South Sudanese Bishop gets UN Peace Prize

5 Mar 2013

South Sudanese Bishop gets UN Peace Prize

1 March 2013 - Recognizing his sizable contribution to peace in South Sudan, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon awarded Bishop Emeritus Paride Taban a peace prize in Geneva today.

"I am proud to add my congratulations to tonight's award winner, Bishop Taban, for his work to promote interfaith and inter-ethnic understanding in Sudan," the Secretary-General said during the ceremony.

The Sergio Vieira de Mello Annual Prize acknowledges the bishop's efforts to promote mediation, reconciliation and dialogue among tribes in his Torit Diocese area, making it possible for them to live peacefully together in the Holy Trinity Peace Village of Kuron.

The prize is awarded each year to an individual, community or institution that has made an exceptional effort to reconcile groups in conflict, which can be duplicated elsewhere in the world to alleviate human suffering.

The award is given in memory of Sergio Vieria de Mello, a former Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Iraq, who was killed with 21 other humanitarians in the bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad on 19 August 2003. The UN General Assembly has since designated the day as the World Humanitarian Day.

According to the Pax Christi International website, Bishop Taban said he had heard "southerners talking against one another" during the civil war in what was then known as Sudan.

"This gave me the incentive to retire from being a diocesan bishop to found a peace village," he said. "People fight against themselves because they are traumatized."

The idea to start a peace village came into his mind after visiting similar projects in Israel and Germany, where people from different religious communities were living together in harmony, he added. With this inspiration, he requested the Vatican for early retirement.

In 1999, the Bishop began a demonstration farm near Kuron River in Eastern Equatoria, where local communities who had been fighting over cattle were trained to grow fast-maturing crops. The main purpose of introducing agriculture was to promote food production among a people who were predominantly pastoral communities, the Pax Christi website noted.

"It was hoped that once these communities embraced farming, conflicts that had been a problem between them would eventually be reduced...," said the website.

In 2000, Dutch military engineers assisted the bishop to build a bridge across the river. Some 81 families from different ethnic groups settled around the bridge to protect it. The bishop used the opportunity to develop Holy Trinity Peace Village.

The Vatican granted the bishop's retirement request in 2004 and he registered the village as a non-governmental organization in 2005.

According to the website, people from different faiths – Christian, Muslim, Catholic, Pentecostal and Adventists – live together in this "small village", which focuses on their socio-economic development.