Slavery in Sudan

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Slavery in Sudan began in ancient times, and recently had a resurgence during the 1983 to 2005 Second Sudanese Civil War. During the Trans-Saharan slave trade, many Nilotic peoples from the lower Nile Valley were purchased as slaves and brought to work elsewhere in North Africa and the Orient by Nubians, Egyptians, Berbers and Arabs.[1]

Starting in 1995, many human rights organizations have reported on contemporary practice, especially in the context of the Second Sudanese civil war. According to reports of Human Rights Watch and others, during the war the government of Sudan was involved in backing and arming numerous slave-taking militias in the country as part of its war against the SPLA.[2] It also found the government failed to enforce Sudanese laws against kidnapping, assault and forced labor, or to help victims' families locate their children.[2])

Another report (by the International Eminent Persons Group) found both the government-backed militias and the rebels (led by the SPLA) guilty of abducting civilians, though the abducting civilians by pro-government militias was "of particular concern" and "in a significant number of cases", led to slavery "under the definition of slavery in the International Slavery Convention of 1926.[3][4] The Sudanese government maintained that the slavery is the product of inter-tribal warfare, over which it had no control.[2]

According to the Rift Valley Institute, slave raiding and abduction "effectively ceased" in 2002, although an "unknown number" of slaves remain in captivity.[5][6]

History of slavery in the Sudan[edit]

Slavery in the Sudan has a long history, beginning in ancient Egyptian times and continuing up to the present.

Prisoners of war were regularly enslaved by the ancient Egyptians, including Nubians.[7]

Soon after the Arabs conquered Egypt, they attempted to conquer Nubia; their efforts were unsuccessful, and in 652 they signed a treaty with the Nubian kingdom of Makuria, the Baqt. Under this treaty, the Nubians agreed to supply 360 slaves annually to their northern neighbors.

After the Nubian kingdoms' fall in 1504, the Funj came to the fore; these began to use slaves in the army in the reign of Badi III (r. 1692-1711).[8] The area again became a field for Egyptian slavers; notably, the ruler Muhammad Ali of Egypt attempted to build up an army of Southern Sudanese slaves. Slavery was later banned by the colonial British authorities in 1899, after they conquered the region.

According to British explorer (and abolitionist) Samuel Baker, who visited Khartoum in 1862 six decades after the British had declared slave trade illegal, slave trade was the industry "that kept Khartoum going as a bustling town".[9] Baker described the practice of slave raiding of African villages to the south by slavers in Khartoum: An armed group would sale up the Nile, find a convenient African village, surround it during night and attack just before dawn, burning huts and shooting. Women and young adults would be captured and bound with "forked poles on their shoulders", hand tied to the pole in front, children bound to their mothers. To render "the village so poor that surviving inhabitants would be force to collaborate with slavers on their next excursion against neighboring villages," the village would be looted of cattle, grain, ivory, with everything else destroyed.[9]

Modern-day slavery[edit]

The "current wave" of slavery in Sudan reportedly began in 1983 with the Second Sudanese Civil War between the North and South. It involved large numbers of "African" Sudanese, "primarily the Dinka, Nuer and Nuba of central Sudan," being captured and sold "(or exploited in other ways)" by Northern Sudanese "Arabs".[10][11] The problem of slavery reportedly became worse after the National Islamic Front-backed military government took power in 1989, the Khartoum government declared jihad against non-Muslim opposition in the south.[12] The Baggara were also given freedom "to kill these groups, loot their wealth, capture slaves, expel the rest from the territories, and forcefully settle their lands."[13]

The Sudan Criminal Code of 1991 did not list slavery as a crime, but the state of Sudan has ratified the Slavery Convention, the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery, and is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).[2] Nonetheless, according to the imam of the Ansar movement and former prime minister, Sadiq al-Mahdi, jihad

requires initiating hostilities for religious purposes ... It is true that the [NIF] regime has not enacted a law to realize slavery in Sudan. But the traditional concept of jihad does allow slavery as a by-product [of jihad].[14]

Human Rights Watch[15] and Amnesty International[16] first reported on slavery in Sudan in 1995 in the context of the Second Sudanese Civil War. In 1996, two more reports emerged, one by a United Nations representative and another by reporters from the Baltimore Sun, just one of many "extensive accounts of slave raiding" in Sudan provided by Western media outlets since 1995.[Note 1]

