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World News

Sudan makes landmark move toward supporting religious freedom

by Tola Mbakwe

Sudan's government has taken a major step to ensure religious freedom for all its citizens. 

The country's transitional government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (Agar) party have agreed to create an independent national commission for religious freedom and a Ministry for Peace and Human Rights.

The announcement this week came at the end of the latest round of negotiations between the two parties under the Juba Peace Process. 

In a statement the government said: "We agreed to establish a commission for religious freedom to address all issues relating to religious freedom in order to affirm the principle of peaceful coexistence in the country."

Mohaned Mustafa El Nour, a lawyer and human rights defender told persecution watchdog Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) this was a big move for the Muslim-majority country. 

"The establishment of a national commission on religious freedom is a very important step in addressing violations of this right in Sudan," he said. 

"It is proper for these discussions to be taking place in the peace talks, but it is also very important that the commission is tasked with addressing violations occurring nationally. Over the last few years, we have seen attacks and violations of religious freedom concentrated in Khartoum, but also in other states, including Darfur.

"It is vital that the commission can address abuses committed in all states and protect all religious communities in Sudan."

The SPLM-N (Agar) Deputy Leader and chief negotiator Yasir Arman had called for the creation of an independent commission on religious freedom as part of the peace talks. 

In a press conference on 21st May, Mr Arman said: "Today we have agreed to establish the religious freedom commission because the Two Areas have a considerable number of Sudanese Christians, so this is an important issue that has been resolved."

The SPLM-N is an armed group based in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states which fought against the government of former president Omar al-Bashir. The group split into two factions (SPLM-N and SPLM-N Agar) in 2017 over the issue of self-determination for the people of the Nuba Mountains.

The SPLM-N, led by Abdel-Aziz al Hilu, supported self-determination, while the SPLM-N Agar, led by Malik Agar, argued that it would lead to a further fragmentation of Sudan. 

With the start of the transitional government following the ousting of al Bashir, there have been peace talks between armed groups aimed at resolving the country's internal conflicts.

CSW has great hopes.

"While the details of the body and new government ministry are yet to be announced, we applaud the steps taken by all parties to address the historic and systematic violations that have targeted Christians and other religious minorities. We hope that the commission and new ministry will together work to address both past and current violations of freedom of religion or belief."

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