Who are they?
Who Captures the Slaves?
What Happens to Them?
Sexual Exploitation?
Who are the Slave Owners?
Are There Slave Plantations?
The ownership of human beings by other human beings, and their exchange for money or other commodities, is the main factor in defining slavery. 

The slaves are mostly Dinka people from the north-east part of Bahr al-Ghazal region, plus small numbers from other war-stricken areas. 

The main takers of slaves are governrnent-armed militias from the Rezeigat and Mescriya people. Both groups belong to the Baggam cattle-herding Arabic-speaking people who live in the neighbouring regions of Kordofan and Darfur. Other members of the "Popular Defence Force" (PDF) militias, as well as some regular army officers, are also involved.Top


  • Slaves are seized in violent raids on villages. 
  • Captors perceive and treat the captured person as their property. 
  • The master has absolute control over the captured person's life - disobedience may mean death. 
  • Physical punishment and denial of food are used as a punishment or coercion.
  • The captured person may be sold, exchanged or bartered. 
  • He or she may be used as forced labour in agriculture, cattle-herding or domestic servitude. 
  • Typically, slaves are treated harshly: often beaten, given poor food and clothing, and may sleep in a flimsy shelter or in a cattle shed. 
  • Slaves are kept for years.Top 
Sexual exploitation of males and females is commonplace. Women and older girls are often kept as concubines, reflected in the fact that many females who escape have been helped by the less-than-happy wives of the slave-owners 

"One of the taboo subjects in Sudan is the extent of sexual abuse of boy captives by soldiers" - Nafir,  the newsletter of Nuba Mountains Solidarity Abroad, Vol 1. No.3, 1996.Top

The wealthy slave-merchant is a figure from the past. Contemporary slavery in Sudan could be called "small-holder slavery": the typical slave-owner is a farmer with a few dozen acres of land or a score of cattle or camels, holding one or two Southern women and children,  perhaps more in exceptional cases. 

"From the conversations we learn that the masters themselves are mainly poor subsistence herders or farmers, scratching a living from a harsh land, using slaves for sexual or domestic purposes if they are girls, or the lowliest tasks in the fields if they are boys." - Baltimore Sun. Top

In late 1987 the Sudan Times newspaper reported the use of captured Dinka, young and old, on commercial farms in Southern Kordofan. While there are no plantations built on slave labour in Sudan today, there are giant mechanised farms whose labour force is war-displaced villagers interned in government "peace camps", working for little or no pay. 

Although their living conditions are harsh and the forcible nature of their internment and labour is an abuse of their human rights, these people are not slaves.Top

There are occasional stories of slaves being put in shackles, but this is certainly not the norm. When captives are seized in violent raids, they are often roped together with wooden poles at their necks.
Human Rights Watch/Africa interviewed a man who had been forced to work in the fields from morning through night, tied by the wrists and ankles while he slept. He was routinely beaten with a leather whip.Top

There is no sign that branding of slaves is common or systematic, although there is some photographic evidence, and at least one case of a Dinka girl being branded has been widely publicised.Top

There are no public slave auctions or slave markets, although there are cases in which individual slaves are passed from one master to another for cash payment.Top

Southern Sudanese claim that transactions involving slaves have taken place in Mazrub, 50km NW of El-Obeid, Kordofan's regional capital. But foreign accounts of "slave markets" at Nyamlell and Manyel in Bahr al-Ghazal region are descriptions of ordinary village market- places where cows and agricultural produce are sold. 

They are not the equivalent of the old slave markets, as visiting journalists seem to believe. They serve as natural meeting places, and they are in areas under the control of the rebel SPLA. This prompts the question: would the rebels permit actual slave trading in their territory? 

When family members or concerned villagers meet intermediaries from the captors of their children in such places, they are not engaging in the auctions of the 19th century slave trade. 

By paying up to five cows each in what is euphemistically regarded as "expenses", they are settling a ransom for the return of their own children. They are not strangers buying strangers. 

When wealthy foreigners pay these ransoms in cash, however, observers fear they are artificially creating a "market" which distorts the practice. 

"Slavery still fascinates the west [but] no-one has yet found a slave market such as existed in the Caribbean ports two hundred years ago. There is in fact no good evidence for the ORGANISED buying and selling of human beings as commodities." - Nafir Vol. 1. No.3 Top