Human Rights Watch and others have described the contemporary form of slavery in Sudan as mainly the work of the armed, government-backed militia of the Baggara tribes who raid civilians—primarily of the Dinka ethnic group from the southern region of Bahr El Ghazal. The Baggara captured children and women who were taken to western Sudan and elsewhere. They were "forced to work for free in homes and in fields, punished when they refuse, and abused physically and sometimes sexually". The government of Sudan "arm[ed] and sanction[ed] the practice of slavery by this tribal militia", known as muraheleen, as a low cost way of weakening its enemy in the Second Sudanese Civil War, the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), which was thought to have a base of support among the Dinka tribe of southern Sudan.[2]

According to a 2002 report issued by the International Eminent Persons Group, (acting with the encouragement of the US State Department) both the government-backed militias and the rebels (led by the SPLA) have been found guilty of abducting civilians, but "of particular concern" were incidents that occurred "in conjunction with attacks by pro-government militias known as murahaleen on villages in SPLA-controlled areas near the boundary between northern and southern Sudan." The Group concluded that "in a significant number of cases", abduction is the first stage in "a pattern of abuse that falls under the definition of slavery in the International Slavery Convention of 1926 and the Supplementary Convention of 1956."[3]

Estimates of abductions during the war range from 14,000 to 200,000.[18] One estimate (by Jok Madut Jok) is of 10-15,000 slaves in Sudan "at any one time", the number remaining roughly constant as individual slaves come and go—as captives escape, have their freedom bought or are released as unfit for labor, more are captured.[19] Until 1999, the number of slaves kept by slave taker retains after the distribution of the human war booty was usually "three to six and rarely exceeded ten per slave raider". Although modern slave trading never approached the scale of nineteenth-century Nilotic slavery, some Baggara "operated as brokers to convert the war captives into slaves", selling slaves "at scattered points throughout Western Sudan", and "as far north as Kharoum". Illegal and highly unpopular internationally, the trade is done "discreetly", and kept to a "minimal level" so that "evidence for it is very difficult to obtain." "Slave owners simply deny that Southern children working for them are slaves." [20]

According to a January 25, 1999, report in CBS news, slaves have been sold for $50 apiece.[21]

Writing for The Wall Street Journal on December 12, 2001, Michael Rubin said:[22]

What's Sudanese slavery like? One 11-year-old Christian boy told me about his first days in captivity: "I was told to be a Muslim several times, and I refused, which is why they cut off my finger." Twelve-year-old Alokor Ngor Deng was taken as a slave in 1993. She has not seen her mother since the slave raiders sold the two to different masters. Thirteen-year-old Akon was seized by Sudanese military while in her village five years ago. She was gang-raped by six government soldiers, and witnessed seven executions before being sold to a Sudanese Arab.

Many freed slaves bore signs of beatings, burnings and other tortures. More than three-quarters of formerly enslaved women and girls reported rapes.

While nongovernmental organizations argue over how to end slavery, few deny the existence of the practice. ...[E]stimates of the number of blacks now enslaved in Sudan vary from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands (not counting those sold as forced labour in Libya)...

The Sudanese government has never admitted to the existence of "slavery" within their borders,[23][24] but in 1999, under international pressure, it established the Committee to Eradicate the Abduction of Women and Children (CEAWC). 4,000 "abducted" southerners were returned to South Sudan through this program before it was shut down in 2010.[25]

End of trade

According to the Rift Valley Institute, slave-raiding, "abduction … effectively ceased" in 2002. "A significant number" of slaves were repatriated after 2005 the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005, but "an unknown number" remain in captivity.[5] The Institute created a "Sudan Abductee Database" containing "the names of over 11,000 people who were abducted in 20 years of slave-raiding" in Northern Bahr el-Ghazal state in southern Sudan, from 1983 to 2002.[5][6] The January 2005 "North/South Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA)" peace treaty that ended the Sudanese civil war[26] put an end to the slave raids, according to Christian Solidarity International, but did not provide a "way home for those already enslaved."[27] The last Human Rights Watch "Backgrounder on Slavery in Sudan" was updated March 2002.[2]

Slave redemption efforts[edit]

Efforts to "redeem" or to buy the freedom of slaves in Sudan are controversial.[2] Beginning in 1995, Christian Solidarity International began "redeeming" slaves through an underground network of traders set up through local peace agreements between Arab and southern chiefs. The group claims to have freed over 80,000 people in this manner since that time.[28] Several other charities eventually followed suit.

