Slavery in Sudan to be focus of hearings GOP congressman announces probe, to urge ban on aid

December 18, 1996|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The Republican chairman of a key congressional human rights panel announced yesterday that he would hold hearings into slavery in Sudan.

"Our primary focus on chattel slavery is going to be the Sudan region," said Rep. Christopher H. Smith of New Jersey. "We will not only be holding hearings but also attempting to pass legislation cracking down on that region."

Smith said he would press for a ban on all but humanitarian aid to the country until President Clinton certified that its Islamic-led government had acted to end slavery.

Such a ban would be more political than practical. The Clinton administration provided $11.2 million in emergency food aid to Sudan in fiscal 1996. The legislation, even if passed, would not affect this type of aid, but would prevent any other U.S. aid being extended to Sudan. Since Sudan is already on the State Department's list of "pariah nations" because of its support of international terrorism, there is no prospect of nonhumanitarian aid.

Smith, who chairs a human rights subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee, earlier this year proposed a similar aid ban against Mauritania, another African nation where slavery exists. Mauritania received $342,000 in development assistance in fiscal 1996, $835,000 in food aid and benefited from a $1.3 million Peace Corps program.

He announced the Sudan hearings at a National Press Club news conference at which an international group of abolitionists appealed to Clinton to put slavery in Sudan and other countries at the top of its human rights agenda in his second term.

"The people of Sudan, be they Christian or Muslim, Arab or black African, are looking to the United States to exercise decisive moral leadership in support of their campaign to liberate their country from the totalitarian extremism that fuels the resurgence of slavery," said John Eibner, executive director of Christian Solidarity International, a Swiss-based anti-slavery group.

According to Charles Jacobs, research director of the Boston-based American Anti-Slavery Group, Sudanese children are being sold into slavery in neighboring Libya and other Arab countries, particularly around the Persian Gulf.

"Everybody in this business know there's slavery all over the gulf, particularly in Saudi Arabia," he told the news conference.

Nathaniel Clay of the International Coalition Against Chattel Slavery said: "This problem is endemic in many of the Arab countries."

Eibner said yesterday: "Chattel slavery in Sudan is not a dying practice of the ancient past that lingers on only in a few remote areas of the country contrary to the will of the government. It is instead a thriving practice that is actively promoted by the regime."

Eibner led a mission to the remote Bahr el Ghazal area of Sudan in November to purchase the freedom of 58 slaves. He said the slaves, from the Dinka tribe, were captured by the government-backed Arab militia.

"The women slaves are made to carry on their backs the booty of their captors. Whatever cannot be carried away is burned, leaving survivors completely destitute. Most boy slaves are made to tend cows and goats. Most girls and young women have to perform domestic labor, such as cleaning, grinding grain and fetching fire- wood and water. Many of the girls and young women are sexually abused by their masters."

Earlier this year, two Sun journalists illegally entered Sudan with Eibner and bought two boy slaves for $500 each to prove that slavery exists there, despite the Sudanese government's denials.

The boys were freed and immediately returned to their families.

The State Department's 1995 human rights report on Sudan, released in February, said: "The government of Sudan has not taken reported incidents of slavery and related practices seriously. Its failure to investigate such matters has led some to the inference that the government tacitly allows such practices."

The United States also backed a United Nations demand that the Sudanese government investigate "slavery, servitude, slave trade, forced labor" and "take all appropriate measures to put an immedi- ate end to these practices."

In testimony to Congress earlier this year, William H. Twaddell, deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said: "There is no doubt that the human rights situation in Sudan continues to be grave and the practice of slavery, lamentably, exists."

Ambassador Madeleine K. Albright, Clinton's nominee for secretary of state, said in a speech at the United Nations in November 1995: "The government of Sudan remains an egregious violator of internationally recognized human rights. Over the past year, we have seen increasing reports of slavery and forced labor of women and children belonging to racial, ethnic and religious minorities."

Said a State Department official yesterday: "I would be surprised if there would be a major change in policy. Certainly it's an issue that is always mentioned in great detail, an issue that is of concern to all of us."

Pub Date: 12/18/96

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