Southern Kordofan: Arson attacks on churches violate rights to religious freedom
UNMIS Human Rights Bulletin, issued 18 April 2009
Reporting Period: 1 – 31 March 2009
On 27 February 2009, two armed members of the Popular Defence Force (PDF) allegedly visited the home of a church leader in the Shatt area and threatened to kill him unless he stop construction work on an Evangelic Presbyterian Church between Shatt Dammam and Shatt Mazarik. In 2008, the Ceasefire Joint Military Commission (CJMC) ruled that the PDF should be considered as part of the SAF.
The following Sunday, 1 March 2009, the PDF men reportedly disturbed a service at the church, breaking the cross on the roof and telling the congregation not to worship there or further destruction would follow. Since then, two other churches in the Shatt area have suffered arson attacks; the Episcopal Church in Shatt Mazarik on 7 March and the Catholic Church in Shatt Dammam on 21 March. Although church leaders filed a complaint with Kadugli police on 4 March, no action appears to have been taken.
On 21 - 22 March 2009 fighting broke out in the Shatt area between National Congress Party (NCP) supporters, including PDF members, and Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) supporters. One PDF member was killed and houses and shops belonging to PDF members were burned. When SPLA troops arrived in the area on 22 March from their redeployment camp on the 1/1/1956 border, PDF members and NCP supporters fled to Shatt Dammam and then to Kadugli.
A PDF leader in Kadugli denied any role in the arson attacks on the churches. He admitted, however, his aversion to the presence of churches in Shatt, saying, “My grandfather was a great man and in his time there was not a single church in Shatt. We don’t want any now.” He also alleged that thirty-six houses belonging to PDF members were burned in Shatt and that fifty-four families have displaced from the area.
On 29 March 2009, the State Legislative Council held a special session to discuss the mounting tensions in Shatt. A committee with JIU, NISS and police representatives was appointed to deal with the matter.
UNMIS Human Rights would like to remind the SAF/PDF, the SPLA and all Sudanese people, that the right to religious freedom is guaranteed by the ICCPR, the CPA and the INC. UNMIS Human Rights also encourages the police in Kadugli to protect this right by launching an investigation into complaints that churches have been burned.
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