Khartoum has posed yet another challenge to US special envoy John Danforth. One of the “tests” set out for the National Islamic Front regime is to allow for the appointment of an international commission to assess Khartoum’s role in abetting human slavery, for years a ghastly feature of the terrible war on the people of southern Sudan. How likely is it that Khartoum will respect the findings of such a commission? How likely is it that the regime will listen reasonably to the evidence? One answer can be seen in Associated Press and Agence France-Presse wires from yesterday, reporting that Khartoum’s security forces have arrested a journalist who had the temerity to speak his mind honestly on the subject: “Slavery is practiced because the government facilitates it by allowing Arab raiders to use government-owned trains for ferrying the abducted people” [Nhial Bol (managing editor), The Khartoum Monitor, January 12, 2002].
Eric Reeves [January 17, 2002]
Northampton, MA 01063
Senator Danforth has, to his great credit, now met the challenge posed by Khartoum’s obdurate refusal to halt the bombing of civilian and humanitarian targets. United Press International quotes Danforth as declaring:
“The [Government of Sudan’s] direct, intentional and egregious attacks on civilians is the key to our proposal. I am sorry to say we have made no real progress on these issues” (United Press International, January 16, 2002).
Such clear and forcefully articulated assessments are key to Danforth’s ability to serve effectively as US special envoy for Sudan. For peace will come only when the Khartoum regime sees that it cannot obfuscate, cannot offer with one hand and take away with the other, cannot be allowed to “shop” among various peace forums, cannot be allowed to get away with lying. The regime must understand that they will be fully exposed in the international community if they continue in their duplicitous ways. Peace in Sudan requires good faith negotiations, and the regime’s behavior on the issue of bombing attacks on civilian and humanitarian targets has been marked by relentless disingenuousness and outright prevarication.
Unfortunately, the same is true for the issue of slavery. Danforth has made addressing the issue of human enslavement by Khartoum-assisted forces a fourth “confidence-building” measure for peace talks. An international commission will be set up to investigate slavery in Sudan. This is, course, an exercise in extraordinary redundancy. Khartoum’s role in abetting a vicious trade in human slavery, especially in the southern province of Bahr el-Ghazal, has been repeatedly, authoritatively documented for a number of years. Those reporting on slavery in Sudan include the United Nations Rapporteurs for Human Rights in Sudan, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, and many others.
Predictably, the Khartoum regime has denied all these reports. As Human Rights Watch declared in its 1999 report on slavery in Sudan:
“The government of Sudan, until recently, has stonewalled on the issue of slavery, claiming it was a matter of rival tribes engaging in hostage-taking, over which [it] has little control. This is simply untrue” [report available at www.hrw.org].
Such continuing denials by Khartoum may be “simply untrue,” but that doesn’t prevent the regime from imprisoning someone for saying what the world’s most distinguished human rights organizations have declared to be true. Nhial Bol has discovered this painful truth with his arrest for asserting that, “Slavery is practiced because the government facilitates it by allowing Arab raiders to use government-owned trains for ferrying the abducted people” [Nhial Bol (managing editor), The Khartoum Monitor, January 12, 2002; see attached Associate Press wire report, January 16, 2002].
The arrest of Nhial Bol for declaring what has been widely reported by the world’s most authoritative voices for human rights gives us a perfectly clear idea of how Khartoum will respond to a new international investigation. They will pocket the time required for a comprehensive assessment to be completed, and then simply deny the findings—and arrest any within their reach who might dare to agree with these findings.
Danforth is right to respond to the extraordinary barbarism of human slavery, a vicious reality for which Khartoum is clearly responsible. But the issue of slavery is misconceived as a test of Khartoum’s willingness to make a just peace with the people of the south. The time-frame for a comprehensive assessment extends too far into the future, and the impact of such an assessment can be measured now by looking at how Khartoum has responded to past comprehensive reports, and to voices that dare to declare the truth.
Agreeing to such an assessment comes easily to Khartoum; accepting and responding to its findings is a wholly different matter. And as a test of Khartoum’s willingness to engage meaningfully in the search for peace, it simply cannot be timely, given Danforth’s self-declared deadline for his report to President Bush. The US should press for further investigation of slavery, but not in any way that holds the peace process hostage to the completion of that investigation. For the most fundamental truth is already firmly at hand: slavery and slave-taking in Sudan will end only when the war does.
News Article by AP posted on January 16, 2002 at 14:23:34: EST (-5 GMT)
Sudanese journalist sentenced for accusing government of facilitating slavery
BY MOHAMED OSMAN Associated Press Writer
KHARTOUM, Sudan, Jan 16, 2002 (AP) — A Sudanese court on Wednesday ordered a journalist to pay a 5 million Sudanese pound (dlrs 1,953) fine or spend six months in jail for accusing the government of facilitating slavery.
The Khartoum Monitor, in which Nihal Bol’s article appeared, also was fined 15 million pounds (dlrs 5,860), according to Alfred Taban, chairman of the board of directors for the English-language daily newspaper.
Taban said the decisions would be appealed and the newspaper would try to secure Bol’s release. It wasn’t clear whether it would pay the fine if the appeal failed.
In the article published Sunday, Bol wrote: “Slavery is practiced because the government facilitates it by allowing Arab raiders to use government-owned trains for ferrying the abducted people.”
Bol was arrested Tuesday evening, Taban told The Associated Press. “We were told he would be released, but then we discovered early Wednesday that he was already tried and sentenced,” he said.
The Monitor has been critical of the government’s human rights record, particularly in southern Sudan, where rebels seek more autonomy for the mainly Christian and animist African south. Two million people have died in the 18-year war and related famines. Taban said the newspaper faces four court trials on other charges related to public security.
“If these sentences were applied, we would be out of the market,” he said.
Human rights groups maintain the war in southern Sudan has forced thousands into slavery. The Sudanese government disputes the existence of slavery in Sudan and says abductions are not uncommon among various tribes.