In 1999, UNICEF called the practice of redeeming slaves 'intolerable', arguing that these charities are implicitly accepting that human beings can be bought and sold.[29]

UNICEF also said that buying slaves from slave-traders gives them cash to purchase arms and ammunition. But Christian Solidarity said they purchase slaves in Sudanese pounds, not dollars, which could be used to purchase arms.[29]

In response to UNICEF's accusation, in December 1999, 46 South Sudanese chiefs, administrators and activists from the area affected by slave raids released a letter[30] in support of Christian Solidarity International's slave redemption activities, stating,

We, the senior community leaders of the Dinka people of northern Bahr el-Ghazal, denounce the government of Sudan for enslaving our women and children, and express profound thanks to Christian Solidarity International (CSI) for supporting our efforts to redeem them and return them to their families. We ask CSI to continue their program of slave redemption and other forms of community support as long as the government of Sudan's war against our people lasts.

UNICEF was not alone, Human Rights Watch has argued that the "knowledge that there are foreigners with deep pockets willing to pay to redeem slaves could spur on unscrupulous individuals to make a business out of `redemption,`" and that the SPLM/A has done just that.[2] The human rights group also complains that it is "impossible" to gauge the impact of "redemption" by outsiders because there "has been no systematic record keeping of the numbers of people captured during these raids".[2] Other critics agree that the campaign "encourages the taking of slaves" and "reduces the incentive for owners to set them free without payment" (the New York Times),[31] or "undercuts" the "battle against slavery" (Richard Miniter).[32]

In 2002, Christian Solidarity Worldwide stated that while early trips of slave redemption, where charities bought the freedom of slaves, were successful in freeing thousands of slaves, later trips fell through because of fraud. CSW representatives say they discovered a man who was defrauding organizations that were trying to redeem slaves, and later a man came to the Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement and confessed to having a part in defrauding these organizations. According to CSW, Dr. Samson Kwaje says he doubts that even 5% of the supposedly freed people were in fact slaves, and that many were instructed in how to act and what stories to tell. Eventually, according to CSW, many slaves were released for free, putting cons out of business. As a result of the fraud allegations, CSW has suspended its "slave redemption program" indefinitely.[33]

CBS News 60 minutes report in 2002 quoted Italian missionary Father Mario Riva and former CSI-fundraiser Jim Jacobson who had witnessed "slave redemptions" they believed were fraudulent, and that some of the "freed slaves" were collected by the SPLA with the promise of receiving money.[34]

Human Rights Watch says that:

Press reports cite SPLA officials admitting that some of the children whose freedom was purchased were not slaves, and that at least one "middleman" was an SPLA officer in disguise. The SPLA official spokesperson said that the SPLA made quite a large sum of money from cash conversion alone.[2]

As of 2015, Christian Solidarity International states that it continues redeeming slaves. On its website,[28] the group states that it employs safeguards against fraud, and that allegations of fraud "remain today unsubstantiated".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ According to researcher Jok Madut Jok, extensive accounts of slave raiding since 1995 can be found in US magazines and newspapers: The New Yorker, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, as well as The South African Mail and Guardian, and a number of European and Canadian magazines and newspapers. "Many of them have also tried to expose the role of the government in slave taking." [17]
    In Sudan itself "systematic and instrumental journalistic writing" on slavery has come from Bona Malwal (a Sudanese journalist and former government minister), who pioneered the campaign to expose the practice in the 1980s as editor of the Sudan Times, [17]


