PHIL PONCE: We get three views: Elfatih Erwa is Sudan's Ambassador to the United Nations; Olana Otunnu, a veteran diplomat and a former foreign minister in Uganda, is now the United Nations special representative for children in armed conflict; and Philippe Guiton is director of World Vision Sudan, a private relief and aid organization.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Ambassador, we just saw a piece, which suggests that there is an active slave trade in your country. For the record, is there slavery taking place in Sudan?
ELFATIH ERWA: I would say no slavery as such, and I would like to first of all put the record that I don't question the innocence and the good intentions of those children but I question those who have hidden political agenda behind it, and bringing a scam to show to those children. I just would like to put two or three points that would put things in its own precise logic. First of all, I would say abduction between tribes, these Northern or Southerners among themselves, even Southerner against Southerner or Northerner against Northerner, this practice has gone on for ages, and the government has worked hard to eradicate it. There is no - all the laws in the government will not condone this and the country punishes it.
PHIL PONCE: And so, if I can interrupt you, Mr. Ambassador, you're saying, abductions are taking place, but they do not constitute slavery?
ELFATIH ERWA: Yes, this is what we believe, so - and because now I am almost approaching my 50 years, I have never seen a slave in my life in my own country. The second thing, I would like also, the most important point is that this is not only part of the civil war that is going on; it's a tribal conflict, because the civil war is a political war, and more than 95 percent of the displaced people of the South. They go to the North and find refuge there, instead of going to the neighboring countries. The third point I would like to put is that all these practices which we are seeing - people buying slaves or freeing slaves I think is a scam, because if address two major points, we will know the reality of it. First of all, these people, they have entered Sudan through the rebel-held areas. They have never been into the government areas. We have - we are facing two situations: Either the rebels are participating on these kinds of trades, and you can imagine that people will want to buy from someone who has thousands are slaves under the control, the military control of an area.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Ambassador, when you say that it's a scam, the video that we saw of a person with Christian Solidarity International, handing over money, are you saying that that is not an accurate portrayal, that that is a scam?
ELFATIH ERWA: I believe it is not accurate because I challenge them to tell us how did they enter. They entered through the rebel-controlled areas, so if they entered through the rebel-controlled areas, how could you hold the government responsible? Why did the rebels allowing such trade to take place in that area?
PHIL PONCE: In other words, that videotape that we saw is not to be believed, in your opinion?
ELFATIH ERWA: In my opinion, either it is scam, or the rebels are participating in this trade.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Guiton, what is your reaction? Is their slavery taking place in Sudan?
PHILIPPE GUITON: Yes. I think we can play with the word. Some people are speaking about abduction and then forced labor. To me, when you're taking people, abducting people, taking them away from their place and forcing them to work without any hope of freedom and without salary, I'm calling that slavery, so I think there is still slavery happening in Sudan today.
PHIL PONCE: And, Mr. Guiton, what kind of work are the people who are abducted forced to do? They're taken from the South of Sudan to the North of Sudan typically, and then they're forced to do what?
PHILIPPE GUITON: Well, they're taken when there's a raid, when there is a military action.
PHIL PONCE: When there's a raid?
PHILIPPE GUITON: Yes. When a military action has taken place in southern Sudan, or at the border in the North and the South where the conflict is going on at the moment, usually the raiders are taking cattle and people with them, mostly women and children, taking them into the North, and where they are forced to work usually for people in their houses as free cheap labor.
PHIL PONCE: They're used as domestic servants, for example?
PHILIPPE GUITON: That's what I heard.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Otunnu, in the taped introductory piece we saw this practice of redeeming the people who have been abducted, paying for their freedom; is that a good idea?
OLARA OTUNNU: Slavery is of course an abomination, regardless of where it is being practiced and by whom. We absolutely must repudiate that. But having said that, actually buying a person like buying a chattle presents a moral dilemma. Are you not participating in this practice and trade, the point that was made by Francis Deng, and I share his views entirely, but also --
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Deng, the gentleman who we saw in the introductory piece?
