Sudan + 1 more

United Nations meets on global slavery

An estimated 27 million women, children and men are forced into slavery around the world. Poverty, vulnerability and lack of political will contribute to its continuation.
From 27-31 May, the United Nations Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery meets in Geneva, Switzerland.

Anti-Slavery International, the world's oldest international human rights organisation, is calling on governments to end slavery and provides recommendations for action. It is reporting on:

Bonded labour in Pakistan (see below) where many women, children and men are forced to work for no wages. Poverty and starvation in Sindh Province force communities to accept landlords' cash advances. Many work from dawn until dusk and receive no wages. A recent court ruling undermines existing protection.

Child domestic work and its relationship to sexual exploitation: Millions of girls around the world work as domestics. They are denied freedom and education, and are vulnerable to physical and verbal abuse. Sexual abuse combined with working in conditions of servitude forces many into sex work.

Child trafficking to the United Arab Emirates: It is estimated hundreds of boys, aged between four and 10, are trafficked from South Asia to the UAE and other Gulf States each year to be camel jockeys. Camel racing is dangerous and can cause serious injury and even death. In the UAE it is illegal to employ a child under 15.

Forced labour and slavery in Sudan (see below): Between 5,000 and 14,000 people have been abducted in Sudan since 1983. The Government is failing to take adequate steps to end raiding and slavery.

Forced labour in Brazil: More than 1,000 people were rescued from forced labour in 2001 by the Special Group for Mobile Inspection. However, many more remain enslaved on Amazonian estates and landlords are not being punished.

Forced labour in Mauritania: Slavery was abolished in 1981, but there has been little action to secure the slaves' release or punish those who use slaves.

Notes to editors:

To arrange an interview contact Beth Herzfeld, Anti-Slavery Press Officer, on 020 7501 8934 or email



United Nations Commission on Human Rights
Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights
Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery
27th Session
Geneva, 27-31 May 2002

Bonded agricultural labourers in lower Sindh Province - Pakistan

For the past three years, information has been submitted to this Working Group on the plight of bonded labourers in Pakistan. During this time there has been no substantive improvement in the position of bonded labourers and in Sindh Province the situation has seriously deteriorated as a result of the recent High Court ruling.

According to research carried out for the Government of Sindh and the Asian Development Bank 1 there are some 1.7 million landless agricultural workers (haris) and sharecroppers in five districts of Sindh Province (Thatta, Dadu, Badin, Mirpurkhas and Umerkot). The report notes that most of these people are in debt bondage.

While bonded labour exists throughout Sindh Province, the majority of those bonded in the north belong to the Muslim majority, while most of the bonded agricultural labourers in southern Sindh Province belong to dalit 2 (untouchable) and to tribal communities who have migrated from the drought-prone area of Tharparkar desert. Poverty and starvation have forced these communities to accept the landlords' cash advances, and to be available for work from dawn to dusk. Bonded labourers may be detained or guarded to stop them escaping and in these situations of total ownership rape of women is not uncommon.

Many bonded labourers work for no wages, and food and clothing provided are added to their debt along with interest payments on the loan, thus increasing the debt on a daily basis. Most are forced to provide begar, a form of forced, unpaid labour, on top of the tasks assigned against the debt. Trafficking in bonded labourers who are unable to pay their debts is a common practice among landlords. Bonded labourers are sold by one landlord to another, usually for a price higher than the debt they had with their previous landlord thereby increasing the bonded labourer's debt.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Special Task Force on Sindh has worked successfully for the release of some 15,000 men, women and children who were being held as bonded labourers, some of whom have been bonded to the same landlords for three generations. Temporary shelter has been provided to them in seven camps around Hyderabad City. Living conditions in the camps are totally inadequate, but neither the government nor any other agency has offered to provide any support. These families remain vulnerable to reprisals, including threats and kidnapping, from their former landlords. The kidnapping and disappearance of the family of Munoo Bheel on 4 May 1988 is a case in point. Their former landlord, Abdur Rehman Murri and six other men were identified by witnesses as being responsible for abducting the family and the case was registered with the local police (official reference FIR No.35, 1988). Despite this the authorities have not taken action to locate and free the Munoo family or to bring the perpetrators to justice. 3

In theory, all bonded labourers should have been freed under the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1992 and those responsible for keeping them in bondage should have been prosecuted. However, in practice the political and financial strength of the landlords in Sindh Province allows them to continue using bonded labourers with impunity. Some landlords have even successfully filed charges against bonded labourers with the police, leading to the imprisonment of some 40 haris.

The High Court of Sindh (Circuit Bench at Hyderabad) Judgement, 9 January 2002

The situation of bonded labourers in Sindh deteriorated still further on 9 January 2002 when the High Court of Sindh dismissed 94 petitions for the release of bonded labourers declaring that they were disputes between landlords and haris over debts and should be settled under the Sindh Tenancy Act 1950.

The HRCP has outlined a number of inconsistencies in this judgement in a petition for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court (No. K 343 of 2002) which are highlighted below.

On 19 October 2001, the High Court decided to consider all of the petitions together, this included the 94 cases filed by HRCP and cases filed by landlords against bonded labourers. It did not consider the facts and circumstances relating to each case before it and the Court reserved judgement without giving the HRCP or its Counsel the opportunity to address the Court.

On 10 January 2002, the High Court declared its judgement. It dismissed all of the 94 cases filed for the release of bonded labourers along with cases filed by the landlords. The court remarked that "living beyond ones means and being in a state of continuous debt has become the main reason for such disputes and the resultant emergence of petitions." It declared that the cases were disputes between landlords and haris over debts and should be settled under the Sindh Tenancy Act 1950. However, the Court made no reference to the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1992 which should take precedence in this matter and would require the loans to be nullified and the bonded labourers to be freed.

