NAACP to add pressure on Sudan Group will intensify opposition to slavery, its head, Mfume, says

June 23, 1996|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The NAACP will become "more activist" in opposing slavery in Sudan and elsewhere, the Baltimore-based organization's executive director Kweisi Mfume said yesterday.

Speaking after publication of a three-part series in The Sun describing how two staffers illegally entered Sudan to buy and free two young slaves for $1,000, Mfume said: "I have always brought a sense of activism with me, and I expect the NAACP, which has traditionally been an activist organization, will become more activist."

While the new leader of the nation's leading civil rights organization prepares a stronger line against slavery, the chairman of the congressional Black Caucus is also drafting legislation to increase the pressure on Khartoum.

Rep. Donald M. Payne, a New Jersey Democrat, will propose a total multinational economic embargo, except for humanitarian aid, on Sudan "until appropriate action is taken to eliminate chattel slavery."

A draft outline of the legislation also calls for:

An international arms blockade against the government in Khartoum, which is believed to get most of its weapons from Iran and Libya.

The stationing of U.N. and U.S. human rights monitors in the region -- A U.N. plan "to put an end to slavery where it exists."

Payne did not respond to telephone requests for an interview yesterday.

At its 87th annual convention in Charlotte, N.C., next month, the NAACP is expected to propose similar measures against the Islamic fundamentalist government in Khartoum, including economic sanctions, a break in diplomatic relations, and a call to the Organization of African States to agree to a plan to abolish slavery that's become a part of the civil war between the government forces and southern Sudanese non-Muslims whose people often are kidnapped into slavery during government-sanctioned raids.

"We believe our government ought to be taking the lead in working with governments in Africa to bring about real and lasting change," said Mfume.

Such a call for action from the NAACP on the issue of slavery will mark a major strengthening of the organization's previous opposition to slavery.

'The larger question'

"We believe slavery is wrong no matter where it exists," said Mfume. "The organization is as deeply concerned with slavery in Sudan as it would be with slavery in this country. It gives us a great deal of concern. Even though we are talking about a situation outside of the United States, it raises the larger question of what kind of nation are we prepared to tolerate."

Charles Jacobs, co-founder of the Anti-Slavery Group, said black leaders have traditionally shied from anti-slavery activity.

"Where is the speech?" he asked. "Where is the mobilization? Where is the outreach? Is it because there is no bad white in this story? Is it because of the Farrakhan angle? Or is it because there is not enough news footage for people to identify with?"

Minister Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam, has questioned the existence of slavery in Sudan. "Where is the proof?" he asked at the National Press Club in Washington in March.

Farrakhan has not responded to requests from The Sun for his reaction to the series of articles, which documented that slavery exists today in Sudan.

Asked if Farrakhan's skepticism has been a brake on earlier NAACP action against slavery in Sudan, Mfume, the former Maryland congressman who became executive director of the group in February, said: "It has not been a dampener on us. Our position has always been that slavery is wrong.

"I have only been on the job for 120 days, and I can't really speak for what happened before that. But people who know me know where I am on issues like this and I don't shy away."

Joe Madison, an NAACP board member whose 1994 resolution put the organization -- "as descendants of slaves" -- formally on record as opposing slavery, said: "This is going to have to become a major, major issue in this country. It is going to take time, but unfortunately the people who are enslaved don't have a lot of time."

The increasing pressure for action against slavery in Sudan is likely to underscore a difference between State Department officials who are intent on continuing the dialogue with the National Islamic Front in Khartoum and White House officials who are more ready to see the regime fall.

Call for action

Bona Malwal, an exiled Sudanese opposition leader who was in New York and Washington last week lobbying for stronger action against the regime in Khartoum, said it was clear from his meetings that the United States did not want to get directly involved in Sudan but was trying to apply pressure on the Khartoum regime through neighboring countries, such as Egypt and Eritrea.

On June 10, he said, opposition leaders still in Khartoum signed a public demand for an immediate end to the military regime.

"This is the first time in the political history of the regime that people have challenged this regime and it didn't take action against them," he said.

"You would have expected this regime to come down hard on these 10 political leaders. I think their reading of the situation is that if this had happened they may have had a political uprising on their hands."

Malwal called on the U.S. and the U.N. to increase sanctions on Sudan, starting with an embargo against flights by Sudan's national airline. That, he said, would send a message to ordinary Sudanese that the government was being isolated.

Pub Date: 6/23/96

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