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Refugees at risk in Sudan, expelled aid groups say

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–As many as 13 humanitarian aid groups are being expelled from Sudan after the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued an arrest warrant March 4 for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with fighting in western Sudan’s Darfur region.

U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), co-chair of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, has appealed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to appoint “a high-profile, high-caliber special envoy” to Sudan. Franklin Graham, president of the Samaritan’s Purse humanitarian organization, has urged President Barack Obama to appoint an envoy and work toward full diplomatic relations with Sudan. Graham was in Sudan when the arrest warrant was issued.

Sudan ordered 10 aid groups to leave the country on March 4 and an official of one group told the Reuters news service another three groups also would be told to leave.

A United Nations representative told reporters the Sudanese government’s Humanitarian Aid Commission told aid groups their registrations had been revoked and had given them a list of assets the government was seizing. Sudanese security officers reportedly began taking computers and other property from aid agency offices in Khartoum and Darfur.

Aid groups have protested that their expulsion would leave more than 2 million Sudanese people without necessities like shelter, food and clean water the groups are providing. “Affected NGOs are the main providers of lifesaving humanitarian services, such as water, food, health and sanitation” in the region,” the U.N. representative said.

Bashir was charged with seven criminal counts — the first time the international court has accused a sitting head of state of war crimes, Rep. Wolf’s letter said. The charges included “murdering, exterminating, raping, torturing and forcibly transferring large numbers of civilians and the pillaging of their property” in ongoing turmoil that has claimed an estimated 300,000 Sudanese lives and displaced 2.7 million people since the Darfur conflict began in 2003, according to U.N. estimates.

Wolf’s letter mentioned a BBC news report in which a man forcibly recruited into Sudan’s army was ordered to burn Darfuri villages, poison wells, kill all the women and rape girls younger than 14. “The killing and devastation go on,” Wolf said in the letter. “The people cry out for justice and look to America for leadership.”

Graham said in a March 5 press statement that he met with Bashir the morning of March 4 to discuss religious freedom, human rights and the Darfur situation, then flew to the capital of South Sudan to meet with the country’s first vice president, Salva Kiir. “We openly discussed the dangers the entire country faces in light of the ICC judgment and agree that peace in Sudan is far more important than the need to arrest the president,” Graham said. “While President al-Bashir should be brought to justice, [Vice] President Kiir and I share grave concerns about the real and dangerous effects of the action.”

The International Criminal Court warrant was issued as the meeting with Kiir concluded, Graham said. “Millions of lives throughout Sudan, not just Darfur, will be at risk if the already-fragile government is destabilized and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement unravels,” the statement said. “The already-desperate situation could turn disastrous.

“Since the CPA was signed, there have been significant gains for peace,” Graham added. “As unpleasant as it may be to deal with an indicted criminal, the world cannot afford to let this progress unravel. Now is a time for Christians worldwide to pray for peace in Sudan.”

The Southern Baptist Convention has approved three resolutions on Sudan in the past decade. Messengers to the 2006 SBC approved a resolution describing the conflict in Darfur as “genocide” and urging Khartoum to disband militias in the region, international trials for “perpetrators of the atrocities” in Darfur and multinational aid to the area. In 2000 and 2001, messengers adopted resolutions calling for the White House and Congress to pressure the Sudanese regime to halt the “atrocities and ongoing violations of religious freedom” that marked another genocidal effort primarily affecting southern Sudan.

The SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has called for stronger sanctions against the Sudanese regime and, while questioning the ICC’s jurisdictional authority, commended the effort to hold Bashir accountable.
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly, with reporting from the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.

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