Interfaith Leaders Discuss Sudan with Director of Obama's Faith-Based Office

( [email protected] ) Oct 08, 2009 12:02 PM EDT

Representatives from faith communities nationwide met recently with the director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships to discuss the ongoing violence in the northeast African nation of Sudan.

The faith leaders, members of the Interfaith Sudan Working Group, presented to the Rev. Joshua DuBois a letter signed by 1,410 Christian, Jewish and Muslim clerics asking the Obama administration to work with multilateral coalitions to ensure that the Darfuri people can return safely to their homes and begin to rebuild their lives.

In their letter, the coalition of faith-based organizations asks the United States to continue to lead for justice and lasting peace in Sudan and work toward full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The letter also asks for a resolution in the lesser-known conflict in Eastern Sudan.

"For decades, the citizens of Sudan have been plagued by war, famine, and marginalization," the group states.

"Our faith inspires us to work for justice throughout the world, and we know that the leadership of the United States is critical if holistic peace, development and equality are to be realized in Sudan," it adds.

According to the Interfaith Sudan Working Group, DuBois expressed to the coalition representatives during their meeting last Friday that Sudan is a critical issue for President Obama and that faith groups play an important role in drawing attention to the ongoing tragedy there.

South Sudan is currently grappling with the legacy of one of Africa's longest and bloodiest civil wars. The two-decade battle between ethnic African southerners and Sudan's Arab-dominated government in the northern capital, Khartoum, has killed an estimated 2 million people and left tens of thousands displaced and wounded.

Malnutrition in south Sudan, meanwhile, is reportedly at 16 percent, with nine out of ten people living on less than $1 a day, and the maternal mortality rate was the highest in the world in 2007, with 2,030 women dying per 100,000 births.

Despite the apparent need for relief, Sudan ordered 13 of the largest international aid groups to leave the country in early March, accusing them of cooperating and giving false testimony to the International Criminal Court.

In June, however, the U.N. humanitarian chief said the Sudanese government was allowing four of the expelled aid organizations to return under slightly different names.

Currently, relief groups such as Caritas Internationalis are providing hundreds of thousands of people in Darfur with food, shelter, clean water, healthcare, support for livelihoods, counseling, peace-building activities and education.

It was estimated that about 1.1 million civilians would be without food aid, 1.5 million without health care, and over a million without potable water following the government dismissal of the the 13 international aid agencies.

Next year, in April, Sudan will hold national and presidential elections that are required under the 2005 peace deal. Sudan is also scheduled to hold a referendum in January 2011 on whether South Sudan should become independent.