'Verify' Sudan slave reports, Farrakhan urges Nation of Islam leader condemns slavery

July 17, 1996|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, says he condemns "slavery in all its forms" and wants reports of its existence in Sudan "verified" by a team of Muslim and Christian leaders and journalists.

In an interview published in today's Final Call, the Nation of Islam's newspaper, Farrakhan referred to a series of articles published by The Sun last month documenting how two of its reporters traveled illegally to Sudan to buy and free two young slaves who had been in bondage six years.

The articles pointed out that after a visit to Sudan this year, Farrakhan denied the Islamic fundamentalist government there condoned slavery in its war against Christians and animists in the south and he challenged the press to prove otherwise.

But in his interview with Final Call, he said: "The Baltimore Sun is not a news source I should accept as gospel."

Farrakhan, who has made friendly visits to Sudan five times in the past 10 years, quoted the Koran: "When an unrighteous man brings you news, look carefully into it lest you harm a person in ignorance, then be sorry for what you did."

The Sun has repeatedly requested, in writing and by phone, an interview with Farrakhan. He has not responded to the requests.

"My question is, if slavery exists in the Sudan, how long has it existed?" he demanded in the Final Call article.

Amnesty International, he noted, in 1985 indicted Sudan for political imprisonment, detention without trial, torture, amputations and floggings, and the death penalty -- but did not mention slavery.

Was slavery omitted from the report, he asked, because Sudan was being used as a dumping ground for nuclear waste from the West?

"Is it now [being condemned] because this Islamic government is trying to build an Islamic nation?

"I should condemn [slavery] and certainly will, but I will not allow myself to be used as a pawn for the West in a political game that is being used by Western governments to destabilize the Islamic government of Sudan."

He did not mention that the United Nations, the U.S. State Department and other human rights organizations have documented and condemned slavery in Sudan over the past nine years.

He said he believed the Nation of Islam should send a team of Christian and Muslim leaders and journalists to Sudan "and let them verify what The Baltimore Sun has found."

Citing a report in the Washington Post last month of slavery existing in the United States as recently as 1954, he said: "If slavery exists right now in the United States, then why has this not been highlighted?

"If there was slavery going on in this country where I live, that I didn't know about, how can I be expected to know about conditions in a country where, during the last 10 years, I've been five times?

"Let it be known that as a descendant of slaves I stand ready to condemn slavery in all its forms. But I believe I should start at home and not 10,000 miles away."

Calling for the formation of a Muslim-Christian investigative team to go to Sudan and "find out the truth for us," he said: "A lot of what I have been reading, when it comes to life in Sudan, has been vicious lies."

The Final Call article said use in The Sun of Farrakhan's name implied that he would "turn a blind eye to the suffering of blacks in Sudan in order to defend an Arab, Islamic government.

"In fact, Minister Farrakhan has often been critical of Arab and Muslim-led regimes and leaders," the article stated.

The article also noted that in recent years Farrakhan had visited Sudan and met with five African leaders, including John Garang, head of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army, the chief rebel group opposing the Khartoum government.

"Not once did Mr. Garang mention slavery as an issue of conflict with the government of the north," the article quoted Mr. Farrakhan as saying.

In a meeting with the editorial board of The Baltimore Sun earlier this month, Mr. Garang repeatedly condemned the Khartoum government's complicity in slave raids, blaming the unpaid Arab militia forces that fight alongside the government's army for regarding war booty -- including slaves -- as a form of pay.

The government of Sudan said last week that it was willing to allow international monitors into the country to join the investigation of slavery, but it is still not clear how much freedom of movement or inquiry they would have.

"I think the government is getting people to run around in circles to defuse the criticism," said John Eibner, executive director of .. Christian Solidarity International, a Zurich-based humanitarian group which campaigns against slavery in Sudan. "I don't think anyone will get near a slave.

"But I think perhaps we should take up the challenge and write to them to tell them where we wish to go, and ask how they will facilitate our travel there. We should begin a dialogue with them but not silence ourselves in the meantime."

Jemera Rone, of Human Rights Watch/Africa, New York, who spent six weeks in government-controlled northern Sudan last year, said: "I have been down this trail before. I had assurances of all kinds of cooperation and that they would let me conduct interviews in private.

jTC "There's going to be a herd of government escorts anywhere you so no one in their right mind is going to talk to you," she said. "When you leave town, what protection do they have?"

Since publication of The Sun's articles, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Congressional Black Caucus have called for stronger sanctions against the government of Sudan to force it to end slavery. The government of Sudan has opened its own investigation and invited foreign human rights monitors to visit the country.

Pub Date: 7/17/96

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