Before the president broke his silence on slavery in Sudan, denouncing it on Dec. 6, Human Rights Day, as a “scourge” and “atrocity,” Assistant Secretary of State Susan Rie went by plane – at considerable personal risk – in November to see for herself the grim facts on the ground.She met with women who had been freed from slavery, and, as Reuters reported, called for an end to this heinous practice in which women and children are “captured, enslaved, tortured and raped by Khartoum’s Arab militia.”In the same month, in what appeared to be retaliation against her visit to southern Sudan, the Sudanese government – the Reuters dispatch continued – “canceled the visas of U.S. diplomats who go to Khartoum (the capital) on short visits to run the U.S. embassy.”There is a further sequel, as reported by Christian Solidarity International, which has fed many of the slaves: “On Nov. 20, the day after U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Susan Rice’s arrival in Marial Bai to meet with victims of slavery, the armed forces of the Government of Sudan executed seven African schoolboys following a midmorning slave raid on the nearby Guong Nowh Community Elementary School,” according to Simon Wol, the Civil Commissioner of Awail West County in rebel territory.I received this information from John Eibner of Christian Solidarity International, whom I’ve known during the five years I have covered this story. Everything he has told me has proved true, and he keeps going to southern Sudan to liberate slaves – putting his life on the line each time.In that midmorning slave raid, Eibner reports, “Government soldiers also enslaved 24 other children, including six girls.” Two children who escaped “reported that soldiers shot three boys in the head to instill fear and obedience in the other children. All the children were forced to watch the killings. Local people found the discarded bodies of four other captured boys who had been similarly murdered.”Admittedly, the attention of this nation – and its media – has been focused on the battle of the ballots in Florida. But once we have a president will the murders of these seven black children continue to be overlooked by Americans – including the new president?If this had happened in Kosovo or in Gaza, would there not have been some notice in our newspapers and on television, even during the controversy over the divided ballots? This, after all, was the murderous work of a government that is seated at the United Nations.The raid on the elementary school, says Christian Solidarity International, “was reportedly undertaken by an approximately 600-strong unit of government troops belonging to the Popular Defense Forces (PDF).”In the same month, November, President Omer Bashir of Sudan, the report continues, “signaled the beginning of a new season of slave raids when he urged 12,000 PDF troops at a mobilization rally in the western town of Nyala to continue the ‘jihad’ in southern Sudan.” The source is Agency France-Press.Civil Commissioner Wol has asked United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan – who has been silent on slavery in Sudan – to finally, at no personal risk, speak on behalf of the civilized nations of the world. He must demand, says Wol, that the Sudanese government end the practice of slavery, return the slaves to their homes, and prosecute the raiders who not only abduct children, but also abduct women – many of whom are forced into sexual slavery in the north.During the United Nations Millennial Summit in September, as reported by the American Anti-Slavery Group, “not one of the world leaders mentioned slavery as they pledged to work for a righter world, though Kofi Annan described the summit as the time for the world to rise to the millennial challenges.”Secretary of State Madeleine Albright did meet in September with fifth-grade students from Denver who have raised money to free slaves. Alsoin the delegation was Francis Bok, the first escaped Sudanese slave to testify before the Senate. Albright promised the fifth-graders that she would pursue the issue of slavery. And the administration did successfully lobby to deny Sudan a seat in the U.N. Security Council.But before he leaves office, the president – who can no longer say he is unaware of these horrors in Sudan – should address the nation on slavery, and perhaps say his farewell as the leader of the free world in the company of those fifth-graders.
Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights.