On August 16, 2002, at the UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Ambassador Mubarak H. Rahamtalla denied that any « traditional slavery » existed in Sudan. This denial followed an attack against me for having raised the Sudanese slavery and other human rights issues three days earlier, as a representative of the Association for World Education (AWE), a nongovernmental organization (NGO): « His statement on Sudan is malicious, superfluous, and contains baseless accusations against my country. It is well-known to the participants of this meeting that Mr. Littman advocates the most aggressive and hatred views, not only against the Sudan, but also against the entire Islamic people and countries."
Such vile ad hominem attacks are normal manners at the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR), where a ‘game of nations’ is played out on this world stage, often resembling a bazarre, even « a circus » – to quote an North American NGO representative speaking there in April 2002.
On April 24, Sudan’s representative had spewed out another libel, going unchecked by the Chairman of the Commission (NGOs have no legal redress or ‘right of reply’ at the UN - they can barely complain!) : « Instead of making unsubstantiated claims of slavery in Sudan, the representative of that NGO, Mr. Littman, should instead have had the courage to tell this august body about his dubious associations and his clandestine role in the fake redemption of alleged slaves and the misappropriated funds he and his collaborators collected from innocent schoolchildren in the West - to promote his warped belief. »
(This had followed a more lethal libel by Iraq’s representative: « My delegation is responding to the lies that we have heard in the statement of the gentleman called David Littman, known for his animosity toward the Arabs, Muslims, and Islam. » He opposed irrefutable facts and figures given in my statement on the « forgotten million Jewish refugees from Arab countries », insisting that Jews had always been well treated in Arab countries, and still were in Iraq ; of the 140,000 Iraqi Jews in 1945, only 17 remain.)
I had also been a representative of Christian Solidarity International (CSI) at the UNCHR three years earlier, helping to organize the visit of Dr. John Garang, American-educated chairman of the Sudanese Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM), and its army chief, who had asked a very pertinent question when addressing representatives of States and NGOs and at a UN press conference, on March 22, 1999 :
« In 1992 the regime in Khartoum declared jihad against the people of Southern Sudan and the Nuba mountains. Since then, jihad has been declared again and again. I ask this very important question : is the jihad a religious right of those who declare and wage it, or is it a violation of the human rights of the people against whom it is declared and waged ? »
Although Sudan manipulated CSI’s ouster from the United Nations in 1999 on a blatantly flawed procedural abuse, this NGO has continued to free African Christian and animist slaves held in northern Sudan by their Arab Muslim slavers – over 70,000 since 1995. Yet, at the UNCHR, the subject of ‘slavery’ in the Sudan is inevitably watered down to ‘abduction’, particularly since the European Union – with Germany in a key position - began to sponsor the resolution on Sudan, after the United States had to stand aside following its bombing of a chemical factory there. Human rights bodies refuse to face this grave ‘crime against humanity’, because if they did, then something serious would have to be done to end the cruel martyrdom of a black African population, in spite of many oil and other national interests.
Hence, the violence reaction, when we did not beat about the bush in my statement on August 13, 2002:
« Which country on any continent has suffered such a hellish tragedy as a 20 year civil war during which over 2,000,000 people have died and about 4,500,000 have been displaced?
« Which African regime has declared a jihad-war many times over against its own population - to quote from the March 24, 1999 letter to the High Commissioner (then Mary Robinson) by Sudan’s former elected Prime Minister, Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi - overthrown in a 1989 coup d'état - which states pertinently, under its Section III: War Crimes: "the traditional concept of Jihad does allow slavery as a by-product"?
« Which Government has been condemned by the Commission on Human rights for condoning slavery and slavery-like practices and continues to be an accomplice to this crime against humanity?
« Which Government can continue to bomb humanitarian relief operations of the UN World Food Programme, as on 20 February 2002 at the village of Bieh in the heart of the oil regions when helicopter gunships attacked thousands of women & children? (AP, 21 Feb. 2002, and "The Terror in Sudan" by Eric Reeves, Washington Post, 6 July 2002), and then sign - a week before the last Commission began - an agreement for "civilian protection from all types of military operations" (Reuters, 10 March) ?
« Which regime could allow a permanent Secretary of its Ministry of Justice (Dr. Ahmed Al-Mufti, Director-General Khartoum of the International Centre for Human Rights- Sudan) to threaten a UN Special Rapporteur on Sudan, Dr Gaspar Biro, at the Commission on Human Rights in 1994 - and repeat that threat at the General Assembly in 1995 (« And we don’t want to speculate about his fate if he is to continue offending the feelings of Muslims worldwide... »), which then passed a resolution that deplored this "unacceptable threat against his person" (Dec. 5, 1995).