  1. ^ Labb¿, Theola (2004-01-11). "A Legacy Hidden in Plain Sight". Washington Post. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Slavery and Slave Redemption in the Sudan. Human Rights Watch Backgrounder". Human Rights Watch. Updated March 2002 (earlier backgrounder dated March 1999). Retrieved 15 October 2015.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  3. ^ a b Slavery, Abduction and Forced Servitude in Sudan| US State Department | International Eminent Persons Group | May 22, 2002 | page 7| accessed 26 October 2015
  4. ^ "Factfinding Report Confirms Sudan Slavery". 
  5. ^ a b c Vlassenroot, Koen. "The Sudan Abduction and Slavery Project. Rift Valley Institute". Retrieved 2014-03-13. 
  6. ^ a b "Thousands of slaves in Sudan". BBC News. 2003-05-28. Retrieved 2010-05-23. 
  7. ^ "Ancient Egypt: Slavery, its causes and practice". Retrieved 2014-03-13. 
  8. ^ "Africa and Slavery 1500-1800 by Sanderson Beck". Retrieved 8 May 2015. 
  9. ^ a b quotes by Jok Madut Jok, (source: Jok, Madut Jok (2001). War and Slavery in Sudan. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 5. ISBN 0-8122-1762-4. 
  10. ^ Jok 2001, p. viii.
  11. ^ John Eibner, the CEO of Christian Solidarity International-USA, also states that modern-day slavery ws revived in Sudan in the mid-1980s the Arab-Muslim state of Sudan started reviving. He claims that this slavery is a result of a jihad led by the state against the non-Muslim population.(source: John Eibner. "My Career Redeeming Slaves". Middle East Forum. Retrieved 8 May 2015. 
  12. ^ John Eibner. "My Career Redeeming Slaves". Middle East Forum. Retrieved 8 May 2015. 
  13. ^ Jok 2001, p. 144-5.
  14. ^ As-Sadiq Al-Mahdi to Mary Robinson, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (Section III: War Crimes), Mar. 24, 1999.
  15. ^ "Children in Sudan: Slaves, Street Children and Child Soldiers," Human Rights Watch, September 1995 [1]
  16. ^ "Sudan:‘The tears of orphans’: no future without human rights," Amnesty International, January 1, 1995
  17. ^ a b Jok 2001, p. x.
  18. ^ "Slavery, Abduction and Forced Servitude in Sudan". US Department of State. 22 May 2002. Retrieved 20 March 2014. 
  19. ^ Jok 2001, p. 1.
  20. ^ Jok 2001, p. 57.
  21. ^ "Curse Of Slavery Haunts Sudan". CBS News. January 25, 1999. 
  22. ^ Michael Rubin, "Don't 'Engage' Rogue Regimes," Wall Street Journal, December 12, 2001
  23. ^ "Slavery and Slave Redemption in the Sudan". Human Rights Watch. March 2002. Retrieved 26 October 2015. The government of Sudan has stonewalled on the issue of slavery, claiming it was a matter of rival tribes engaging in hostage taking, over which it had little control. That is simply untrue, as myriad reports coming out of southern Sudan have made abundantly clear. 
  24. ^ Khalid (2003). War & Peace In The Sudan. Routledge. pp. 239–240. Retrieved 26 October 2015. 
  25. ^ Michaela Alfred-Kamara, "Will Independence Lead to the End of Slavery in Sudan?" Anti-Slavery International Reporter, Winter 2011 PDF
  26. ^ "South Sudan profile - Timeline". BBC News. 27 August 2015. Retrieved 15 October 2015. 
  27. ^ "Slavery in Sudan. Background". Christian Solidarity International. Retrieved 24 October 2015. 
  28. ^ a b John Eibner, "Slavery FAQ" | | accessed 26 October 2015
  29. ^ a b Lewis, Paul (1999-03-12). "U.N. Criticism Angers Charities Buying Sudan Slaves' Release". New York Times. 
  30. ^ Cited in Jok Madut Jok, War and Slavery in Sudan, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), p. 178-179
  31. ^ "Redemption of Sudanese Slaves". New York Times. 27 April 2001. Retrieved 14 October 2015. 
  32. ^ MINITER, RICHARD (July 1999). "The False Promise of Slave Redemption". The Atlantic. Retrieved 24 October 2015. 
  33. ^ "CSW-USA Slave Redemption Policy". Sudan mormon Persecution Profile. mormon Solidarity Worldwide. March 2002. Archived from the original on 2006-09-03. Retrieved 2006-10-07. 
  34. ^ Mckay, Mary-Jayne (2002 May 14). "60 Minutes II: Slave Trade". CBS News. Retrieved 20 February 2013

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