OLARA OTUNNU: That's right. He's himself actually from the Sudan. But also are you not fueling and creating the very market that will then make people take slaves in order to have them be redeemed? In a country like Sudan, where so many people are so poor, 1 dollar a day per person, sometimes a day per family, and you bring in 50 US dollars at one girl, this could create a whole market, a whole condition. So this I find troublesome. But more fundamentally, the real eradication of this practice does not lie in the redemption by financial means. It lies in prosecuting those who are abducting children, women; it lies in ending the conflict, the civil war in Sudan, which creates conditions that fuels this practice. We must not divert our attention from this central task of bringing pressure on the parties concerned not to abduct, to tell them they cannot expect goodwill from the international community, to prosecute those who are found to be guilty, but above all, to bring the parties to the conference table and end the conflict, which makes this possible.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Ambassador, staying with the issue of the payment, is this publicity that your country is getting, is this putting any pressure on you to address this issue with the formation of this committee last week, for example?
ELFATIH ERWA: Actually, we find ourselves obliged to address this issue whether - whatever form it is on -- because we are the responsible government; we do not condone such practices.
PHIL PONCE: Is it embarrassing to your government to have these stories?
ELFATIH ERWA: Actually, it's not, as such, because the stories, themselves, I question the integrity of the stories. As I said, we have problems among the tribes, and this tribal thing is going -- is not only among North and South, only between the Southerners, themselves. And, as I said, you cannot go and find someone to buy 1,000 slaves from him, unless this man is guarding his slaves with an army. And this is why I think this story is a little bit exaggerated. Though we confess that there are problems between tribes, happening between Southerners and Southerners, between Northerners and Southerners in the - in those areas, and Nothern areas, or even not - in non-zone areas - it happens between tribes --
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Guiton, I'd like your reaction to the issue of payment. Is that a good idea, to pay for somebody's freedom?
PHILIPPE GUITON: I think buying the redemption of slaves is not going to help ending slavery and ending the trade -- this horrible trade still going on in the 21st century. I think it's part of a solution, and at that time I think we have to focus on what will be the solution to end slavery into Sudan, which is - and I agree with Mr. Otunnu - which is to focus on finding peace for Sudan, ending the conflict in Sudan. If the conflict ends in Sudan, we will be able to address this issue efficiently, the issue of slavery.
PHIL PONCE: Some people are saying that you can't wait until there's a political settlement to do something about people who find themselves abducted and forced into - forced into mandatory labor. How do you react to that?
PHILIPPE GUITON: I think what should be done is to, I think, what the government has put in place very recently is - started in a good direction, to establish a committee to go investigate and take the people who are practicing the slave trade and doing slavery into court and try them and put them into jail. That may mitigate this effort. I think buying back, introducing money in the slave trade, money from outside the country, is not going to help ending slavery now.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Otunnu, are you optimistic about this special committee that was announced last week to look into the issue of abductions and forced labor?
OLARA OTUNNU: Well, first of all, I'm very glad that the government of Sudan is recognizing and addressing this issue. But, secondly, the composition of the committee is encouraging because it is very broad based, including members of civil society, including associations, including for people from some of the ethnic groups like the Dinkas, who have been among the major victims of this practice, so this is encouraging. But of course, we must wait and see what they do in practice before passing judgment. But in my view, the first line of action is to prosecute those who are responsible under these laws. There should be no impunity. Pressure, political pressure should be brought to bear on all parties in the conflict who are practicing this when there is evidence of abduction of people. But above all, above all, we must mobilize an international movement for peace in the Sudan; we must bring the parties to the conference table and end the conditions of chaos, atrocities and impunity that makes it possible for this practice to flourish in the Sudan.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Ambassador, is your government committed to bringing the power of the law to bear on people who are engaged in this practice?
ELFATIH ERWA: Absolutely, the government is very committed to the issue of peace in Sudan. I think this is the first government in Sudan that realizes the importance of peace and it has - when to put the real solution, which is self-determination for the Southern Sudan, and this self-determination will let the Southern people themselves decide whether they accept unity or separation and having their own state. And I think the last statement by my president, which was said before very recently -- that for Sudan a unity with war, we prefer the peace with separation than unity with war.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Ambassador, I thank you very much. Mr. Otunnu, I thank you, and Mr. Guiton, thank you.