By Charles Jacobs and Sasha Giller
December 22, 2010
If you think that enslaving blacks ended in the 19th century, you are dead wrong. Last week 603 black women and children were freed from the horrors of chattel slavery that to this day exists in Sudan, Africa’s largest country. Christian Solidarity International USA, a Christian human rights organization, frees slaves in Sudan. The stories the freed slaves tell them are simply horrific.
Abuk Ngor Anyuon was forcibly converted to Islam; her genitalia mutilated. Two of her sons were sold off to another master and her finger was cut off. Akuc Kiir Deng also accepted Islam under the threat of death. Akuc was blinded and ritually circumcised, and two of her children were taken from her. Akuot Anei Wol, freed last September, recollects: “I lost my sight in my eye soon after I was captured. I was still just a girl then. My master’s wife was called Howah. She made me grind grain and clean the house. One day, she was angry and accused me of failing to wash the dishes and sweep the floor properly. Howah grabbed a horse whip and struck me in the face. It hit me in the eye. I lost sight immediately. Howah said: “I’ll blind your other eye if you don’t work.”
Slavery in Sudan, a centuries-old phenomenon, gained widespread publicity in the United States in the 90’s. At that time an Arab regime in the Northern Sudan declared a “holy war” (jihad) against the African population of the South, which is largely Christian and animist. Arab militias, sponsored by the government and often joined by the Sudanese army, raided hundreds of villages, executing the men and taking women and children into slavery in the North. Unlike in the American South, slave owners in Sudan do not need the muscles of men to work plantations: they use boys as goat herds, and women for sex and for their wombs, to produce children who will be Muslims.
When confronted with facts of modern-day enslavement of blacks in the 1990’s, many Americans joined the neo-abolitionist movement spearheaded by groups like CSI in Europe and our own American Anti-Slavery Group. Some donated and raised funds to free Sudanese slaves; others participated in demonstrations and lobbied politicians. CSI’s emancipation operations were extensively covered by the media. The movement’s efforts bore fruit when the US-brokered Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) forced the suspension of the slave raids in 2005.
As a consequence, Americans’ interest in Sudanese slaves decreased. Today, when up to 35,000 of blacks are still enslaved by the Arabs in the North, the media has fallen silent on the issue. Human rights giants like Human Rights Watch, which were never particularly helpful, also abandoned these slaves: a simple search of HRW’s website for “Sudan slavery” reveals that its most recent related report dates back to 2003.
As Sudan approaches January 9, 2011 – the day the Southerners are scheduled to vote to remain with the North or to secede – the chances to emancipate those still in bondage become increasingly smaller. Most experts believe the South will vote for independence. No one can predict the Muslim reaction in the North to the South’s choice of freedom. There is the possibility of revenge attacks and acts of violence against the slaves and other Southerners living in the North. Some even think the North-South war might be rekindled.
Yesterday The New York Times reported on a speech given by Sudan’s President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, an indicted war criminal, who promised to impose Islamic Law (Shariah) in the North in case separation. “Shariah and Islam will be the main source for the Constitution, Islam the official religion and Arabic the official language,” he said. Al-Bashir also indicated that in his future state there will be no protection for non-Arab, non-Muslim minorities: “If South Sudan secedes, we will change the Constitution, and at that time there will be no time to speak of diversity of culture and ethnicity.” Interestingly, The New York Times “forgot” to report on his recent statement reflective of the state he envisions. Commenting on the popular YouTube video that shows a woman being flogged in public by the police, Al Bashir said: “If she is lashed according to Shariah law, there is no investigation. Why are some people ashamed? This is Shariah.”
CSI and the AASG are determined to liberate as many slaves as possible before the referendum takes place.