American Christians Gravely Misled on Sudan

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Introduction

There is clear, independently-sourced, evidence that American Churches and Christians are being grievously misled with regard to the situation in Sudan. On more than one occasion American church groups such as Servant’s Heart have made very serious claims about Sudanese government forces which were subsequently proved untrue. Sudan has been at war, off and on, since 1955. It has been a conflict marked by often vicious propaganda. Inaccurate or distorted claims are dangerous at any time. They are particularly regrettable during the current critical phase within the Sudanese peace process. At a time when the focus has been on reconciliation these allegations have focused prejudice, mistrust and hatred regarding Sudan – especially within political and religious constituencies in the United States.

Previously, many of the claims – especially against the Government of Sudan – had been taken at face value by the public and media at large. In so doing they have grotesquely distorted perceptions of Sudanese affairs within the United States. For the first time since the war began, however, there is now an independent mechanism in place able to investigate the allegations that have been levelled at the combatants. As part of the peace process initiated by former Senator John Danforth, the United States Department of State was instrumental in ensuring that both the Government and rebels signed an Agreement to Protect Civilians from Military Attack. This established the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT) to investigate any allegations of attacks on civilians. The team was became operational at the end of November 2002. The CPMT is funded by the United States Government, and consists of an international team of experienced professionals serving as monitors. It is headed by a United States army brigadier-general.

The team’s executive summaries and full reports can be viewed and downloaded from the CPMT website: http://www.cpmtsudan.org

Servant’s Heart’s Allegation Number 1: The Murder of 2000-3000 Civilians in Attacks on Villages

In February 2003, Dennis Bennett, the director of Servant’s Heart, made a number of very serious allegations against the Government of Sudan.[1] His organisation, together with the Canadian groups Freedom Quest International and The Voice of the Martyrs, claimed that Sudanese armed forces had massacred between two and three thousand Sudanese civilians in attacks on the villages of Liang, Dengaji, Kawaji and Yawaji in late April 2002. It was claimed that there were fields littered with human remains. These allegations were widely disseminated internationally and especially within the United States.[2] They were cited by groups such as the Ministerial Alliance of Midland, Texas, a coalition of Church groups and individuals in President Bush’s hometown.[3] The Ministerial Alliance of Midland, Texas refers to Servant’s Heart, Freedom Quest International and The Voice of the Martyrs as "coalition partners".

In their press release these three groups called for "an investigation by the international Civilian Protection and Monitoring Team." [4] The CPMT did just that.

The Findings of the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team

The CPMT conducted two on-site field investigations at the coordinates provided. Interviews with villagers and rebels within these areas.

The CPMT determined that there had been government activity in the area in April 2002, and that approximately 20-30 people had been killed. The CPMT found that "These actions may have occurred in response to actions by the SPLM/A in the killing of two [2] civilians, looting and robbery of cattle and sheep in the Basholi area in early January and February 2002." These were said to be common in the region.

The CPMT found the evidence of 4-5 human remains in one location and another 4-5 remains at another location. It was noted that the latter location had been a battlefield and it was concluded that "It is highly likely that the human remains at this location are those of combatants who fought at this site".

The CPMT stated: "The claim, therefore that up to ‘2,500 people were killed’ has not been substantiated." [5]

The Civilian Protection Monitoring Team made a point of recommending: "That all sources carefully screen future allegations for credibility, source of information, accuracy, and the feasibility of such an allegation being truthful so as to cautiously avoid inflaming the situation and reality on the ground." [6]

Servant’s Heart Allegation Number 2: The Murder of 59 Civilians and Burning Alive of a Presbyterian Pastor

In early June 2003, Dennis Bennett and Servant’s Heart made further serious allegations against the Sudanese government. He claimed that the Sudanese military had murdered 59 civilians in attacks on ten villages in eastern Upper Nile. Bennett also claimed a Presbyterian pastor, his wife and four children were burned alive by Sudanese soldiers. [7] Servant’s Heart also claimed that Sudanese government forces had abducted 16 women and children. These allegations were widely disseminated within the United States and internationally. [8] These allegations were made as improved Sudanese-American relations were being discussed.

