Racial Component of Conflict in Sudan: “To Them, a Black Person … is an ‘Abid,’ which is a Slave”; Boston Jewish Columnist on the Ground to Free Slaves

Fighting in Southern Sudan’s disputed Abyei region claimed the lives of more than 30 people over the weekend, but voting that will allow the country’s Southerners – mostly Christians and animists, or practitioners of native religions – to separate from the Arab Muslim North if they choose, proceeded apace. And human rights groups including Christian Solidarity International (CSI) and The American Anti-Slavery Group ransomed Christians and others out of slavery and documented their stories.

The election, an outgrowth of conflict between Sudan’s Muslim North and the country’s Christian South, was stipulated as part of a 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The CPA, brought by the Bush Administration, ended Sudan’s second civil war, which lasted from 1983 until 2005. During that time, more than 2 million people, mostly Southern Sudanese Christians and animists, died and thousands were enslaved, according to human rights groups.

The enslaved–Christians and animists, or practitioners of tribal religions–were captured and enslaved by Northerners. A racial component to the conflict led some Northerners, who consider themselves Muslim Semites rather than blacks, to enslave darker-skinned black Africans. The capture of human beings into slavery occurred during the war years, and also during Sudan’s first civil war, which lasted from the 1955 until 1972. Thousands remain enslaved in Northern Sudan today, according to CSI and The American Anti-Slavery Group (web site iAbolish.org).

It was recently explained to me by Simon Deng, prominent Sudanese-American human rights advocate and escaped slave from South Sudan, that this racial part of the conflict has allowed some Northern Sudanese who are enslaving darker-skinned blacks to rationalize that they are not actually doing anything wrong (you can watch video of this interview with Simon Deng here.)

“Enslavement of the Africans in Sudan is still going on,” Deng said. “It is part of the Khartoum government. To enslave a black person, to them is not a crime. To enslave a black woman and a child is not a crime. To them, a black person by nature is an ‘abid,’ which is a slave.”

Dr. Charles Jacobs, president of the American Anti-Slavery Group, a Boston-based nonprofit dedicated, according to its website, to “eradicating slavery and other crimes against humanity,” is on the ground in Sudan this week to observe the voting and also to accompany workers with CSI, who are emancipating slaves. This controversial practice involves literally ransoming human beings out of slavery by offering “redeemers,” (who are not the slave holders but bounty hunter-types) supplies of badly needed cattle vaccine in exchange for these redeemers’ help in enabling slaves to escape.

In the first of several video blogs Jacobs has filed this past week from Juba, capital of South Sudan, he explains how during the 1990’s he worked to form a coalition of human rights advocates from across the political spectrum to raise awareness about the issue of slavery in Sudan and the slaughter in general. “I encouraged them to take up the issue of slavery,” he says, “because that would awaken America, which is an abolitionist nation.”

In the second video blog, he provides a description of CSI’s efforts to emancipate slaves.

And in the third, chilling video blog, he describes his interactions and interviews with some of the human beings who have literally been enslaved and emancipated. Jacobs remains in Juba and will be continuing to report from there; I will continue to try and get out the word about what he is documenting.

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