In what appears to be a promising positive change, Sudan’s transitional government and a rebel group that fought against the Muslim-majority country’s longtime authoritarian leader Omar al-Bashir, who was ousted last year, have agreed to form an independent national commission for religious freedom.
As part of the latest round of negotiations between Sudan’s transitional government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (Agar) under the Juba Peace Process, an agreement was reached “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,” the Transitional Sovereign Council said on its Facebook page.
The SPLM-N armed group is based in Sudan’s predominantly Christian South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, which fought against al-Bashir.
“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 armed group’s Deputy Leader and chief negotiator Yasir Arman was quoted as saying by the U.K.-based group Christianity Solidarity Worldwide.
The two parties have also agreed to create a Ministry for Peace and Human Rights.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has acknowledged improvements in the country’s religious and political atmosphere.
After a visit to that country in February, the commission’s chair, Tony Perkins, expressed optimism.
“We are grateful to Prime Minister Hamdok and other members of the country’s bold transitional leadership who met with USCIRF to convey their explicit desire to bring a new era of openness and inclusivity to their country that suffered for 30 years under brutal and autocratic religious repression,” he said, according to Crux.
“At the same time, we understand that the country’s challenges are deeply-rooted, and we urge the leadership to move quickly to turn that optimism into tangible and meaningful reforms for all people across Sudan, such as acting to formally repeal Article 126 of the 1991 penal code, which outlaws apostasy,” he added.
Since 2010 and the separation of South Sudan, the persecution of Christians had “intensified with church land being confiscated by the state, church leaders facing trial for national security crimes and latterly misdemeanors,” CSW’s Kiri Kankhwende was quoted as saying. “General harassment of the Christian community, human rights defenders working on FoRB by the intelligence service; harassment of women and interference with the administration of churches and confiscation of private land owned by Christian businessmen.”
Nasreldin Mofreh, Sudan’s Minister of Religious Affairs, signed an order in March requiring the dissolution of church councils that international advocates said legitimized the former government’s confiscation of church properties.
“We are pleased by the minister’s decree, given the role these illegitimate church councils played in the former regime’s persecution of Christians and the obstacles they continued to present to churches’ ability to represent their own interests to the government,” Perkins said in a statement.
Prime Minister Hamdok and other transitional government officials met with USCIRF in Washington, D.C., during a visit last December — the first time in three decades that Sudanese leaders had visited Washington, D.C.
The officials also shared at the time how they planned to expand religious freedom in a country that is ranked as the seventh-worst in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s World Watch List.
Last month, Sudan's new leaders also outlawed the practice of female genital mutilation, The New York Times reported. Nearly 90% of Sudanese women have been subjected to the practice, which involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia.