The acts of the Government of Sudan . . . constitute genocide as defined by the [United Nations] Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948).
—Sudan Peace Act, signed by the president of the United States, October 21, 2002
Since 1983, over 2 million black, non-Muslim civilians have died during the civil war in Sudan. Blacks in the south of the country have been fighting for self-determination and to end the enslavement of women and children, ethnic cleansing, aerial bombardment of schools and churches, and the creation of famine conditions—all of this by the National Islamic Front government of the north.
Much of the world, including the United States, has all along largely ignored what The Washington Post, in a September 9 editorial, called “possibly the greatest humanitarian disaster on Earth.” But that newspaper and The New York Times, among other dailies and weeklies, have only glancingly covered the disaster, and often with false information.
In his review of the book Emma’s War in the October 20 New York Times, George Packer; note author’s name is not given; it’s “Deborah Scroggins”-ap got to the essence of continual media indifference to the horrors of the National Islamic Front “jihad” against the blacks in the south: “The deaths of 10,000 southern Sudanese by slaughter or 100,000 by starvation can occur with hardly a mention in American newspapers.” The other constant murders and gang rapes by the northern militias have also slipped by the media.
Until mid-October, I was convinced that only mass demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience here, the kind that hastened the end of apartheid in South Africa, could move the White House and Congress to do something—not in rhetoric but in law, with sanctions—to end the ceaseless state terrorism in Sudan.
However, an extraordinary historic coalition of abolitionists has in recent years put such unremitting pressure on Bush and Congress that at last, on October 9, a unanimous Senate passed the Sudan Peace Act. It had already been approved in the House on October 7 by a vote of 359 to 8.
Among those in the coalition are black churches around the country, white evangelicals, the Boston-based American Anti-Slavery Group, the Congressional Black Caucus, Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship, the Institute on Religion and Democracy, civil rights leaders such as Joe Madison and Walter Fauntroy, conservatives led by Michael Horowitz of the Hudson Institute and Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, Jewish organizations, and others. Missing all these years were nearly all of the Democratic leadership in Congress, most editorial writers and columnists, and, with few exceptions, American broadcast and cable television.
Next week: the details of the Sudan Peace Act, including sanctions for noncompliance with the law. Also, why this is an important beginning of the end for these atrocities; but also why continuous pressure on the White House and Congress—and Khartoum—will be essential. Keep in mind, however, that with the United States having found Khartoum guilty of actual genocide, a heavy obligation now falls on the White House and Congress to follow through.
Article One of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide states clearly: “The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish.” (Emphasis added. We have now contracted to do that.
Should the slave raids, the ethnic cleansing, and the gang rapes continue, the leaders of the government of Sudan could be brought before the International War Crimes Tribunal. However, all the abolitionists in the American coalition will have to ensure that Congress and the White House bring those indictments, if necessary, before the War Crimes Tribunal.
Meanwhile, from Christian Solidarity International—which, with the American Anti-Slavery Group, has redeemed thousands of slaves—there is this report from Khartoum after the passage of the Sudan Peace Act:
“The National Assembly in Khartoum urged Arabs and Muslims throughout the world to denounce the law, calling it ‘a breach of Sudan’s sovereignty’ . . . The Sudanese chargé d’affaires in Washington, Dr. Harun Khidir, blamed ‘members of the extremist Christian right groups and a group of the black masses’ for pushing the Sudan Peace Act through Congress. . . .
“Following congressional approval of the legislation, Islamist officials organized a mass demonstration in Khartoum in support of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, during which an effigy of President Bush, wrapped in American and Israeli flags and labeled ‘the corpse of imperialism,’ was torn to shreds and burnt.” (The latter story was reported by Agence France-Presse on October 16).
Colin Powell might have been added to the bonfire had the slavemasters known—as I have found out—that Powell, behind the scenes, was an important factor in getting the Bush administration to finally move on abolishing slavery in Sudan. Powell is the man Harry Belafonte calls “a house slave.” In all the years I’ve been involved in this story, I do not recall Belafonte being an active, persistent member of the New Abolitionists working to liberate the blacks of Sudan—although he has been prominent in other human rights causes. Powell has been significantly involved in the anti-slavery movement.
Actually, when I started writing about the slaves of Sudan in the Voice about six years ago, the beginning of the New Abolitionist movement was driven by the American Anti-Slavery Group, headed by Charles Jacobs, who first told me of the horrors in Sudan.
There was also a young graduate student at Columbia University, Sam Cotton, who traveled to black churches and newspapers around the country to spread the liberating word. In Denver, Barbara Vogel told her fifth-grade class that slavery was not dead, and those kids began collecting money to free slaves in Sudan through Christian Solidarity International. Other schoolchildren around the country joined in.
Eric Reeves took two years off from teaching Shakespeare and Milton at Smith College to focus invaluably on research and advocacy, including testimony before Congress on the National Islamic Front’s barbarity in Sudan. Donald Payne led the Congressional Black Caucus’s involvement, with the later help of Eleanor Holmes-Norton. Instrumental members of the House included Frank Wolf, Spencer Bachus, and Tom Trancedo.
There were many more. “And,” John Eibner of Christian Solidarity International told me on the day Bush signed the Sudan Peace Act, “don’t forget all the anonymous people who signed pledge cards, contributed money, and prayed for the freedom of the slaves. We’ll never know who they were, but the Sudan Peace Act couldn’t have happened without them.”