The Findings of the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team

The Civilian Protection Monitoring Team conducted on-site field investigations in the areas of the incident from 6-10 June and 12-13 June 2003, collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses in Kosti, Adar, Bolgok, Pagak, Daga Post, Buong, Longochok and its surrounding villages, and Wan Tau. The CPMT "determined the allegation that the [Government of Sudan] lead militias forces launched an attack on 27 May 2003 is unsubstantiated. The claim that 59 persons were killed as a result of this attack is also unsubstantiated. Finally the claim that the [Government of Sudan] abducted 16 persons was also found to be unsubstantiated."

The CPMT interviewed with the representatives of Servant’s Heart who had made the allegation. It reported that "The alleger stated that he received the information third hand from Pastor John Wiyul. Neither he, nor Pastor John Wiyul had been to Longochok, Wan Tau or any of the villages that were attacked to verify the details with the remaining residents." [9]

With regard to the death of the Presbyterian pastor, the CPMT concluded that "the body of evidence … strongly suggests that it was the SPLM/A and an element of the Fellata NOT the [Government of Sudan] or its militia that contributed to the death of Pastor Jacob Manyiel as well as indeterminate number of people, the displacement of civilians, and the destruction and looting of civilian property. Although it could not be conclusively proven that the SPLM/A or the Fellata were respectively responsible for all of 59 civilians reported to have been killed, there is eyewitness testimony supporting that each is responsible for an indeterminate number of the deaths." (emphasis added by CPMT). [10]

It was also ascertained that the Pastor’s wife and children were alive and well, and that his house had not been burned. Pastor Manyiel had died of gunshot wounds.

The CPMT called on the rebels and their allies to "refrain from targeting or intentionally attacking non-combatants civilians. [Furthermore] they should take all precautions feasible to avoid the incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, and danger to civilian objects." [11]

Conclusion

The reliability of claims made by Servant’s Heart, Freedom Quest International and The Voice of the Martyrs was thus examined by the independent Civilian Protection Monitoring Team for all to see. It was an investigation for which they had all called.

Servant’s Heart’s claims that between two and three thousand civilians in the Liang, Dengaji, Kawaji and Yawagi areas were murdered by government forces were unfounded. The CPMT were able to find 8-10 human remains, half of which may have been those of soldiers killed in battle.

With regard to its claims about the Longochok area Servant’s Heart was wrong on several counts. Any civilians that may have been killed in any attacks on villages in the area were killed by the rebels or nomads – not government forces. Servant’s Heart’s sensationalist claims that Pastor Manyiel and his family were burned alive by government forces was untrue. Pastor Manyiel was killed by rebels or nomads. His wife and children are alive and well. The Civilian Protection Monitoring Team revealed that Servant’s Heart made its very grave accusations on the basis of third-hand claims that it had not taken the trouble to verify.

The fact that the very serious claims about Sudan that Servant’s Heart, and others, saw fit to make were subsequently shown to be essentially baseless is disturbing enough. The motivation for such claims has also been questioned. It was reported, for example, that CPMT investigators were privately very critical of the claims made by Servant’s Heart. A CPMT member was said to have referred to its claims about Longochok as "a pack of lies" and implied that it had been designed to "derail the peace process in Sudan". [12] It is true that Servant’s Heart’s allegations – allegations which certainly cast the Khartoum government in a bad light – were made at key phases during the Sudanese peace process, and may have been intentionally designed to adversely effect Sudanese – American relations. [13]

The CPMT’s conclusions about the claims made by Servant’s Heart, Freedom Quest International and The Voice of the Martyrs can only but call into question many of the previous assertions about Sudan made by these church groups and similar organisations. These have been similar in tone to the discredited claims. [14]

The interest shown by American churches and Christians in the Sudan is very welcome. With this interest, however, comes a clear responsibility to the truth. Propaganda and distortion is the hallmark of any conflict, and particularly civil war. Sudan has been no exception. If the claims made by groups such as Servant’s Heart, Freedom Quest International and The Voice of the Martyrs are anything to go by, then American Christian perceptions of the Sudanese situation may well have been distorted.

Peace and reconciliation needs truth and clarity. This must be demanded of those organisations and individuals claiming to inform the outside world about Sudan.

Notes:

[1] "International Team Uncovers Killing Fields in South Sudan", Press Release by Servant’s Heart, 6 February 2003. Servant’s heart describes itself as "a parachurch organization" funded by "churches of various denomination, families, individuals, and schools in the US and Canada" (See Servant’s Heart website: http://servantsheartrelief.org).

