afrol News, 27 May - A new report published by the UK-based organisation Anti-Slavery International sums up the situation of slavery in Sudan. Between 5,000 and 14,000 people - especially women and children - have been abducted in Sudan since 1983, the report says. The Sudanese government was "failing to take adequate steps to end raiding and slavery."
The summary of the situation in Sudan is part of a global study, which is presented at a special UN session on slavery held these days. Globally, the study concludes that the number of people forced into slavery around the world has risen to 27 million. Many of those are girls working as domestic servants and forced into sexual slavery. In Sudan - one of the countries where slavery is most frequent - new abductions are still taking place in well-organised slave raids.
In a communication from the Sudanese Committee for the Eradication of Abduction of Women and Children (CEAWC) Chairman to Anti-Slavery on 30 August 2001, it was noted that the number of abductees documented by CEAWC remained at only 1,200. "This figure represents only a small percentage of the total number waiting to be released, which is generally considered to be between 5,000 and 14,000," Anti-Slavery however claims. "It also indicates that CEAWC has not make any significant progress during 2001 in terms of identifying and releasing victims of abduction and forced labour."
There is no official figure regarding the number of people enslaved since 1983. However, the Dinka Committee estimates that around 14,000 Dinka have been abducted in total, of whom 8,000 were taken to West Kordofan and 6,000 to South Darfur. In early 2000, a UNICEF representative was reported to have estimated that between 5,000 and 10,000 children were believed to remain in captivity.
Furthermore, in October and November 2001, NGOs in Sudan reported that new raids had again occurred into North Bahr El Ghaza and that women and children were missing as a result. On 28 March 2002, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Sudan, Gerhart Baum, noted "I continue to receive cases of raids followed by abductions…" The Special Rapporteur supported the idea of permanent monitoring in Bahr El Ghazal as a measure to stop "this heinous practice which, as of yet, is still going on."
According to the British group, "this information confirms fears that the government has not taken adequate steps to end raiding and slavery."
However, in January 2002, the Sudanese Government issued Decree 14/2002 which included measures aimed at strengthening CEAWC, including putting CEAWC directly under the supervision of the President's Office, providing it with full-time chairmanship and appropriate resources. The former head of the CEAWC, Dr Ahmed El-Mufti, was reappointed as head the CEAWC.
According to information provided to the UN Special Rapporteur, CEAWC is intending to accomplish its mandate and deliver concrete results in a one year timeframe. Two reconciliation conferences have been arranged in Kordofan and Darfur to resolve the issue of abductions in a traditional manner. Legal proceedings are foreseen only as a last resort measure upon completion of a one year period.
- This does not appear to be a major policy departure for CEAWC, which has not pursued its mandate by prosecutions, Anti-Slavery holds. The group believes that "it is time that the government took urgent steps to end the de facto amnesty for those responsible for abductions or for holding victims of abduction."
- Clear condemnation is needed, not only of abductions, kidnapping and forced labour, but also of 'false adoption', debt bondage, employing children away from home and without the consent of their parents or guardian, and coercing or persuading girls or women into marriage while keeping them ignorant of their own origins or their rights.
- The government should also introduce or amend legislation to ensure that all these practices are prohibited and that the penalties are commensurate with the human rights violations committed, Anti-Slavery notes. "While the Government rightly points out that under Article 162 of the Criminal Code abduction is punishable by 10 years' imprisonment, the penalty for the exaction of forced labour is currently only one year of imprisonment. There must be adequate penalties against the use of forced labour which are strictly enforced, a failure to do so will have the effect of encouraging more abductions."
Statements by President al Bashir dismissing reports of slavery in Sudan as "mere media propaganda" (January 2002) and Dr El-Mufti describing slavery in Sudan as "an unfounded allegation" (April 2002) have the unfortunate effect of indicating that the government does not regard the practice of abductions and forced labour as a serious problem in Sudan, let alone a priority for action.
Linked to this, was the arrest on 15 January 2002 of Nhial Bol, the managing editor for the independent daily newspaper, 'Khartoum Monitor'. Bol was subsequently convicted for the "propagation of false news" and sentenced to six months imprisonment unless he paid a fine of five million Sudanese pounds (US$ 1,933). Bol was released on 17 January after colleagues from 'Khartoum Monitor' paid the fine. The 'Khartoum Monitor' itself has been fined 15 million Sudanese pounds (US$ 5,799) with the threat of asset seizure if the fine is not paid.
The article concerned accused the government of facilitating slavery by not preventing raiders, who it said were enslaving women and children in the south, from travelling on government-owned trains. The fact that the armed train running between Wau and Babanusa has been used by government supported militia to carry out raids and abductions over a number of years is a matter of public record. For example, in April 2002 UN resolution on the situation of human rights in Sudan called on the government of Sudan "to take further measures to eradicate the practice (of abductions), in particular those cases connected with the passage of the government train through Bahr al Ghazal."
In the same month that Bol was being prosecuted, the Sudanese government agreed with US Senator John Danforth that the issue of "slavery, abductions and forced servitude" should be one of four main issues that should be the subject of "confidence building" measures in Sudan in advance of any peace negotiations.
The US initiative to investigate slavery, abductions and forced servitude will see the deployment of a technical team to support field visits conducted by monitoring commissioners. On 8 April 2002, a US-led international commission of inquiry arrived in Khartoum to begin the investigation.
Anti-Slavery welcomed the Sudanese government's support for these US initiatives as well as its commitment to strengthening and supporting the work of CEAWC. "However, it should be stressed that, up till now, CEAWC has not been part of a systematic policy to prevent further incidences of abduction taking place or to ensure the prosecution of those responsible for these human rights violations."
The group advises the Sudanese government to publicly state that abductions and all associated practices are illegal and make the appropriate legislative amendments and effectively enforce the law. "Priority should be given to prosecuting all those responsible for new abductions."
Sources: Based on Anti-Slavery and afrol archives