When slavery is brought up, images are often conjured of African civilians being forced to work the cotton fields of America, or the cane fields of Haiti. The backbreaking agricultural work on no pay with no freedom to come and go, the physical coercion – these are all not things of the past:
Currently, in Darfur, there is "substantial evidence which indicates that many hundreds of people are being held in areas controlled by the Janjaweed where they are forced to farm land, tend animals and harvest crops for the benefit of the militia and their families. They are not paid for this work and they are not allowed to leave these areas" according to a new report by the Darfur Consortium.
Non-Arab civilians are targeted for attack and abduction by government-supported Janjaweed militias and the Sudanese Army based on their belonging to this perceived ethnic group, according to the report. Although abductions and slavery were not unheard of in the days before the modern Darfur conflict, it was mostly present as an isolated incident that was worked out through local administration and courts. The difference is that now, the abduction and enslavement is systematic and government-sanctioned – and therefore an act of ethnic cleansing.
One of the forms of slavery that may be spoken about least but is one of the gravest silent threats to life and dignity is that of sexual slavery. Darfuri women, after an assault on their village, are systematically raped, taken into captivity, and sold or given into sexual slavery. They can be held as slaves for a week, often repeatedly gang raped by militiamen and soldiers, or they can actually be married off under coercive marriage laws to friends of the Sudanese Armed Forces as far away as Khartoum. The report goes into harrowing detail of the degrading and inhumane treatment these women are forced to bear, which I will spare you the details of here, but which everyone should read in the right time to understand the gravity of every single case of sexual slavery in Darfur.
Children are not immune to this systematic enslavement – in fact, they are often recruited into the lines of agricultural workers or sex workers, but also domestic workers in the capitol of Khartoum. In addition to all of this, according to both the UN and Human Rights Watch, all armed parties in Darfur, including the rebels, were involved in recruiting child soldiers.
This is critical to our movement in many ways: in the words of the report, "In Darfur, the Government of Sudan has not only failed in its responsibility to protect its own citizens from human rights violations, but it also bears a direct responsibility for many of the abuses which have taken place."
Pair this with the fact that these acts are nothing new for the Government of Sudan. In fact, they are a continuation of a pattern of intimidation, enslavement, and ethnic cleansing carried out in massive proportions in South Sudan during the great part of the 4 decade-long conflict.
This is all again indicative of a massive, across-the-board, and perpetual violation of the Responsibility to Protect by the Government of Sudan, and so the responsibility to protect these civilians comes to the international community.
The report makes the following recommendations to the International Community:
- Urge the Government of Sudan to acknowledge the issue of abduction and slavery in Darfur and take immediate action to protect civilians, prosecute those responsible, and provide victims with support and assistance.
- Ensure the effect protection of civilians through supporting a full deployment of UNAMID with an expanded mandate to protect civilians
- Establish an independent body to investigate abductions and identify, assist, and compensate victims.
- Ensure that victims are given psycho-social and medical assistance, rehabilitation, and compensation.
- Provide more assistance to IDP camps, particularly in relation to food and fuel security so that they do not have to leave the camps to search for these items.
- Strengthen the international monitoring presence in Darfur and instigate further investigation into abductions
- Work with the Government of Sudan to enhance the capacity of the Sudanese justice system to deal with abduction and related violations.
- Strengthen the capacity of the Sudanese civil society organizations so that they can better monitor and document cases of abduction, trace and assist victims and advocate for policies which will help to eradicate this practice.