The people of Sudan have endured a long and winding road towards realising their dream of a free, just and peaceful country.
Since the arrest of former President al Bashir in April, protesters organised under the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), have been engaged in negotiations with the Transitional Military Council (TMC) over the creation of a civilian led transitional administration.
What is clear is that human rights like freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) must be upheld in order for such a transition to be successful. FoRB is a vital right in the context of a democratic society. Being able to live in a diverse society, where a plurality of opinions, beliefs, cultures and expressions are accommodated is key to promoting tolerance, peace, and development.
The restriction of FoRB in Sudan has gone hand in hand with the restriction of other fundamental rights. It stands to reason that to protect FoRB and human rights in Sudan, the Sudanese people must work together to advocate for all citizens to equally enjoy the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Diversity and tolerance at the heart of the Sudan Uprising
The recent protests have demonstrated this principle clearly; Christians, who have been part of the demonstrations since they began in December 2018, took a leading role at the sit-ins during Ramadan, preparing food for the breaking of the fast and taking shifts in the demonstrations in the middle of the day when it was hottest. Christians also protected Muslims from attacks whilst they prayed.
The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), the umbrella organisation that coordinated the demonstrations, also worked with Christian activists to organise a service at the sit-in site on 14 April, where sermons were shared by various leaders from the Sudanese Church of Christ and the Sudanese Evangelical Presbyterian Churches. Crucially, the SPA recognised the injustices of the past and the systematic persecution that the Christian community had endured in a letter to Sudanese Christians which invited them to participate in the demonstrations not as minorities, but as equal citizens.
The political will for a truly inclusive citizenship is clearly visible among significant elements of the Sudanese people. Sudan’s protests have not only included the recognition of religious minorities, but also of those who have been marginalised because of their gender, ethnicity, place of origin, or social class.
The road ahead
Despite these signs of hope, attacks on pro-democracy protesters following the June 3 massacre in Khartoum, in which over 100 people died after they were attacked by security services, demonstrate that the road towards a truly inclusive Sudan will not be without its obstacles.
“The road towards a truly inclusive Sudan will not be without its obstacles.”Tweet
The signing of a political declaration by the TMC and the FFC is a step towards a civilian led government, however significant challenges remain.
The signing of a constitutional declaration, which will detail the specific powers of the Supreme Council, the National Assembly, and the Prime Minister, has proven more difficult. The document will also make clear whether the programme of reforms that the protesters want to enact during the transitional period will be possible or whether, as the TMC prefers, all reforms will take place after a transitional period.
The political agreements which are being negotiated in Khartoum and Addis Ababa are important, however it will be vital for any transition to an open, democratic and diverse society that these arrangements are accompanied by legal reforms, including the reconstitution of independent courts and replacement of civil servants from the old regime with technical experts. In order to achieve this, the TMC will have to accept limitations on its powers.
In addition, the TMC’s failure to protect civilians from the brutal attacks of the police and RSF must be taken seriously by the international community. In order for there to be uninhibited progress on human rights in Sudan, there must also be reform to the security sector. These reforms are important not only for Sudan but also for regional security.
“This is not a time for compromise”
On the issue of FoRB the battle of ideas rages on. In the days after Bashir was deposed, the TMC met with church leaders and gave assurances on FoRB. Within weeks, however, Islamist groups calling for the safeguarding of Sharia law organised a protest under the banner “Supporting the Sharia.” They were assured by the vice president of the TMC, Mohamed Hamdan “Hemeti” Dagolo, that there would be no changes to Sharia law and cancelled their demonstration. These competing narratives require space for full and thorough consultation with the Sudanese people.
Raafat Samir, a leader of the Sudanese Evangelical Presbyterian Church, shared the following reflections with us:
“This is not a time for compromise or ‘pain killers’ or ‘gradual change,’ this is a time to show a true mutual will to achieve and implement democracy. This is a time to move away from the trenches of religious and ethnic discrimination and head towards an inclusive and unifying Sudanese national identity for all of us. This is the time to open the door for equal opportunities and better life for all. We must make a covenant that we will not withdraw or accept anything less than a new Sudan ruled by humanity and citizenship.”
Last week duly elected religious leaders representing the Sudanese Church of Christ find themselves in court once again facing criminal charges after the Ministry of Guidance and Religious Endowments appointed leaders to administrate on behalf of the religious body in violations of church regulations.
These corrupt and politically motivated practices were enforced through Sudan’s legal, security and policy bodies. Once again this reveals that while political agreements and reforms are a good first step towards achieving an inclusive and free Sudan, there is an urgent need for swift and meaningful legal reform.
By CSW’s Sudan Advocacy Officer
Featured image by Amgad Salah (Facebook)