WASHINGTON - More than 130 years after the 13th Amendment officially ended slavery in the United States, an angry debate has broken out among blacks over the alleged acquiescence of the government of Sudan in a black slave trade and about the support that Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam, has voiced for the Sudanese government.
"I don't know that Americans as a whole know much about the de facto practice of slavery in Sudan," said Randall Robinson, president of the TransAfrica Forum, a group that seeks to influence U.S. policy in Africa and the Caribbean.
Referring to Minister Farrakhan, he added, "I'm sure that if more people had known, they would have been shocked and disappointed with his statements of support for Sudan."
While much of the attention given to Minister Farrakhan's recent visit to countries in Africa and the Middle East has focused on his meetings with leaders of Libya, Iran and Iraq, it was his stop Feb. 8 in Sudan when he was quoted by the government-owned news service as saying, "More than 40 million American Muslims stand with Sudan," that has caused the most comment in the black media.
That is because Minister Farrakhan's support comes as the Islamic government of Lt. Gen. Omar Ahmed al-Bashir, the president, is engaged in a civil war that pits the largely Arab Muslim north against the mainly Christian and animist blacks in the south.
In recent years, officials in the United Nations and the U.S. government have accused the Sudanese government of condoning a traffic in human beings.
According to these organizations, Sudanese soldiers and Muslim militias who have been armed by the government have transported captured blacks to the north, where they are used as household slaves.
"It's war booty," said Jemera Rone, a field representative for Human Rights Watch/Africa who has visited Sudan twice in the past three years. "They're given free license by the government. They're not prosecuted. In fact, the government denies that it is taking place."
But Minister Farrakhan has expressed skepticism about reports of slavery. "Where is the proof?" he demanded at a news conference in Washington two weeks ago. He and his followers have also suggested that the reports of slavery in the Sudan are part of a Zionist conspiracy to discredit an Islamic state and the Nation of Islam.
Pub Date: 3/24/96