton Administration, fearing reprisals by the Sudanese government and an end to dialogue on religious freedom, initially opposed economic sanctions. In September 1997, the government reversed its policy and imposed economic sanctions banning US investment in Sudan and curbing almost all bilateral trade.