« Which country could appoint this same individual as the Director General of its International Center for Human Rights who, five months ago in this very room, delivered the first statement on: "War against terrorism: Impact on Human Rights" (6 months after September 11, 2001 !), at a 2-Day Symposium (14-15 March 2002) on "Human Rights in Islam", sponsored by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference ?
Which Government could conclude a positive peace arrangement with "rebel" forces only last month, and a week later kill nearly 1,000 people in a major air and ground offensive, using helicopter gunships and Antonov bombers around Tam in the western Upper Nile province, forcing thousands of civilians to flee? (Electronic Telegraph, 31 July 2002).
I then referred to the enslavement by the government’s Popular Defence Forces (PDF) of tens of thousands of black African women and children - euphemistically called "abduction" at the UNCHR, so as not to offend the Sudanese regime - although it has been fully documented for a decade by successive UN Special Rapporteurs, the media, and NGOs. On 16 Feb. 2002, the Sudanese Government's mujahadin-led PDF raided villages 50 miles east of the Canadian Talisman oil installations at Bentiu, enslaving 88 women and children and killing 71 civilians, according to local sources.
The findings of an International Commission led by Penn Kemble, a former director of the U.S. Information Agency - that includes officials from the U.S.A. : George Moose, former U.S. Ambassador to the UN in Geneva ; France : Christian Delmet, a social anthropologist ; Norway : Leif Manger, a social anthroplogist ; Britain : Sarah Uppard, adviser for Save the Children, were detailed in a 71-page report, which includes interviews with former slaves. It confirmed that Sudan has done little to control slavery carried out by militiamen armed by the government, and then noted: "They burn villages, loot cattle, rape and kill civilians, and abduct and enslave men, women and children."
On 22 May 2002 the N.Y. Times published an article on this report, titled "U.S.-Led Panel Condemns Sudan for Allowing Slavery to Flourish" by Marc Lacey. Yet, in its long Report the Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery (E/CN.4/Sub.2/2002/33), which met from 27-31 May 2002, mentions little about this, other than the view of the representative of Sudan, who stated on this subject that "the information submitted lacked objectivity and in fact was frequently groundless." (para. 42). And Sudan's "right of reply" on the report itself even attacked the meagre one-word polite reference to "slavery."
On January 23, 2002, the « Sudanese Peace Act » was enacted by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, and was signed into law on October 21, 2002 by President George W. Bush. It found that : « The acts of the Government of Sudan, including the acts described in this section, constitute genocide, as defined by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. » (SEC.2. Findings (10)) . It also « condemns the ongoing slave trade in Sudan and the role of the Government of Sudan in abetting and tolerating the practice »; and « the Government of Sudan’s use and organization of ‘murahalliin’ or ‘mujahadeen’, Popular Defense Forces, and regular Sudanese army units into organized and coordinated raiding and slaving parties in Bahr al Ghazal, the Nuba Mountains, and the Upper Nile and the Blue Nile regions ; and aerial bombardment of civilian targets that is sponsored by the Government of Sudan. » (SEC. 4 (1) (C/D/E )
It is time to call a black African Sudanese slave a slave, particularly in the UNCHR’s resolution on Sudan, and to utterly condemn slavery – not « abduction » - by its true name, that genocidal crime against humanity. But in order to understand the Kafka-esque reality at the United Nations, one should recall that, one year ago - in spite of prior and current resolutions condemning its « ongoing slave trade » - Sudan was nominated, regionally, to be one of the three vice-chairmen of the UNCHR, while the United States lost its seat, and is only now returning to that UN body. In 2002 it was the turn of Syria. And in 2003, we now know that the Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights will be, not Algeria, which was expected, but the lady ambassador of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya – at Col. Muammar Qadhafi's regional command.
The timidity of the UNCHR and other UN bodies on such issues is a reminder of Martin Luther King Jr’s words:
"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."
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David G. Littman, born in London, is an historian living in Switzerland. From 1995 he has been a NGO representative of the Association for World Education to the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, where he has been active since 1986 for several NGOs on numerous human-rights issues. In 2001 and 2002 he was again accredited by the World Union for Progressive Judaism as one of their representatives to the UN in Geneva, having been the WUPJ's chief delegate there at a crucial period from 1986 to the end of 1991.