This report contains provisional observations and conclusions of a visit to Sudan by Anti-Slavery International representatives from 18th to 28th October, 2000.
The representatives were a lawyer, Mohamed Tahri (from Algeria), and the organisation’s Director, Mike Dottridge (from the United Kingdom). They went to Khartoum and to several parts of South Darfur (Nyala, Ad-Dha’ein and Abu Matariq). They were assisted during their visit by a representative of the Committee for the Eradication of Abduction of Women and Children (CEAWC), an institution established by the Government of Sudan in May 1999 and administered by the Minister of Justice.
Anti-Slavery International reported on cases of slavery in Sudan in both the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and engaged in debate about the issue of slavery with representatives of the Government of Sudan at other times, such as the late 1950s. Following the outbreak of fighting in Southern Sudan in 1983, which developed into a new civil war, and in particular after an attack by forces of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) on Kordofan in 1985, a new pattern of raiding, abductions and enslavement by militia based in Darfur and Kordofan was reported, and Anti-Slavery International issued numerous articles and statements about the pattern of abuse which developed, and, in 1997, one longer report, Slavery in Sudan.
In 1988 and 1989 Anti-Slavery’s Director was in direct contact with representatives of the Government of Sudan and visited Khartoum with proposals that research should be carried out to establish whether slavery was indeed occurring. The Government agreed, but before the investigations could begin, a change in government occurred.
In recent years, Anti-Slavery International has made statements about continuing reports of human rights abuse in Sudan, together with initiatives to remedy them, to the annual sessions of the UN Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery. Information prepared by the organisation has also been referred to at the annual discussions of the International Labour Organization’s (ILO’s) Conference Committee on the Application of Standards, and in the report published each year by the ILO’s Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations.
Since 1995 a number of other non-governmental organisations based in the United Kingdom and elsewhere have widely publicised their visits to parts of Southern Sudan, and attempted to secure the release of Sudanese citizens from slavery with payments of money: they pay cash to agents in Sudan who reportedly visit areas where people are found in slavery, and hand over money to their employers in order to secure their release. Anti-Slavery has not participated in or condoned these efforts. Indeed, it has publicly criticised the practice. Its criticisms have been based largely on the organisation’s own experience – of cases in which money, paid to individuals who control slaves to secure their release, is known to have been used subsequently to acquire more slaves or to entrap the same individuals again; and other cases in which money has been paid for people posing fraudulently as slaves. They also reflect the organisation’s determination to see systems of exploitation and slavery ended, rather than the fate of individuals addressed while an unacceptable system is perpetuated.
In the case of Sudan, Anti-Slavery has observed that the monetary payments made by foreign organisations have been successful in attracting publicity for the pattern of abuse that has occurred, and, apparently, in securing the release of individual captives. However, they do not appear to be an effective way of bringing the overall pattern of slavery to an end. Anti-Slavery has also expressed concern that the publicity surrounding the payments in Sudan has misrepresented the pattern of abuse that is actually occurring, suggesting, for example, that the number of people abducted is much larger than evidence appears to justify, or that the Government of Sudan is directly responsible for slave raids and holding captives in slavery.
In September 1999 Anti-Slavery International’s Director was invited to meet the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, His Excellency Ali M O Yassin, who was visiting London. They discussed the possibility of Anti-Slavery International representatives visiting Sudan, and the Minister welcomed the possibility. In a subsequent letter in October 1999, Anti-Slavery’s Director suggested that Anti-Slavery representatives should visit Sudan in order “to find out what the work of the CEAWC has consisted of, and what initiatives have been taken to identify and secure the release of those who have been abducted”. He also indicated that the organisation’s representatives were interested in finding out “if measures have been taken to prevent abductions from occurring in the first place” and in assessing “whether Anti-Slavery International can offer advice or any other assistance to those involved in the process of identification and release”.
Following an exchange of correspondence, the Minister agreed that the visit should go ahead and that it should be organised by the Chairman of the CEAWC, Dr Ahmed El Mufti. Practical considerations delayed the visit for some months, and it occurred in October 2000.