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No Silencing This Slavery Foe

By: A.M. Rosenthal

 

New York Daily News

Thursday, July 18th, 2002

 

Maria Sliwa was a New York City cop, and now she is a graduate student at New York University. She has a scholarship but cannot attend more than one course a semester. She spends the rest of her time - all of it, in fact - working to free slaves.

 

She works for the human rights organization known as Freedom Now. Her faxes and E-mails reach more than 100,000 people in America and abroad, detailing the atrocities that torture the enslaved, particularly in Sudan, which is Africa's largest country and has its largest slave population.

 

She gathers the information from Sudanese abroad, from her dangerous trips to Africa and from foreign specialists who are aware of the reach, diversity and energy of the audience she has attracted.

 

Several other organizations, like Christian International Solidarity, work to lift the unspeakable curse of slave life in Sudan and other countries in Africa and Asia.

 

But there is something special about Freedom Now: Maria Sliwa is all of it, a stunning example of what one person can do for a cause. No paid researchers, no staff or special equipment, just Sliwa in her office-apartment in New York, shaking people all over the world into consciousness of slavery with all the knowledge she has packed into her 42-year-old brain, and all the energy in her body.

 

She speaks the word to all who are willing to hear of the life of the slave - not just today, but all the harrowing tomorrows that lie ahead if the free do not care to help them.

 

Slave life is endless labor, food almost fit for animals, brandings, floggings, rape and amputation for offenses that particularly annoy the masters or local officials.

 

Sometimes, Sliwa makes her way to Sudan along with human rights fighters from one or two other organizations to see if they can buy slaves from their masters.

 

The price is about $14 a head.

 

Sliwa and her brave colleagues try to find relatives from whom the slaves were abducted or former neighbors who will take care of them so the slaves are not left to wander and suffer until they are kidnapped again.

 

Two hundred thousand persons alive in Sudan were born into slavery or abducted into the life of the slave. Over the decades, the number who were born and died in Sudanese slavery has reached many millions.

 

The slaves are almost all Christians or followers of native African religions who live in southern Sudan. The country is controlled by Muslims living mostly in the north who abduct the southern Christians and animists into slavery.

 

Some months ago, Sudan - a member of the United Nations and a signer of its human rights declarations - became president of the UN Security Council under the automatic monthly rotation system. Incredible. Appalling.

 

Foreign oil companies are struggling for control of Sudan's oil. Human rights people are struggling to give significant control of the revenues to the Sudanese public so that someday even the enslaved might possibly get more food from the country's riches.

 

Despite or because of international talks among foreign countries that own Sudan oil wells, plus countries that have no right to a gallon of the oil themselves, the contest for control of oil and the end of the civil war creep on.

 

A new shock

 

Maria Sliwa is the sister of Curtis Sliwa, who founded the Guardian Angels in 1979. The idea was to patrol the subways of New York to help people in need or in danger of violence.

 

For Maria, there is no cause except freeing the slaves. She is a highly knowledgeable, sophisticated person, but early this month something in particular about Sudan shook her.

 

She knew that female slaves are regularly raped by their masters. But she was startled to listen to the testimony of boy slaves. Almost all had been repeatedly raped by their owners. Forever, she said, the boys will not only be despised by their communities, but carry the pain of misplaced self-hatred.

 

She sent out an E-mail about that almost immediately.

 

Maria Sliwa shows every day what a person can do all by herself. But if you want to help, the combination telephone and fax number is (212) 202-4453.

 

Her E-mail is MS4freedom@aol.com.

 

Contacting her is my suggestion, not Sliwa's.

 

Someday, I hope to meet her. But meantime, phone calls, faxes and E-mails work for Maria Sliwa. And for all who get and pass on the message that the evil of slavery is alive and flourishing in the world today.