An international commission led by former US Agency for International Development (USAID) Director Penn Kemble released a report on Wednesday confirming the Sudanese government’s continued abetment of slavery, despite formal denial of the practice and ratification of numerous international treaties outlawing it. The report found that “The pattern of slave taking that has developed since the start of the civil war is, to a substantial degree, the product of a counterinsurgency strategy pursued by successive governments in Khartoum.” Specifically, the Muslim-dominated northern government – which imposed sharia, or Islamic law, nationwide in 1983 – continually supports northern militias that abduct and enslave southern Sudanese in villages controlled by the rebel Christian/animist group Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), “the government of Sudan is responsible not only for knowingly arming, transporting and assisting the slave-raiding militia, it is also responsible for not enforcing its own laws against kidnapping, assault, and forced labor.”
Due to obstruction from both the Sudanese government and the SPLM/A, the commission’s report lacked estimates as to the number of slaves in Sudan. However, previous estimates suggested a range from 10,000 to 100,000 people, many of whom are women and children.
In the 1990s, the slavery problem in Sudan was compounded through the creation of “redemption” or “buy-back” programs launched by foreign Christian organizations, such as Christian Solidarity International (CSI) to purchase freedom for $33 to $50 per slave. Unfortunately, the monetary incentive coupled with nonexistent record keeping, increased the potential for fraud, and according to HRW, some SPLM/A officials admitted to selling the “freedom” of children who were not slaves.
According to the State Department, the US is the largest donor of aid to Sudan, having provided over $1.5 billion in humanitarian and development assistance primarily to the southern region of the country. In its report, the international commission urges the Sudanese government to comply with its international obligations and more aggressively combat slavery.