Reports of Catholic residents of Khartoum or elsewhere in Sudan being forcefully converted to Islam [SDN37905.E]

According to the International Christian Concern's (ICC) human rights report on Sudan, despite statements by the National Islamic Front (NIF) that religious freedom in Sudan is respected, "Islam is the de facto state religion" and "forced conversions to Islam is a part of government policy" (Oct. 2001). In his report prepared for the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Gaspar Biro, the former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Sudan, referring to Christians and Animists in the south, stated:

Cultural and linguistic assimilation of these minority groups and their members was asserted as official government policy over the last decade, and Islamization (sometimes by coercion) mainly by non-governmental Islamic relief organizations, fully backed by official Khartoum, coupled with individual and group persecution, became normative in the Sudan of the 1990s (USCIRF 15 Feb. 2000).

In south and central Sudan, many people have been relocated to "peace camps" (ICC Oct. 2001; UNGA 11 Nov. 1996; Freedom House 4 Oct. 1999) where non-Muslims are at times pressured to convert (Annual Report for International Religious Freedom 2000 5 Sept. 2000, section 1). Reportedly, in central Sudan, over 170,000 people have been rounded up and placed in 70 of these camps (Freedom House 4 Oct. 1999). According to the 11 November 1996 interim report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights, non-Muslims in these camps, especially children, have been subject to religious indoctrination, circumcision and "Arabization" of their names, and eventual forced conversion to Islam (UNGA, 78). As well, the ICC human rights report notes that children in these camps are taken away from their parents and sent to other camps for "indoctrination" by Islamic fundamentalists (ICC Oct. 2001).

Several sources report that food, including foreign food donations, is often used as leverage to force Christians to convert to Islam (United States Commission on International Religious Freedom 21 March 2001, section 2d; ICC Oct. 2001; The Boston Globe 9 May 2001; Los Angeles Times 9 Dec. 2000; Jubilee Campaign Feb. 1999; Freedom House 4 Oct. 1999). Non-Muslims who have left the south and are living in government-controlled displaced persons' camps are reportedly under "great pressure" to convert to Islam (Country Reports 2000 Feb. 2001, section 1f; UNGA 11 November 1996, 77) before they are eligible to receive the facilities, food, and financial assistance provided by Islamic humanitarian non-governmental organizations, such as the government-supported Da'wah Islamiyah (ibid.). According to testimony by Norman Hill, a trustee and member of the Executive Board of Freedom House, "those Christians who refuse to convert, including clergy, are often imprisoned, tortured, flogged, and killed - sometimes even crucified" (Freedom House 4 Oct. 1999).

According to The Rutherford Institute's publication Handbook on Religious Liberty Around the World, a visit by the Puebla Institute to southern Sudan in 1995 had revealed the government practice of kidnapping Christian children off the streets and detaining them in government camps (1996; UNGA 11 Nov. 1996, 78). Reportedly, bribery has been used to convert these children to Islam and children have been routinely forced to adopt Muslim names and study the Koran (Rutherford Institute 1996.; Annual Report for International Religious Freedom 2000 5 Sept. 2000). Some boys in these camps or in juvenile houses have reportedly undergone forced circumcision (Country Reports 2000 Feb. 2001).

According to a UN report from 1996, under the 1992 Organization of Prisoners and Treatment of Inmates Act, prisoners are given an early release if they can demonstrate knowledge of Islam to a commission supervised by the prison authorities in consultation with the Minister for Religious Endowment (UNGA 11 Nov. 1996, 52). As there are no legal provisions for early release based on knowledge of non-Islamic religions, the report notes that many non-governmental observers view this legislation as "inciting" non-Muslims to convert to the Muslim faith (ibid.). The Annual Report on International Religious Freedom 2000 notes that in prisons government-supported Islamic non-governmental organizations "pressure and offer inducements to non-Muslim inmates to convert" (5 Sept. 2000, section 1).

Trainers in military training camps are reportedly known to insult and beat Christians as well as make them recite Islamic prayers (ICC Oct. 2001) and, according to the Annual Report for International Religious Freedom 2000, "Popular Defense Forces trainees, including non-Muslims, are indoctrinated in the Islamic faith" (5 Sept. 2000, section 1).

No specific reference to the forceful conversion of Catholics or to Catholic residents in Khartoum could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. However, a December 1999 article refers to "the regime's ongoing harassment of Catholic priests and nuns, demolition of churches, schools and other institutions, and forcible conversion of parishioners to Islam" (Compass Direct).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Annual Report on International Religious Freedom 2000. 5 September 2000. United States Department of State. [Accessed 12 Sept. 2000]

The Boston Globe. 9 May 2001. Anne E. Kornblut. "Focus on Sudan Seems About-Face in Bush Diplomacy Broad Coalition Turns up Pressure." (NEXIS)

Compass Direct. December 1999. Barbara G. Baker. "Sudan Releases Jailed Catholic Priests." (Christianity Today week of 13 Dec. 1999) [Accessed 17 Oct. 2001]

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2000. February 2001. United States Department of State. Washington, DC. [Accessed 17 Oct. 2001]

Freedom House. 4 October 1999. Testimony by Norman Hill at the New York City Council Hearings on Divestment from Talisman Energy Inc. [Accessed 17 Oct. 2001]

International Christian Concern (ICC). October 2001. "Human Rights Report, Christian Persecution in Sudan." [Accessed 17 Oct. 2001]

Jubilee Campaign [Guildford]. February 1999. "Sudan's Persecuted Church!" [Accessed 17 Oct. 2001]

Los Angeles Times. 9 December 2000. Norman Kempster. "Religious Rights Panel Blasts Administration: Sanctions: Commission Lauds U.S. For Tracking Faith-Based Persecution but Decries Washington's Lax Enforcement of Law Penalizing Abusive Regimes." (NEXIS)

The Rutherford Institute [Charlottesville]. 1996. Pedro C. Moreno (ed.). "Handbook on Religious Liberty Around the World." [Accessed 17 Oct. 2001]

United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). 21 March 2001. Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom on Sudan. [Accessed 17 Oct. 2001]

_____. 15 February 2000. Gaspar Biro. "Government Sanctioned Religious Discrimination in the Sudan Between 1993 and 1998." Presented at the Hearings on Religious Persecution in Sudan. [Accessed 17 Oct. 2001]

United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). 11 November 1996. Abdelfattah Amor. (A/51/542/Add.2). Interim report of the Special Rapporteur on religious intolerance: visit to the Sudan. [Accessed 17 Oct. 2001]

Additional Sources Consulted

Africa Confidential

Africa Research Bulletin

IRB databases


Resource Centre. Country File

Oral sources:

The representative of the Sudanese Bishop, Bishop Gassis, was unable to provide information within the times constraints of this response

Unsuccessful attempts to contact Khartoum Archdiocese

Unsuccessful attempts to contact New Sudan Council of Churches

Unsuccessful attempts to contact Sudan Catholic Information Office (SCIO)

Internet sites including:

Amnesty International

Angels in Sudan


Christian Aid

Christian Solidarity International


European Country of Origin Information Network

Human Rights Watch

Integrated Regional Information Networks

Sudan Infonet

Survivors Rights International