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Names and Faces of Sudan's Slavery Statistics

Database Adds Names and Faces to Sudan's Slavery Statistics

(Register of abductees confirms reality of slavery in Sudan)

By Jim Fisher-Thompson Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- There can be no debate over whether slavery exists in Sudan. It has now been fully documented, according to the compilers of a comprehensive database that lists the names of 11,000 people who were abducted from rebel-held areas by tribal militias supported by the Sudanese Government

John Ryle, a board member of the Rift Valley Institute, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) headquartered in Britain that helped produce the "Sudan Abductee Database," spoke to journalists at the May 28 database launching. He said, "It was absolutely essential to establish a record" of abduction and forced labor that, while denied by some, has become an integral part of Sudan's 18-year long civil war.

Acknowledging that the Sudan Government has allowed NGOs like Save the Children Fund to find and relocate some children, Ryle said, "It is vital to maintain pressure on the government to account for the many thousands who are still missing and bring the practice of abduction and slavery to an end. Resolution of this problem is very important to establishing peace."

The abductee database, which lists names, tribes, home village and date of capture among other details, is currently being used by Save the Children Fund to help identify and repatriate a group of 60 people to their home villages in southern Sudan.

Instead of statistics, one opens the Sudan Abductee Database book and finds people like Mayar Garang, a Dinka who was born in 1981 and abducted by militias from his village of Akot in 1989. He is still missing. Or Dumo Akuak, a Dinka girl born in 1980 who was taken by raiders from the village of Akuem in 1991 and never returned.

Name after name. Some have been found and returned but of the 11,105 people the database documents, only about 528 have been lucky enough to survive their ordeal and return home.

The British Government's Department for International Development funded the database project with help from the Open Society Institute and the J.M. Kaplan Fund, both American NGOs. The Rift Valley Institute trained 48 local Sudanese to conduct the interviews in the Bahr-el-Ghazal region of southeastern Sudan whence most of the abductees originally came. The resulting data was processed at the office of the International Rescue Committee in Nairobi using Kenyan and Sudanese staffers.

Jok Makut, a Sudanese who teaches at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles helped Ryle design and manage the project. He explained that most of the abductees were members of the Dinka and Luo tribes who fell victim to raids by northern Muslim cattle raisers. "The government gave arms to these tribes, who formed into militias, and a free hand" to raid in the mainly Christian south where a rebellion against the Khartoum government has raged for almost 20 years.

"The facts of abduction and slavery are horrific," Makut said. "But the important thing is that we now know what the facts are. We know for certain who has been abducted, how many, where and when."

Penn Kemble, a senior scholar with Freedom House, which sponsored the press conference, remarked, "It may be hard for the public to accept but slavery is not on its way to extinction. In Sudan you see a resurgence of one of the greatest crimes against humanity. One of the most terrifying aspects of slavery is the destruction of the individual identity, culture, religious faith and place in a community to which one belongs;" a process akin to totalitarianism.

Key statistical findings during the 20-year period covered in the research included the fact that:

-- 1,862 raids took place in which southerners were abducted;

-- 5,148 people were recorded as having been killed in the raids;

-- 60% of abductees were under the age of 18 when they were taken;

-- a majority of abductees were male; and

-- in the worst affected village -- Ajok -- 101 adults and children were abducted in a single week.

Former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs George Moose also attended the press conference. Moose was joined by Ryle and Kemble last year on a State Department-sponsored Eminent Persons Group that investigated and reported on slavery and abduction in Sudan.


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