[2] See, for example, "Sudan. Killing Fields Discovered in Southern Sudan", News Article by Zenith News Agency, The Vatican, Italy, 10 February 2003; "Discovery of Mass Graveyard Uncovers Massacre of Christians in Unarmed Villages by Sudanese Army. Christian Agencies Join Together in Calling for International Inquiry", Press Release by Evangelical Alliance Media Consultancy, 11 February 2003; "International Team Uncovers Killing Fields in South Sudan", Persecution Report, Mission Network News, 18 February 2003.

[3] "Open Letter to the Government of Sudan", Ministerial Alliance of Midland Texas, Midland, 7 March 2003.

[4] This claim was clearly designed and timed to influence the Sudan Peace Act. The organisations specifically called upon "the US State Department to include this incident in their Sudan Peace Act-mandated report to Congress on atrocities and war criminals in Southern Sudan." These groups clearly wished to see the punitive clauses of the Sudan Peace Act to be enacted. Drafted towards the end of the Clinton Administration, the Sudan Peace Act encapsulated every negative aspect of the Clinton Administration’s policy towards Sudan – a policy described by former President Carter: "The people in Sudan want to resolve the conflict. The biggest obstacle [was] US government policy…Any sort of peace effort [was] aborted, basically by policies of the United States…Instead of working for peace in Sudan, the US government…basically promoted a continuation of the war." "Carter, Others Say US Has Faltered in Africa", "The Boston Globe", 8 December 1999. The grotesquely-misnamed Sudan Peace Act perpetuates these policies. For a detailed critique, see "The ‘Sudan Peace Act’: Perpetuating Africa’s Longest War", The European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, London, June 2001, available at http://www.espac.org

[5] Executive Summary, "The Report Of Investigation: Liang, Dengaji, Kawaji and Yawagi Villages", Civilian Protection Monitoring Team, Khartoum, 19 June 2003.

[6] "The Report Of Investigation: Liang, Dengaji, Kawaji, And Yawagi Villages", Civilian Protection Monitoring Team, Khartoum, 19 June 2003.

[7] "Government of Sudan Military Kills 59 Unarmed Villagers, Watches While Family Burns to Death, Violates Ceasefire While Bush Administration Does Nothing", Press Release by Servant’s Heart, 3 June 2003.

[8] See, for example, "Islamists Burn to Death Christian Pastor, Family. Massacre of 59 Came as Sudan Discussed Removal from Terror List", News Article by World Daily Net, 4 June 2003; "Christian Leader Burned to Death with Wife and Four Children", News Article by ANS, 5 June 2003; "Sudan’s Islamic Government Continues PersecutingChristians", News Briefing by Christian World News, Christian Broadcasting Network, 13 June 2003; and Nat Hentof, "The Fight Against Genocide and Slavery;Sudan Government Breaks Faith with President Bush", "The Washington Times", 23 June 2003.

[9] "The Report Of Investigation: Longochok Area", Civilian Protection Monitoring Team, Khartoum, 30 June 2003.

[10] Executive Summary, "The Report Of Investigation: Longochok Area", Civilian Protection Monitoring Team, Khartoum, 30 June 2003.

[11] "The Report Of Investigation: Longochok Area", Civilian Protection Monitoring Team, Khartoum, 30 June 2003.

[12] Comments reported in "Three Abductees Killed in Government of Sudan Captivity", Press Release by Servant’s Heart, 11 June 2003.

[13] If the aim was to adversely influence perceptions of the government’s commitment to the peace process it had its successes. See, for example, the statement made by Baroness Cox, president of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, that Servant’s Heart’s Longochok allegations "raise serious questions about the NIF regime’s sincerity of commitment to genuine peace" ("Christian Leader Burned to Death with Wife and Four Children", News Article by ANS, 5 June 2003) and the statement made by Release International, a Christian advocacy group, that they were "the clearest evidence yet that the Sudanese authorities are not serious about the peace talks they are engaged in. That atrocities of this magnitude are occuring in the midst of such negotiations, is pure hypocrisy."

[14] See, for example, "Sudan Jihad Forces Islam on Christians. Women Refusing to Convert Gang-Raped, Mutilated, Says Relief Worker", News Article by World Net Daily, 4 March 2002. The relief worker cited byDennis Bennett.

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