American leads eminent persons group to study slavery in Sudan

Originally published
By Jim Fisher-Thompson, Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - A fact-finding mission brokered by the United States to study obstacles to the settlement of the 19-year-long civil war in Sudan, left April 8 determined to find out what needs to be done "to eliminate the practices of slavery, abduction and forced servitude in the country," said mission leader Penn Kemble.

Speaking just hours before he departed on the 10-day visit to Sudan, Kemble told the Washington File, "Of course the government of Sudan does not accept the characterization that slavery does exist in Sudan but it does acknowledge there are abductions and forced servitude."

Kemble, senior scholar at the human rights organization, Freedom House, is also a former acting director of the U.S. Information Agency (USIA); now a part of the State Department. The eight-person Eminent Persons Group, which he leads, is an outgrowth of an agreement brokered by the U.S. Special Envoy for Peace in Sudan, former Senator John Danforth, in December 2001.

The other American in the group is Ambassador George Moose, a former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. Stressing "This is not a U.S. governmental mission," Kemble said "Moose is currently on sabbatical and is traveling with us without [State Department] instructions." The other six members making up the study team come from Britain, Italy, France and Norway.

Kemble said, "the mission of this group is to develop some practical ideas" about what can be done to end those practices that have proven to be impediments at any lasting peace accord in Sudan's long civil war. After visiting northern and southern Sudan, he said, "We should have our report ready for Secretary [Colin] Powell at the end of our second trip which should be in mid-May."

Asked if he planned to meet with rebel leader John Garang, who heads the southern-based Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) battling the regime of President Omar al-Bashir, Kemble said, "I don't know that we'll meet with John Garang...we're more interested in getting out into the areas where these problems are reported to exist and to interview people who have a knowledge of what is going on."

Kemble, who said he has no background in Sudan, added, "I have long background in human rights and I think the problem of setting up a system that monitors human rights practices and that establishes some accountability for some appropriate authorities is one of the things we'll be looking at."

He added, "It's not our place to set up such a system but to advise the people there on how it can be done. We have worked in these areas before and we may be able to provide some useful suggestions."

As a human rights expert, Kemble said Sudan's conflict "is one of the most tragic in Africa. Over the last 20 years or so it has cost millions of lives both through war and famine, making it one of the largest recipients of foreign assistance from the United States."

He added that "if there is some prospect of resolving the range of issues and helping the Sudanese establish a just peace, this [mission] could be something of tremendous value and contribute to the normalization of the situation elsewhere in the region."

The United States is the single largest donor of aid to Sudan having provided over $1,500 million in humanitarian and development assistance during the past 12 years, mainly to rebel-controlled areas in the southern part of the country.

The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: