Religion-related tensions continue to arise in many African countries. They come in varying forms and degrees of intensity, and can be intra-religious or occur between religious communities.
Religion is either instrumentalised as a rallying point or is the raison d’étre of armed non state actors seeking to enforce an extremist interpretation of their creed or to gain material advantage. It is used by individuals or political parties as a bridge to power and rallying point. In addition, some governments view religion, or certain religious or non-religious groups, as threats, exercising control through excessive registration requirements or more forcible means.
Every country on the African continent is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), with its expanded articulation of the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB), and to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR), where the right to change or refuse one’s religion or belief as an act of conscience can be inferred from Article 8. However, in parts of the continent, human rights in general, and FoRB in particular, are challenged by arguments about cultural relativism and frequent but erroneous assertions that they are a Western construct.
Thus, despite being parties to international and regional treaties, many African countries either do not give legal effect to them, or create exemptions for their implementation. This has further exacerbated their already poor profile on human rights protection.
Continue reading “Long Read: Removing the Obstacles to Freedom of Religion or Belief in Africa”
The political shifts in Sudan from the authoritarian rule of Omar al Bashir to the transitional government (a mix of civilians and the military), has garnered many positive headlines. The welcome changes and relief that there is a reservoir of political will to address the root causes of the country’s conflicts have indeed been positive.
In particular, the pledges of reform, the recent announcement that the government will accede to the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the changing of some public order laws that infringed on the rights of women, especially women from marginalized communities, as well as the removal of apostasy have been warmly received.
Continue reading “Beyond the headlines: Freedom of religion or belief and women’s rights in Sudan”
However, beneath the headlines are simmering social hostilities which have already generated a series of violations that have not been sufficiently investigated or addressed. These violations threaten to undermine the positive steps taken so far, and both the transitional government and supporters of this new political arrangement in the international community need to note and address them.
This time two years ago, Sudan was in the midst of an unprecedented revolution. Citizens of all ethnicities, religious beliefs and walks of life across the whole country had come together to call for justice, democracy, human rights, and an end to nearly three decades of repression under President Omar al Bashir. An Islamist army officer, al Bashir had seized power from an elected government in 1989, and had enjoyed support from the Muslim Brotherhood movement both inside and outside the country.
After several months of consistent demonstrations which saw the Sudanese people overcome a repressive and heavy-handed response from the government and its security forces, it seemed as though their vision for an inclusive Sudan was finally within touching distance. President al Bashir was arrested in April 2019, and in August a transitional government was appointed to oversee the country’s progression towards democracy, with the transition period scheduled to end in 2022.
While these welcome developments were praised by many as ushering in a new era for Sudan, progress since then has been frustratingly slow.
Human rights violations, including violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB), continue to occur on a regular basis, and there is still a need to ensure that justice is served for atrocity crimes committed under the previous regime, and indeed by members of the current government who are alleged to have been complicit in crackdowns on protesters, including the shocking massacre of demonstrators in Khartoum on 3 June 2019.
Continue reading “‘Smoke and mirrors’ in post-revolution Sudan: Lessons from Egypt”
On 21 May, Sudan’s transitional government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (Agar) announced the creation of an independent National Commission on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB). This welcome development has the potential to be of great benefit to the Sudanese people, and particularly to groups that have been marginalised historically. However, implementation will be the key factor determining whether the commission realises its full potential.
The transitional government, specifically the Prime Minister and Minister of Religious Affairs, have made positive statements and pledges regarding the advancement of FoRB for all. However, there are limitations to the current government’s capacity to respond effectively to the many obstacles to the full enjoyment of FoRB by every religious community.
Continue reading “A welcome development – the National Commission on Freedom of Religion or Belief in Sudan”
Over the last 30 years, policies, laws and practices have systematically undermined the rights of marginalised communities in Sudan, particularly Christians, as well as Muslims who did not conform to what the former regime deemed to be permissible religious practice. The transitional government has the herculean task of investigating, reviewing and taking steps to compensate for past violations, and ensuring an end to these abuses.
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.
Continue reading “Towards an inclusive Sudan”