In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
—Martin Luther King Jr.
We have become the motive force for freedom and democracy in the world.
—Colin Powell, The New York Times, January 18
In November of last year, Susan Rice, assistant secretary of state for Africa, defied Sudan’s Islamic fundamentalist regime in the north and flew, at great personal risk, to speak in southern Sudan to black survivors of slave raids continually conducted by the government of Sudan.
Susan Rice is black, and is not related to George W. Bush’s new national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. Declaring herself “outraged” by what happened to these African women and children, who “were captured, enslaved, held, beaten, tortured, and raped” by Khartoum’s Arab militia, Susan Rice said, “We have an obligation to speak out to ameliorate the suffering.”
After her trip, I called a source in the State Department and asked whether Susan Rice would be retained in the new administration. I was told that Colin Powell would be bringing in his own team at that level of the department, and she would be leaving. The question now is whether Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and George W. Bush will have anything to say about slavery in the Sudan.
Bill Clinton—finally—did say something, on December 6, commemorating Human Rights Day, which took place four days later:
“Let me say, especially to the students, religious communities, and human rights activists who have done so much to publicize the atrocities of Sudan—America must continue to press for an end to these egregious practices and make clear that the Sudanese government cannot join the community of nations until fundamental changes are made on these fronts.”
If that statement was played up in the American media, I didn’t see it.
The day after Susan Rice arrived in Sudan, a public execution took place in that country. I received a report of the execution from John Eibner of Christian Solidarity International in Zurich. For some five years I have written about CSI’s attempts—in collaboration with the American Anti-Slavery Group in Boston—to get the international community to act on slavery in Sudan. These nations—and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan—remain silent.
This is John Eibner’s report:
“On 20 November, 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 black African schoolboys following a mid-morning slave raid on the nearby Guong Nowh Community Elementary School, according to Simon Wol, the civil commissioner of Aweil West County.”
Simon Wol is an official of the rebel government in territory tenuously held by the army of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, which has been engaged in a long-term civil war with the Islamic government in the north. The Sudanese air force has been bombing villages, hospitals, and schools on these lands, as well as conducting slave raids.
Christian Solidarity International’s report on the raid of the elementary school continues:
“Government soldiers also enslaved 24 children, including six girls. Two boys who escaped from their captors—Abraham Malong Chan and Dut Uchala Mel—reported witnessing the execution of their friends. . . . The two escapees reported that soldiers shot the 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 subsequently found the discarded bodies of four other captured boys who had been similarly murdered.”
I saw nothing about these executions in American newspapers, on television, or in any other media. If seven white schoolboys had been summarily executed in Kosovo or Bosnia, would some attention have been paid in the press here? Would Nightline, awakened to the atrocities there, have sent camera crews and reporters to Sudan? Would Dateline?
CSI reports that the executioners were part of the “approximately 600-strong unit of government troops belonging to the Popular Defence Forces (PDF). . . . President Omer Al-Bashir [in November] signaled the beginning of a new season of slave raiding when he urged 12,000 PDF troops at a mobilization rally . . . to continue the ‘jihad‘ [holy war] in southern Sudan.” This was reported by Agence France-Presse.
Moreover, The New York Times (January 7) quoted Hassan al-Turabi—an opponent of President Al-Bashir but himself an enemy of the black Africans in the south—as saying that government-sponsored militias contain up to a million armed Islamic fighters engaged in the civil war in the south.
Among them are executioners, slave raiders, and rapists. Next week, a CSI report: “Sudanese Government Troops Gang-Rape Black African Slaves.”
Civil Commissioner Simon Wol, following the execution of the seven schoolchildren, asked Kofi Annan to, at last, focus the world’s attention on these horrors by demanding that the Arab government of Sudan return the slaves to their homes and prosecute those who have committed these crimes against the civilian population.
Annan was head of the UN’s peacekeeping office in 1994, when some 800,000 Tutsis were slaughtered by Hutus in Rwanda. He was silent then, as he is now. So was the Clinton administration in 1994, as revealed in damning detail on Frontline‘s “The Triumph of Evil” (PBS, January 26, 1999) and in Philip Gourevitch’s book, We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families (Farrar, Straus & Giroux).
Will Secretary of State Colin Powell also be remembered for his silence on slavery and genocide in Sudan?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 30, 2001