The ownership of human beings by other human beings, and their exchange
for money or other commodities, is the main factor in defining slavery.
WHO ARE THE
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
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
"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
ARE THE SLAVE OWNERS?
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
"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
THERE SLAVE PLANTATIONS?
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