Free the Slaves Now, Sudanese Leader Demands
Enslavement of Over 200,000 Estimated
Freedom Now News interviewed Commissioner James Lual of Gogrial County, northern Bahr El Ghazal, Southern Sudan, on May 26, 2003. Commissioner Lual is the head of the SPLM Civil Administration in Gogrial County, which is one of the areas severely affected by Sudanese Government sponsored slave raids over the past two decades.
Freedom Now: How has slavery affected northern Bahr El Ghazal?
Lual: Khartoumís Arab militias have been raiding and taking slaves, looting cattle and burning villages since the war started in 1983. The area has been devastated by slave raids. The loss of life and property has been enormous. People have been traumatized. They have been on the run for years. Many people have been taken to the North as slaves. Many others ran away to the North to save their lives.
Freedom Now: Are people still being enslaved?
Lual: Since the beginning of 2001, slave raiding has slowed down. There have been no raids in northern Bahr el Ghazal for many months, but things are different in western Upper Nile. Government militias have been attacking civilians and enslaving people. Northern Bahr el Ghazal is now quiet because the SPLA increased its strength here. Then the peace talks and ceasefire came. In this area the ceasefire is respected. But a lot of people are still enslaved in the North.
Freedom Now: How many people from northern Bahr El Ghazal have been enslaved?
Lual: Nobody knows exactly, but the number is very high. In my County, we estimate that between 50,000 to 60,000 people have been enslaved. Our records show that over 10,000 have already been brought back by Arab retrievers. The reports from other counties of northern Bahr el Ghazal show that over 200,000 have been enslaved over the past 20 years. The hardest hit areas are nearest the border with the Arabs. Gogrial is a bit to the South and has not been hit as hard as some of the others.
Freedom Now: The Rift Valley Institute has announced that 11,105 have been enslaved since 1983. Why is there an apparent discrepancy between their figures and your estimates?
Lual: The Rift Valley Institute did not interview and document all the slaves. They came to this area this year and spent only a few months here. They stopped their project at the beginning of April and went back home. They did not do a complete survey. They did interviews in only two and a half of the seven districts in Gogrial. In the districts where they did work, they interviewed only a few people. They had problems gaining the confidence of the chiefs and the people. They did not interview the thousands of freed slaves who have come back. I invited RVI to look at our documents, but they did not take up the offer.
We have a record of the return of thousands of slaves to Gogrial County. Serious slavery research cannot be done in a backward, underdeveloped area like this with a disorganized and lightning strike approach. It will take years to complete the documentation of slaves.
There is another reason why RVIís numbers are too low. There has been so much killing and displacement that a lot of people are not around anymore to report missing relatives. We also know that the RVI is funded by people who want to downplay slavery. I mean the British Government and Save the Children UK. They are helping the Government of Sudan. It is the Government of Sudan that wants to hide its slavery crimes. They say there is no slavery in Sudan, only abduction. It could be that Khartoum has a strong political influence.
Freedom Now: RVI also reports that only 528 slaves are known to have returned to their homes, and that 10,380 are still missing.
Lual: That is not true. It is completely baseless. In Gogrial County alone, we have documented over 10,000 slaves that have been freed and brought back by Arab retrievers. Many of them have been interviewed and photographed. A lot of journalists and people from other organizations have also seen them. The same is true for the other counties. The RVI project was presented to us as a missing slave project. I assume that they didnít try to interview many freed slaves in the short time they were here. Most of the slaves have not yet come back.
Freedom Now: What should be done now about the slavery problem?
Lual: Documentation and research needs to continue. CSI (Christian Solidarity International) was the first in the field. We expect them to continue their project and provide a more complete picture. Documentation also needs to be started in the North. That is where the slaves are. But the most important thing is to free the slaves. Documentation is useless unless it helps free people. The people of northern Bahr El Ghazal have been struggling for years to free the slaves and bring them home. Tens of thousands have come back, but more are still in the North. Some of our Arab friends help us. CSI has been a big help. The AASG has also helped a lot, but not many others. The American peace plan promised to end slavery as a pre-condition for peace. More than a year ago, The American Government sent the Eminent Persons Group to Sudan. But very little has happened since then. Only three slaves have been returned to Gogrial by the Government and SC UK. From time to time they send a few slaves back to give the impression that progress is being made. Our people want action not words. We donít want to be patronized, interviewed and examined. We want help to free the slaves.