However while many are celebrating newfound freedom in the streets, Christians in Sudan remain “cautiously optimistic.” Jo Newhouse, spokesperson for Open Doors in Sub-Saharan Africa, commented that Open Doors welcomes these new accords. She stressed that issues still need to be addressed for churches and believers—including the repeal of the blasphemy and public decency laws, as well as problems around church registration and building, and of confiscated church properties.
Read why Sudan is No. 7 on Open Doors’ World Watch List.
“A move to allow representation of religious minority groups in the Ministry of Religious Endowments with delegates they have chosen themselves is also necessary,” she said.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has welcomed steps taken by Sudan’s interim government, calling the legislative reforms significant and historic.
“Sudan’s transitional government continues to live up to its commitment to justice, peace, and freedom,” USCIRF Vice Chair Tony Perkins said in a statement. “These new measures are important to protect the freedom of the Sudanese people to freely choose and practice their faith without punishment.”
Last month a group of 29 NGOs said the amendments did not go far enough and failed to address underlying human rights principles.
‘It must work’
Last week’s signing of a peace declaration is meant to end years of war in Darfur and Sudan’s southern South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, which killed at least 300,000 and displaced 2.7 million people in Darfur alone, according to the UN.
As you might expect, the peace agreement and move to end 30 years of Islamic law has not gone uncontested. Islamist groups loyal to al-Bashir have challenged recent government decisions, insisting Sharia should remain in force and calling on the army to step in and “defend the law of God.”
And not all rebel groups support it. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, which has been fighting for self-determination in South Kordofan region where many Christians live, said the accord lacks a clear separation of state and religion as well as safeguards for equality in citizenship rights and in economic opportunities, reported ChristianityToday.
Analysts, however, expect the groups to come around. “It is a Sudanese deal, negotiated by the Sudanese without external deadlines or arm-twisting. Both sides know that it must work or the democratic experiment will fail,” says Edward Thomas, fellow of the Rift Valley Institute in Kenya, and Alex de Waal, is the executive director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University in the US.