OTTAWA (CCN) — Canada’s Catholic bishops have joined other Christian leaders in making an urgent appeal to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to help South Sudan.
“Mr. Prime Minister, if the violence continues unabated, the ethnic tribes in South Sudan risk becoming further alienated from one another, making the governing of this young country more difficult and complex when eventually there is a cessation to the violence,” said an April 27 letter signed by the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) Bishop Douglas Crosby of Hamilton, the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada Archbishop Fred Hiltz, and the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada Rev. Douglas H. Rollwage.
The ecumenical leaders urged Canada to consider increasing the number of peacekeepers it has committed to the UN mission in South Sudan, a new country formed in 2011 that has been wracked by civil war since 2013. Canada has contributed 10 peacekeepers so far.
“We are continuing to hear disturbing reports of gross violations of fundamental human rights carried out with total impunity,” the religious leaders’ letter said.
The letter pointed to recent communications from the Catholic bishops of South Sudan who report human rights violations on the part of both the opposition and government forces. These include: the killing and torture of civilians; rape and sexual violence as a tool of war; unlawful detention; mutilation, burning or dumping of human bodies into sewage tanks; collective punishment on civilians; crop destruction; and the blocking of humanitarian assistance, the ecumenical leaders said.
In a Feb. 16 communiqué the South Sudan bishops warned 4.9 million people will soon face a “food crisis across the country” and the number could grow to 5.9 million people by July. The Canadian religious leaders pointed to the bishops’ concerns about the “dreadful and man-made famine being inflicted upon the country.”
The ecumenical leaders cited news reports that 100,000 are now experiencing famine. They urged Canada to speak up about the food crisis at home and abroad and to encourage more food assistance in addition to helping restore the rule of law and protecting human rights. They also asked that Canada work with the United Nations Security Council, the international community and business interests to prevent weapons and war materials from coming into the area.
The letter included thanks to Canada for $37 million allocated to South Sudan out of a $119 funding package to that country, Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria, in March.
The UN World Food Program has been dropping food aid from planes to famine-afflicted areas.
The Canadian bishops’ overseas development agency, Development and Peace, has been assisting Catholic aid groups under the Caritas umbrella since before South Sudan’s independence to help with food shortages.
Development and Peace also “prioritized peacebuilding efforts” in the run-up to the independence referendum and supported the newly formed Caritas South Sudan in supporting up to 27,000 households, according to its website, www.devp.org.
Aid to the Church in Need is also active in South Sudan. “In the last three years, more than 50,000 have died and nearly 2.5 million people have been forced from their homes in this, the world’s youngest country,” says the Holy See charity’s website. “The faithful continue to live the horrors of bloodshed, abduction and assaults on women and girls.”