- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 7, 2001

Long silent on the enslavement of blacks in Africa's largest nation, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and some black congressional leaders are preparing to push for rigid sanctions against Sudan.

Black leaders have been routinely castigated by opponents for demanding reparations for the prior existence of slavery in the United States while ignoring its current practice overseas, where a human being can be purchased for around $15 in some parts.

"Dealing with the slave trade is a lot more involved than other issues," said Lanier Avant, a spokesman for Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi. "There is some formidable opposition, and if you compare eradicating the slave trade … dealing with the slave issue is harder to micromanage."

In fact, Mr. Avant noted, completely eliminating the practice could involve military intervention.

A spokesman for Rep. Danny K. Davis of Illinois said the Democratic congressman is looking forward to the emerging prominence of Africa during this session of Congress especially the drive to impose sanctions on Sudan for its continued practice of the slave trade.

"I can't anticipate what the Black Caucus might do," said Ira Cohen. "In general, it will be a big help to have Africa play a bigger role in foreign policy. But I'm not sure exactly what Congress can do as far as a bill that would outlaw slavery in Sudan."

A spokeswoman for caucus leader Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas summed up the effort: "As a whole, the African initiative will address the situation in Sudan," said Devona Dolliole.

Congress last year passed a resolution condemning slavery in Sudan, a move seen by many as a token motion possessing little teeth. A human rights bill can take months or years to get through Congress.

For example, the bill that created an independent commission to investigate religious persecution took almost two years to pass through Congress.

While curtailing commercial trade with Sudan, the United States has listed the country as a sponsor of terrorism but continues to sell food, medicine and medical equipment. Human rights groups have administered their own aid as well, contending that much of the U.S.-sent goods are not distributed to the Christians in the southern region of the country.

The United States has also bombed several positions in Sudan in hopes of easing the Islamic government's war of aggression against the Christians.

Yet this time around, there seems to be a more coordinated effort to press for tough economic sanctions against Sudan. "We're going to keep pushing it and hopefully get something more than a resolution," said Hilary Shelton, head of the Washington office of the NAACP.

Joe Leonard, spokesman for Jesse Jackson's Rainbow-PUSH Coalition in Washington, yesterday said the organization was not familiar with any congressional effort to push for sanctions against Sudan and had no position on it.

But, he said, the coalition would review the matter and could have something to say on it "in the near future."

The NAACP has placed the issue on its list of congressional goals for this session.

Mr. Shelton acknowledged that action such as economic sanctions against Sudan would be difficult to achieve.

"Even as heinous as slavery is, the real concern as we look at Sudan is not the government," he said. "They don't have a department of human bondage. From what we understand, it's a matter of the government turning its back."

Sudan's brutal civil war pits the country's Islamic government against Christian rebels. Some church coalitions have charged that the Sudanese government organizes militias to abduct southerners into slavery and transport them to the north.

According to Human Rights Watch, this practice of enslavement is conducted almost entirely by government-backed, armed militia groups.

Sudanese government sources have denied the charge.

"Getting a hold on slavery has proved very difficult," said District Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. "What is amazing is how little is known in the world about this."

However, Mrs. Norton believes that President Bush's support for faith-based charity may provide a way to aid the victims in Sudan. Food sent to Sudan has been misallocated by the government. Using human rights groups and church organizations could avoid government interference, she said.

"We could take sanctions, but it is not likely," Mrs. Norton said.

Several years ago, the Black Caucus was unresponsive to the plight of Sudanese Christians, said Dr. Kevin Vigilante, who testified before a House subcommittee on international operations and human rights in 1996.

"I would say there was a paradoxical lack of action from the Black Caucus," Dr. Vigilante said. He was part of a human rights group that traveled to the African nation to investigate reports of slavery.

Dr. Vigilante said there were roundups of black children in the south by government-sponsored forces. These children were then forced to become soldiers and fight against their own people.

"Some of these provisional forces do not get paid, but they do get to keep the spoils of war, which includes slaves," Dr. Vigilante said yesterday in an interview. "The government tacitly approves of the practice of slavery."

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