Overview of the Sudan situation:
The government of Sudan has been widely accused of condoning slavery in that country.
While there is convincing evidence that some slavery does occur there, the total picture
is far more complex. There are at least 4 ways in which large numbers of Sudanese men,
women and children lose their freedom:
||Some marauding, government-backed militias, who are mainly from the Baggara tribe in
western Sudan, attack primarily villages of the Dinka tribe in southern Sudan. These raids
are one manifestation of a long-standing religious/racial/language conflict in that
country that has been fueling a civil war for the past 40 years. More lives have allegedly
been lost in Sudan's civil war than in Bosnia, Rwanda and Kosovo combined. 3
||Because of the civil war, tribal animosities in the south have been aggravated. An
ancient tribal practice has once more become common: women and children are being abducted
by rival tribes. The victims are kidnapped and held until their relatives can scrape up
enough ransom money to buy them back.
||The Sudan Foundation, a non-Muslim group, claims that "Outside those
areas controlled by the Sudanese Government, the old practice of inter-tribal feuding
continues. In these raids prisoners are taken, who must then be ransomed. What looks like
the purchase of slaves is actually the redemption of prisoners of war." Quoted
in Ref. 2
||The Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA), which is fighting the Sudanese
government, has raided villagers and forced men and children to work as laborers or
porters for the rebel army. Some have been forcibly conscripted into the army.
When money changes hands, It is not necessarily clear whether a victim is being
released from slavery, or abduction, or their POW status. Unfortunately, media coverage
has not been noted for its accuracy. Some captives being redeemed or ransomed are
presented on TV and in the print media as slaves being given their freedom.
Some Christian and other groups have adopted the controversial practice of traveling to
Sudan and buying captives' freedom. This practice does have two positive effects:
||It buys the freedom of thousands of slaves, abductees and prisoners of war.
||It focuses world attention on the profoundly immoral practices in Sudan.
On the other hand. it has some negative effects:
||It increases the profitability of slave traffic and abductions, and thus probably
encourages more slavery, kidnapping, and capturing of prisoners of war.
||It is an affront to human dignity for a person to be bought and sold as a piece of
||There may be inadequate follow-up care. The Human Rights Watch reported that in
1999-JAN, 1,050 children and women were freed, but some did not have families waiting to
receive them. Many "needy people [were] turned loose in a zone which has not yet
recovered from famine." 9
Recent History of Sudan:
One of the most serious failings of humanity is its inability to draw (and redraw)
national boundaries in accordance with the needs of the people. The former Yugoslavia is
one example: its people have historically followed three different faith groups: Roman
Catholicism, Serbian Orthodox and Islam. Religious intolerance, fueled by nationalist
interests, culminated in the recent civil war. The killings in Kosovo is a second example:
the inhabitants of Kosovo are about 90% Albanian and thus overwhelmingly Muslim. The area
is currently controlled by a Serbian government. A third example is the plight of the
Kurds. They are a distinct ethnic group without a homeland. They uneasily occupy an area
that is partly in Iran, Iraq and Turkey.
Finally, there is Sudan. It is a country of 33 million people, Africa's largest
country, located between Egypt and Ethiopia. It is profoundly divided between northern and
southern areas of the country:
||The north is largely Arab; the south is largely black Africans.
||The north is largely Muslim; the south has large Christian and Animist minorities.
Over-all, the country is about 70% Muslim, 20 to 25% Animist and 5% Christian.
||The northern population largely speaks Arabic; the southerners speak a variety of
||Many in the north advocate shari'a (Islamic law) for the entire country; southerners
favor a secular federal government.
In our opinion, when Sudan gained its independence in 1956 from England and Egypt, it
should have been obvious that it could not peacefully survive on a long-term basis. A more
sensible and stable political arrangement might have been to create two countries: a north
and south Sudan.
According to international syndicated columnist & broadcaster Eric Margolis claims:
"In the 1960's, western Christian missionary groups began arming Stone Age
southern Dinka tribesmen, encouraging them to rebel against Khartoum. Israel secretly
armed and aided southern Christian rebels to destabilize Sudan, an ally of Egypt.
Since then, southern Sudan has been convulsed by civil and tribal war. Black Muslim
tribes raided the south for cattle and women; black animists battled black Christians; the
Arab Army fought rebels of the mainly Christian SPLA rebel army, which was armed and
financed by British Christian `humanitarian groups,' Ethiopia, Israel, and, later, the US,
Uganda, and Egypt. Alliances shifted overnight. Christians slaughtered Christians; Dinkas
massacred Shilluks; Muslims fought Muslims."
