Slavery in Sudan: Too Many Allegations, Too Little Proof
By Faisal Kutty – One of the fundamental principles of justice is that no accusation be allowed to stand unless there is sufficient evidence to support the allegation. But such principles don’t seem to get in the way of propagandists in their mission to discredit. Nobody knows this better then the Sudanese government.
Sudan has moved from an insignificant African state into a nation constantly in the international limelight. To what does Sudan owe this privilege? It was not the success of the Mahdi over British occupiers. Nor was it the inter-tribal warfare that has plagued it since independence in 1956 thanks to British division of the country into north and south. The bells only started ringing when Sudan leaned toward Islam and an independent foreign policy. And the British-American isolation of the country intensified the moment Sudan reached out to the other international pariah state of Iran.
As a result Sudan was successfully inducted into the State Department’s terrorist hall of fame in August 1993. This was followed in 1997 with the imposition of trade sanctions. Now there is an international effort to label it as a threat to everything the West stands for.
Last month, Assistant Secretary of State, Susan Rice, claimed that Sudan is “perhaps the world”s worst” human rights violator. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. That such a high-ranking official has the confidence to make such a statement must mean that she has strong evidence. Did she need to support her allegation? No. The constant repetition of such allegations in the media and in Western policy making circles appears to have negated the requirements for any proof. Repeat a lie enough times and you start believing it yourself.
The Sudanese situation is quite different from most others. The strongest opposition comes from Christian “humanitarian” and missionary organizations. They have contributed to the mess and confusion surrounding Sudan. In what can only be characterized as a revival of the Crusader mentality, these groups operate on the premise that the growth and spread of Christianity is great for the people, but Islamization of the north where the vast majority are Muslims is synonymous with human rights abuses. Some humanitarian groups have funded rebels, while others such as Christian Solidarity International have spread exaggerated news about slavery and the extent of human rights abuses.
The campaign to discredit Sudan appears to be picking up momentum as groups such as Anti-Slavery International (ASI) and the American Anti-Slavery Group have taken up the issue. ASI has called on the government to free slaves held by militias under its control. While the American group, based in Boston, has called for a boycott of Talisman Energy.
Talisman Energy, based in Calgary-Canada, is the third largest independent oil producer in the world. The company purchased a 25 percent stake in a Chinese-Malaysian-Sudanese consortium drilling in southern Sudan. The consortium has established a refinery and is expected to ship oil through a 1,600-kilometer pipeline to the north of the country.
The anti-slavery group has sent letters to a number of mutual fund companies in the US that have investments in Talisman. The allegation is that the government is using the profits from this business to persecute southern Sudanis. In fact, according to an Associated Press report, the company has built a 60-bed hospital as well as roads and water wells and the government has pledged to build schools and hospitals with it’s share of the profits both in the north and the south.
What is interesting in all of this is the speed with which these groups are moving to isolate Sudan. Such rash judgements will have no effect except to harm the already deprived Sudanese people. How could these groups act without clear evidence?
The very existence of slavery is challenged by many observers. According to the British-based Sudan Foundation the evidence for the slavery allegation is feeble. In fact, this was confirmed by Lord McNair in a 1997 report titled “The McNair Report on Allegations of Slavery and Slavery-like Practices in Sudan.” The Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords carried out a physical investigation of some remote parts of the country and studied some of the literature outlining allegations of slavery in Sudan. He concluded that there was no evidence for allegations of Government-directed slavery and slavery-like practices in those areas he visited. In the opinion of Lord McNair, whose report did not get the same level of attention as the allegations by Christian groups, “it is… clear that there has been something of an international campaign to isolate Sudan by means of these allegations.”
Moreover, the role of the government in human rights abuses appears to be misrepresented. How can a government that has been unable to control a foreign financed rebel movement and that is not in control of the nation be accountable for the actions of some fringe elements?
More recently the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), was asked to look into the situation by the Sudanese government. Though it alleged that there was evidence of a continuing slave trade in Sudan, the group did not accuse the government of operating it. In fact, the Children’s Fund promised “to cooperate effectively with the Government of Sudan, and other interested members of the international community” to fight this problem. Moreover, it is unclear what role groups such as Christian Solidarity International and others have had in promoting and perhaps even reviving the practice. The Swiss-based outfit, which first raised the alarm by alleging that northern Arab Muslims were enslaving African Christians and Animists, claims to have “freed” more than 11,000 “slaves” by paying off Arab middlemen.
What is being labeled as slavery appears to be the continuation of a longstanding practice of inter-tribal hostage-taking has been revived and exacerbated by the civil war and the diversion of aid money to “free” these “slaves.” Wherever there is a buck you will find willing suppliers.
Rather than jumping on the bandwagon of Western efforts to alienate and break up a nation over political differences, humanitarian groups must push for independent and objective investigations into allegations of human rights abuses. Their very credibility is at stake.
Note: First Published 8/14/1999 – Political – Article Ref: IV9908-562
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