Sudanese lawyer raises human rights concerns

By on April 1, 1999

(ENS)-The message Abel Alier brought to his audiences during a nine-day visit to churches and human rights advocates in the United States was a grim one as tensions mount between the Islamic government based in Khartoum and the armed resistance in the largely Christian southern part of the Sudan. Describing the estimated one million Sudanese “internally displaced” in the north, Mr. Alier said, “They are in the wilderness,” facing problems common to refugees elsewhere in the world, without any international support. Christians, especially Roman Catholics and Episcopalians, “recognize this plight and know the geography of this wilderness,” he said. They are also united by persecution. In trying to provide desperately needed health care and basic education, churches are “in full confrontation with the government,” said Mr. Alier, a former vice president of the republic and former president of the High Executive Council in the Southern Region of the Sudan. He is also a member of the Permanent Court of International Arbitration at The Hague. The government has demolished schools and prayer centres in a deliberate attempt to create “disarray” in the displaced communities, said Mr. Alier. The government also tries to “criminalize” anyone who attempts to help the refugees, most recently charging 26 Roman Catholic priests with offences against the state.Mr. Alier, who is defending the priests, said three of the 26 were tortured to death, two escaped and the others face trial in a military court. If convicted, they could face the death penalty. Africa’s largest country, the Sudan has enjoyed only brief intervals without armed conflict since its independence in 1956. The military regime in the north continues to brutally repress opposition. There is some talk of a political settlement, said Mr. Alier, because the government realizes that war is costly, it isolates them from the international community, and that “the oppressed populace is a ticking bomb.”

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