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Frequently asked questions

Q

What kind of crime is slavery?

Slavery is recognized in international law as a “crime against humanity.”

Q

Why are people enslaved in Sudan?

In 1983, the Arab Muslim-dominated Government of Sudan abrogated the autonomy of Black African Christian/traditionalist Southern Sudan and imposed Islamic law on the entire multi-religious country. Southern Sudan opposed these arbitrarily imposed measures through armed resistance. In response to rebellion in Southern Sudan, the Sudanese government began to arm Arab Muslim militias and use them as an instrument of its counter-insurgency policy.  The Arab Muslim militias, sometimes supported by the Sudanese army, regularly raided the borderlands of Southern Sudan. They routinely burned villages, stole cows, goats and other movable property, shot men and captured women and children as slaves.

Q

Didn’t the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of January 2005 between the Government of Sudan and the Southern rebels stop this practice?

The CPA did suspend the abduction of slaves in Southern Sudan. However, it made no provision for the liberation of women and children who had been captured in Southern Sudan and taken as slaves to the North before the signing of the CPA. Moreover, as the CPA was being negotiated, a new war broke out in the northern region of Darfur where armed Black African Muslim groups launched a rebellion against the Government of Sudan. The enslavement of Black African women and children is a feature of the civil war in Darfur.

Q

How many slaves are there in Sudan?

No one knows for sure. Community leaders from the affected area have reported to CSI that over 200,000 women and children have been enslaved since 1983. In addition to those captured in slave raids, slave children are born in bondage to slave women. In 2008, a member of the Sudanese Parliament in Khartoum estimated that at least 35,000 were still enslaved in the borderland of Northern and Southern Sudan.

Q

Where do Sudan’s slaves come from?

Most of Sudan’s slaves are members of the Dinka tribe. Their homeland is in Northern Bahr El Ghazal. This area borders Northern Sudan. It is south of Darfur and Kordofan. Many other tribes in other parts of Sudan have also been victimized by slavery, but not to the same extent as the Dinka tribe.

Q

Where are most Sudanese slaves held?

Most of the slaves are taken from Southern Sudan to the North, and are kept by their captors in Darfur and Kordofan. Some slaves are taken to other parts of the country. There are credible reports of Sudanese slaves being sent to Libya and the Gulf States.

Q

How are Sudanese slaves treated?

Male slaves usually have to look after livestock in cattle camps and/or help with agriculture. Female slaves usually have to perform domestic labor and/or field labor. Sexual abuse of slaves is widespread, especially, but not exclusively, amongst female slaves. Beatings, death threats, forced conversions, forced labor, racial and religious insults are commonplace. Some slaves are executed if they displease their masters.

Q

What is the UN doing to address the problem of slavery in Sudan?

The UN is doing very little. It is unable to do much for two reasons: It lacks the will and it is incapable of acting in Sudan without the permission of the very government that is responsible for the revival of slavery. The revival of Sudanese slavery was documented and well known in governmental and NGO circles since the mid-1980s. But the UN was silent for political reasons. When publicity generated by CSI forced UNICEF to acknowledge for the first time in 1999 that children and their mothers were indeed being enslaved, the Sudanese government threatened to close down all UNICEF and other UN operations in the country. Following negotiations with the Sudanese government, UNICEF agreed not to speak of “slaves” and “slavery” in Sudan. Instead it started to use the misleading euphemisms “abductees” and “abductions.” UNICEF also agreed to provide financial support for the Government of Sudan’s new Committee for the Eradication of the Abduction of Women and Children (CEAWC). Although this committee was established mainly as a showcase to deflect criticism from Western countries, it has succeeded in returning several thousand slaves to Southern Sudan. However, during the past several years, the government has wound down its funding and CEAWC has become largely dysfunctional.

Q

When and why did CSI start to help liberate slaves?

CSI began its slave liberation work in 1995. The decision to act came following fact-finding visits to the affected area. CSI became aware of the extent of the slavery problem and of the sad fact that the international community was doing virtually nothing to help the slaves. We also discovered that an “Underground Railroad” already existed, enabling slaves to be freed and sent home. Community leaders asked for CSI’s help.

Q

How does CSI try to help?

CSI began to strengthen the local Arab-Dinka peace agreements by sponsoring peace conferences (see below details of these agreements.). CSI also launched a major anti-slavery campaign to create awareness and encourage the policy-makers in North America and Europe to use their power to help free the enslaved. CSI furthermore provided financial support for the Underground Railroad.

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