London (CNSNews.com) - Anti-slavery campaigners in the U.S. have challenged America's next president to publicly condemn slavery in Sudan, and challenged President Clinton to end his "mysterious and tragic silence on the black slave trade" before he leaves office in January.
Buoyed by the outspoken comments of a State Department official during and after a recent visit to southern Sudan, the American Anti-Slavery Group called for a similarly robust stance from the outgoing and incoming administrations.
Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Susan Rice recently aroused the anger of the Islamic government in Khartoum when she visited the rebel-held southern part of civil war-torn Sudan and met former slaves there.
During her visit last month, Rice expressed outrage at hearing the testimonials of southern African women and children who had been "captured, enslaved, held, beaten tortured, and raped" by Arab militiamen.
"I'm here to show the world, despite what the government of Khartoum says, despite what some of our partners in the European Union pretend ... slavery exists," Rice said.
But AASG President Charles Jacobs said the same criticism could be made of Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and Gov. George W. Bush.
"International politics are stifling America's natural response," Jacobs said.
"We hope Susan Rice's brave initiative will prompt President Clinton to break his strange silence on slavery in Sudan. While we regret that so far both the Bush and Gore campaigns have ducked direct inquiries on about the genocide and slavery in Sudan, we can hope that this act of courage will inspire them to follow her lead," he said.
"We know that bringing up the subject is sensitive," Jacobs said in response to queries.
"Slavery is a crime against humanity. If pressed on the matter, the U.N. would have to
consider expelling Sudan from the world body. There might be trials at the World Court, and sanctions.
"Yet no matter how sensitive the issue, it is simply unacceptable that the leader of this nation - a country which tore itself apart over the issue of one man owning another - would shrink from confronting any power on earth over the principle of human freedom, even a nation whose developing oil wealth is lusted after by our European partners, and even a nation whose Arab League partners have warned the world that the charge of slavery against Sudan is an 'offense against the Arab world.' "
Jacobs said the anti-slavery movement challenged Clinton to "end our shameful silence" and publicly say the words: "The slaves in Sudan must be set free" before he leaves office next month.
More than two million people are believed to have died during the 17-year civil war between the Islamic regime and the autonomy-seeking south, populated mainly by Christians and animists. Congress has defined the conflict as a "genocidal war."
Human rights groups say hundreds of thousands of southerners have been enslaved by Muslim traders, and some have initiated campaigns to buy freedom for slaves. Southern rebel militias have also been accused on occasion of abuses.
After Rice visited southern Sudan - she didn't apply for a visa although the government was informed of her itinerary - Khartoum canceled the visas of American diplomats who regularly visit the U.S. Embassy.
The mission has been semi-closed since 1998, but diplomats based in neighboring countries visit for several weeks at a time. The State Department said it regretted the decision, but re-applications would be made.
Meanwhile the atrocities continue, according to John Eibner of Christian Solidarity International, a Swiss-based organization that has helped campaigns to free more than 38,000 enslaved Sudanese, mostly children, since 1995.
In mid-November, Sudanese President Omar Bashir encouraged 12,000 troops in a western town that serves as a center for the slave trade to continue their jihad in the south.
Even as the president was addressing his men, a Popular Defense Forces unit "was enslaving approximately 150 women and children in raids on villages of the Jur tribe ..." Eibner said in a letter to the United Nations Children's Fund.
"A few days later, on 20 November, they again struck, enslaving 24 school children and executing three with gunshots to the head during a raid on the Guong Nowh Community Elementary School."
The slave raids coincide with renewed bombing mission by Sudanese warplanes, some of which have destroyed relief agency facilities in southern Sudan, Eibner said.
Apart from loss of freedom, enslaved Sudanese face further abuses, according to CSI, including murder, rape, female genital mutilation, beatings and forcible change of religious and ethnic identity.