CAIRO, Egypt – Arab tribes in northern Sudan have freed 880 slaves during the past two weeks and allowed them to return to southern Sudan, a Swiss-based group said Friday.
John Eibner, the director of the Sudan program for Christian Solidarity International, said a Sudanese government committee and Arab-African peace committees won the release of the slaves.
While slavery has been outlawed across Africa, the United Nations, U.S. State Department and human rights groups have said it persists in the continent’s north and west.
The American Anti-Slavery Group says more than 200,000 people currently labor as slaves in Mauritania, Niger and Sudan, nations on centuries-old Arab-African Saharan trade routes.
Sudan denies the existence of slavery in the country but acknowledges that tribesmen “abduct” people. But under international pressure, the government set up a committee to work for the release of those being held.
In Khartoum, the Sudanese Foreign Ministry’s director of information, Jamal Ibrahim, said he had no information on the freed slaves.
Eibner said his group organized meetings of the committees and gave the slaveholders cattle vaccines as an “incentive” to free the slaves.
“There was no cash transaction,” Eibner said in a phone interview from Zurich. Anti-slavery groups have been criticized for paying cash to liberate slaves.
The releases took place between Jan. 23 and Feb. 2 and Christian Solidarity International is helping to reunite the former slaves with their families in the southern province of Bahr el-Ghazal, Eibner said.
The kidnapping of women and children occurred during the civil war between north and south Sudan that ended with a peace treaty signed Jan. 9.
Eibner said the peace treaty had put pressure on the holders of slaves to release them. Slave masters, who tend to be northern Arabs, “know the government will not protect them if international pressure grows for prosecution” of slave owners.
Eibner said boy slaves are used to herd cattle and goats while women and girl slaves are usually used for cooking, washing or working in the field.
“Sexual abuse for women tends to be the norm,” he said.
Eibner said he would not be surprised if some of the newly freed slaves had been abducted as long as 20 years ago. The civil war broke out in 1983.