Human suffering cannot be quantified, but the cruel calculus of inhumanity must rank the Sudan as one of the greatest of contemporary tragedies. Over 1.5 million have perished during the recent years of civil war and over 5 million were displaced. Children, as always, are among the most afflicted, suffering from war-induced death and injury, from disease and from starvation, all exacerbated by the central government's policy of prohibiting aid organizations from entering parts of the country. In addition, in a blatant case of cultural genocide, the government has forced Christians and animists to speak Arabic and convert to Islam.
With one qualification, the Human Rights Watch report is to be greatly welcomed, for it exposes in convincing and poignant detail the appalling suffering of Sudanese children. Children of Sudan documents how the authorities encourage Arab militias to raid African villages and reduce women and children to chattel slavery as part of their booty. Tens of thousands of these slave children are found in northern Sudan. The report provides valuable evidence that should stimulate human-rights organizations to redouble their efforts and governments to pressure the regime in Khartoum to abandon its brutal policies.
The qualification concerns the impression this report may create of equivalence of violations of human rights between the Sudanese government and the SPLA, the main force defending the African people of the south and the Nuba Mountains against the jihad they face. All combatants inevitably commit violations of human rights in war, and the SPLA has been guilty of some violations, duly documented in the report. But these violations can in no way be compared to those perpetrated by the government, for the SPLA has no policy of genocide, enslavement, or jihad.
1 Plenty of other evidence of these abuses exist. For some of the most powerful, see Tim Sandler, "Africa's Invisible Slaves," The Boston Phoenix, June 30-July 6, 1995; G. Lewthwaite and G. Kane, "Where Children Live in Bondage," The Baltimore Sun, June 16-18, 1996; and Christian Solidarity International Reports on Southern Sudan, available from CSI-UK, P.O. Box 99, New Malden, Surrey, KT3 3YF, United Kingdom.