Slavery in Sudan Becomes a 'Cause' in US ; African-American Leaders Call for a 21st-Century Global Abolitionist Movement
Gail Russell Chaddock writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
Joe Madison says he doesn't cry easily. But in Sudan recently to witness the liberation of 400 women and children who had been held as slaves, Mr. Madison wept.
"They all jumped up in unison, screaming and hugging and running to their chief," says Madison, a Washington talk-radio host who accompanied an international Christian group that had paid ransom for the 4,435 captives. "I'm an African-American, the descendant of slaves. It was like I was in a time machine, watching my own ancestors in slavery. Only this is real and it's happening now."
Almost overnight, the civil war in Sudan - a 17-year conflict that has claimed more than 2 million lives and raised humanitarian concerns about slavery - is becoming a cause clbre here in America.
Officials in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, say that the abductions of women and children are simply part of intertribal conflicts.
But some Christian leaders have charged that the raids are part of a government-sponsored program of forced Islamization of the Christian and animist people of southern Sudan - an accusation Sudanese officials reject.
Estimates on the numbers of abducted vary. While Sudanese government figures record 14,000 southern Sudanese women and children kidnapped in recent years, human rights experts say that raiders armed by Khartoum have seized from tens of thousands up to 100,000 people and forced them to work as slaves.
The abductions occur against the backdrop of a civil war that has claimed more than 2 million lives. But it is slavery that's turning the crisis in the largest nation in Africa into an issue that matters to Americans.
Prominent African-American leaders, including Madison, have announced their own "21st-century abolition movement." Activists say tactics will include protests against nations condoning slavery and boycotts of the stock of companies doing business with them - much along the lines of the global movement to end apartheid in South Africa in the 1970s and '80s.
Last week, schoolchildren from Aurora, Colo., and former slaves from Sudan, Mauritania, and Haiti, testified before the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on the issue.
Colorado teacher Barbara Vogel founded STOP (Slavery that Oppresses People) to raise money to buy back slaves in Sudan. The group appealed to senators to help in the effort.
"Today in Sudan and around the world, there are children who cannot sleep at night. They lie on the ground and they wait for strong people to come and free them. Senators, you are strong people. You have a big voice and strong arms. You can free the slaves," said Francis Bok, who was abducted into slavery in southern Sudan at the age of 7.
(Mr. Bok escaped his captors, made it out of the country, and is now attending school for the first time and working with the Boston- based American Anti-Slavery Group.)
Leaders of the new movement hope that by publicizing the abductions in Sudan they can focus world attention on the scope of the larger catastrophe in the nation.
"When 10 heads of human rights organizations met with US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright last year, we were told that the suffering in Sudan doesn't seem to be marketable to the American people," says Charles Jacob, president of the American Anti-Slavery Group. …