On behalf of the U.S. government, I would like to thank you to the Government of Sudan, and in particular the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for organizing this event and inviting us all here today.
Thank you also to Ambassador Omer Mohamed Siddig for presiding over today’s events, and I would like to acknowledge the presence of Ambassador Ilham Shentair, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Assistant Undersecretary for Political Affairs.
It is good to see the active participation of so many distinguished religious leaders, legal advocates, and members of civil society. And, I would like to express my special appreciation to the special guests from abroad, including the Anglican Bishop of Leeds, Nick Baines, who just spoke, and Dr. Paolo Impagliazzo, a representative of the Sant’Egidio organization, who you will hear from soon. Thank you both for making the trip to Sudan to participate in this workshop. I would also like to thank Father William Deng for representing the Sudanese Christian community during this opening ceremony.
A roundtable in Khartoum held in May 2018 to discuss the legal, policy, and structural constraints to the free practice of religion in Sudan was truly a successful event. Organized by the United States and Canada, the event included the active and positive participation of government officials, religious leaders, civil society, and experts on related Sudanese laws.
During the workshop, participants discussed the importance of achieving greater representation of religious minorities in the government, including in technical offices that deal with land permits and educational administration and management.
Also highlighted was the need for equal distribution of resources to all the religious groups; as well as the need for more transparency in how religious communities obtain permits to construct houses of worship.
From that event, the government of Sudan committed to holding a follow-up workshop to make further progress on the issues raised in May.
We are very pleased that this event is addressing that commitment.
As you likely know, a key component of the U.S.-Sudan Phase II framework is for progress in key areas of concerns to the U.S. government, including advancing human rights and religious freedom in Sudan and improving humanitarian access.
The United States supports freedom of expression — included in that is religious freedom, which is necessary for an equal society.
Vice President Mike Pence spoke to U.S. Chiefs of Mission gathered in Washington on January 16. During his remarks he reminded us that protecting and promoting religious freedom is a foreign policy priority of the U.S. government. He added, “America has stood for religious freedom and religious plurality around the world.” He asked us to communicate clearly when we returned to our Missions that the Trump Administration and the American people “will always be champions of people of faith.”
Let me be unequivocal on what we mean by religious freedom.
We recognize and appreciate that Sudan is a multi-cultural, multi-religious society. We understand that, broadly speaking, Sudanese Muslims, Christians, and other believers live side by side, maintain friendships, and generally support each other.
However, what we are seeking are improvements in government policies to protect the religious tolerance we know in Sudan.
We must ensure that Sudan has in place, at the national and local levels, the laws and policies that not only permit, but actively promote, the ability of congregations and individuals of all faiths to practice their beliefs with appropriate freedom and protection.
This means that houses of worship can be duly established and not have their property threatened by government agencies or private land disputes.
It means that faith practitioners are not harassed or intimidated by government officials.
It means that the accommodation is made for the days of worship for different faiths.
And, it means that government officials respect the internal affairs of religious groups, including allowing religious congregations to elect their own leadership councils.
By organizing this workshop, the government of Sudan is making an important effort in its commitment to ensuring freedom of religious practice. This is the opportunity to help guide Sudan’s public policy to support the country’s multi-religious reality.
I am confident that the outcomes of this gathering today will include some very concrete next steps to codify into Sudanese law and practice the promise of Sudan’s constitution as well as Sudan’s obligations to international agreements on religious freedoms.