Charlayne Hunter-Gault reported on PBS in 1996 that "The U.S. Government
includes Sudan on its list of nations that report [sic?] and harbor terrorists. Also for
years, the United Nations, the U.S. State Department, and various international
humanitarian organizations have reported human rights violations by both sides in the
In 1997-NOV, citing Sudan's human rights record, the U.S. imposed economic sanctions on
the country. In 1998-OCT, when the U.S. Freedom from Religious Persecution bill
was signed into law by President Clinton, further sanctions were imposed.
Recent developments in Sudan:
||1999-FEB: The United Nations Children's Fund is strongly
opposed to buying the freedom of anyone. Unicef spokesperson, Marie Heuze said in Geneva,
Switzerland: "The purchase of a human being is absolutely intolerable."
||1999-MAR: A series of news conferences were held in Ottawa, Canada on
the topic of slavery in Sudan. 1
||Hikde Johnson, the human-rights minister for Norway, said that she could understand the
motivation of the groups who were buying the freedom of victims, "but I am wary
of the point the Unicef raises on the ethical side that it may actually imply an
undermining of the human dignity of people."
||Rev. Cal Bombay is a minister in a Fundamentalist Christian group, Crossroads
Christian Communications. They sponsor a TV program called 100 Huntley Street
on Canadian commercial and religious channels. Bombay recently returned from Sudan where
he had purchased the freedom of 325 Sudanese victims for $100 each. He denies the
assertion that the slaves had merely been abducted. "One needs simply speak to
the slaves themselves, and hear the testimony of their treatment, to realize this is not
just abductions, this is not free labor. These are slaves who are owned body, soul and
mind and are under the pressure to become Muslims."
||Abdel-Ghani el-Karimhe, the Sudanese charge d'affaires in Ottawa Canada, claims that no
slaves exist in his country. "He speaks instead of hostages and abductions."
1 El-Karimhe commented that the act of buying back people's
freedom "...leads to more kidnappings, more abductions."
||1999-MAY: Christian Freedom International is a U.S. Christian
group working in Sudan who bought the freedom of about a dozen slaves in 1998. They have
decided to discontinue the practice because they now realize that it only helps to
increase the slave traffic. Spokesperson Jim Jacobson said: "Our objective -- and
I believe the sincere objective of others -- was to carefully investigate legitimate
claims, redeem on a case-by-case basis, report our findings, and seek international
pressure to end the hideous practice of slavery. But what started as an act of mercy has
turned into a debacle...Selling slaves is now more profitable in Sudan than narcotics.
Slave redemption activities are now enriching slave traders, slave dealers, and slave
masters." He added that slave traders use the money generated by selling slaves
to buy guns and hire people to conduct more raids on villages and take more slaves." 10|
Related essay in this web site:
Randall Palmer, "Buying freedom for Sudanese slaves poses moral dilemma, groups
"CBS and Allegations of slavery in Sudan," letter from the Council
on American-Islamic Relations to CBS. 1999-FEB-4. Available at: http://msanews.mynet.net/MSANEWS/199902/19990204.8.html
Bob Harvey, "The world's worst religious war," The Ottawa Citizen,
Ottawa, ON, 1998-DEC-28.
Eric Margolis, "Onward Christian soldiers," The Toronto Sun, Toronto
ON, 1998-DEC-10. Available at: http://www.bigeye.com/121098.htm
Charlayne Hunter-Gault, "Shackled Youth," PBS, 1996-AUG-19.
"The genocide of Christians in Sudan," Family Research Council, at: http://www.frc.org/infocus/if97e2rg.html
C.J.L. Collins & S. Askin, "The Islamic Gulag: Slavery makes a comeback in
Sudan," at: http://www.utne.com/lens/cs/15cssudan.html
The Coalition Against Slavery in Mauritania and Sudan (CASMAS) has a home page
"HRW background paper on slavery and slavery redemption in the Sudan,"
Human Rights Watch, 1999-MAR-12.
"Current news summary" by ReligionToday.com for 1999-MAY-18.
Copyright date: 1998-AUG-5
Latest update: 1999-MAY-18
Author: B.A. Robinson