Canada urged to help forge peace in South Sudan

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Yom Ayuen and her three-year-old baby arrived with other members of her family are among the refugees who have fled the conflict in South Sudan. Photo: ACT/DCA/LWF/Mai Gad
Yom Ayuen and her three-year-old baby arrived with other members of her family are among the refugees who have fled the conflict in South Sudan. Photo: ACT/DCA/LWF/Mai Gad

The Anglican Church of Canada has urged the Canadian government to issue a strong statement calling for “an immediate cessation of hostilities and an unconditional ceasefire” by all warring parties to the armed conflict in South Sudan.

Despite the announcement Jan. 23 of a ceasefire agreement, the church said it remains “deeply concerned that a firm and lasting peace has yet to be realized.” The United Nations has reported that “sporadic fighting” has continued after the ceasefire.

In a letter sent Jan. 24 to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, church leaders said the government’s call for a ceasefire must be backed by “diplomatic and financial support to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) mediation efforts taking place in Addis Ababa.” The letter was signed by Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada; Adele Finney, executive director of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF), and Andrea Mann, the national church’s global relations director.

The letter noted that, in the past, the Canadian government was a key player in IGAD and contributed to the forging of a peace agreement between North and South Sudan.

“We therefore ask the Canadian government to use this experience, diplomatic clout, and expertise to achieve similar outcomes in the present conflict,” said the letter. “Such involvement would contribute to the prevention of human rights abuses and further mass atrocities in South Sudan.”

The recent spate of violence has displaced about 413,000 people in the course of one month, according to the UN. These internally displaced people (IDPs) have remained in the country and are in need of emergency health services, food, water, sanitation, counselling and other support, according to church-backed agencies.

It is necessary for the Canadian government to examine its aid strategy to South Sudan, the letter also said. “We believe Canadian aid to South Sudan has made meaningful differences in a variety of sectors of life in South Sudan and the wider region.”

Canada and other nations must also hold South Sudanese leaders accountable “for not exacerbating ethnic tension” and must provide support to those documenting cases of human rights abuses resulting from the conflict, said the letter.

They must also support efforts of local civil society leaders—in particular, the faith community of South Sudan “who have longstanding credibility as peacemakers,” said the letter.

Hiltz, Finney and Mann noted that the Episcopal Church of Sudan and other faith groups have been leading and facilitating peace, humanitarian assistance and healing in conflict-ridden areas. But faith groups and other civil society actors also need the support and “urgent and intensified leadership” from Canada and other members of the international community to stem the present violence and build peace, they added.

The letter also urged the Harper government to call for the release of South Sudanese political prisioners, noting that a ceasefire will not hold and that lasting peace will not be achieved until all parties to the conflict are represented at the table. “At present, the absence of those South Sudanese leaders now detained by the Government of South Sudan impedes the peace process.”

For its part, the Anglican Church of Canada has been considering various ways of supporting bishops of the Sudanese church who are working to put together a peace meeting of national leaders from the Dinka and Nuer tribes, the letter said. “We are doing this with sister provinces of the Anglican Communion, and, with them, have supported peacemaking initiatives.” These efforts will be linked to those of other parties, it said, adding that the church’s government relations office in Ottawa is ready to make contact with representatives of the Canadian government and other international partners wishing to “engage leaders in deeper conversation about constructive long-term peace-building initiatives.”

The church, through PWRDF, its relief and development arm, has sent an initial grant of $20,000 for South Sudan relief efforts to the ACT Alliance—a grouping of about 130 church-backed and non-governmental organizations that work together in providing humanitarian and development assistance to places in need.

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