The Court also referred to other Court judgements to support its findings, but in all the cases it referred to the bonded labourers and haris were ordered to be released. Indeed one of the judgements that the High Court of Sindh refers to support its findings (a case decided by the Lahore High Court - Lahore 428) the judgement specifically refers to the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1992, indicating the 1992 Act's importance in reaching the decision to release the bonded labourers.

The Court also stated that "all applications centered around Mirpurkhas, Sanghar and Umerkot. In no other areas of Sindh such applications were made." This is not the case as large numbers of bonded laborers from other districts of Sindh (e.g. Thatta, Hyderabad, Badin, Tharparkar and Nawabshah) have filed cases with the Sindh High Court and many of them were released by the Hyderabad Court itself.

The ruling also states that cases of this nature should be settled by mukhtiarkars. These officials are responsible for keeping the records of tenants and tenancies. However, they are not authorised to settle cases under the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1992 and they do not appear willing to confront local landlords, as witnessed by the fact that proper records have not been maintained. The HRCP is not aware that any of the haris in the petition were registered under Section 9 of the Sindh Tenancy Act 1950 as is required.

Since this judgement was announced, new petitions for the release of bonded labourers filed in the Sindh High Court have been rejected. The ruling effectively negates the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1992. If this Court's view is upheld by the Supreme Court of Pakistan it would completely undermine the Government of Pakistan's proposals to abolish bonded labour as outlined in the National Policy and Plan of Action for the Abolition of Bonded Labour and Rehabilitation of Freed Bonded Labourers.


The Government of Pakistan should make clear that the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1992 should take precedence over the Sindh Tenancy Act 1950 whenever there appears to be a conflict in the interpretation of the law. It should also consider whether the relevant sections of the Sindh Tenancy Act 1950 need to be repealed.

We call on the Government to acknowledge the scale of the problem of bonded labour as outlined in the research for the Government of Sindh and the Asian Development Bank. We also urge the Government to give priority to fully implementing its National Plan of Action and in this context to pay particular attention to initiating prosecutions and establishing independent mechanisms for the registration and liberation of bonded labourers.


1 Final Report - Sindh Rural Development Project (TA3132-Pak), prepared by Agrodev Canada Inc. for Planning and Development - the Government of Sindh and the Asian Development Bank, October 2000.

2 "Untouchable" according to Indian, Hindu religious tradition.

3 See Anti-Slavery's submission to the Working Groups 25th Session (June 2000), Debt bondage in India, Nepal and Pakistan.


United Nations Commission on Human Rights
Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights
Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery
27th Session
Geneva, 27-31 May 2002

Forced labour and slavery of women and children in Sudan

Slavery, otherwise referred to as abductions and forced labour, remains a reality in Sudan with thousands of people awaiting release and new abductions still taking place.

In a communication from the Committee for the Eradication of Abduction of Women and Children (CEAWC) Chairman to Anti-Slavery on 30 August 2001, it was noted that the number of abductees documented by CEAWC remained at only 1,200. This figure represents only a small percentage of the total number waiting to be released, which is generally considered to be between 5,000 and 14,000.1 It also indicates that CEAWC has not make any significant progress during 2001 in terms of identifying and releasing victims of abduction and forced labour.

Furthermore, in October and November 2001, NGOs in Sudan reported that new raids had again occurred into North Bahr El Ghaza and that women and children were missing as a result. On 28 March 2002, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Sudan, Gerhart Baum, noted "I continue to receive cases of raids followed by abductions..." The Special Rapporteur supported the idea of permanent monitoring in Bahr El Ghazal as a measure to stop "this heinous practice which, as of yet, is still going on."

This information confirms fears that the Government has not taken adequate steps to end raiding and slavery.

However, in January 2002, the Sudanese Government issued Decree 14/2002 which included measures aimed at strengthening CEAWC, including putting CEAWC directly under the supervision of the President's Office, providing it with full-time chairmanship and appropriate resources. The former head of the CEAWC, Dr Ahmed El-Mufti, was reappointed as head the CEAWC.

According to information provided to the UN Special Rapporteur, CEAWC is intending to accomplish its mandate and deliver concrete results in a one year timeframe. Two reconciliation conferences have been arranged in Kordofan and Darfur to resolve the issue of abductions in a traditional manner. Legal proceedings are foreseen only as a last resort measure upon completion of a one year period.

This does not appear to be a major policy departure for CEAWC which has not pursued its mandate by prosecutions. Anti-Slavery believes that it is time that the Government took urgent steps to end the de facto amnesty for those responsible for abductions or for holding victims of abduction.

Clear condemnation is needed, not only of abductions, kidnapping and forced labour, but also of "false adoption", debt bondage, employing children away from home and without the consent of their parents or guardian, and coercing or persuading girls or women into marriage while keeping them ignorant of their own origins or their rights.

The Government should also introduce or amend legislation to ensure that all these practices are prohibited and that the penalties are commensurate with the human rights violations committed. While the Government rightly points out that under Article 162 of the Criminal Code abduction is punishable by 10 years' imprisonment, the penalty for the exaction of forced labour is currently only one year of imprisonment. There must be adequate penalties against the use of forced labour which are strictly enforced, a failure to do so will have the effect of encouraging more abductions.

Statements by President al Bashir dismissing reports of slavery in Sudan as "mere media propaganda" (January 2002) and Dr El-Mufti describing slavery in Sudan as "an unfounded allegation" (April 2002) have the unfortunate effect of indicating that the Government does not regard the practice of abductions and forced labour as a serious problem in Sudan, let alone a priority for action.

Linked to this, was the arrest on 15 January 2002 of Nhial Bol, the managing editor for the independent daily newspaper, Khartoum Monitor. Bol was subsequently convicted for the "propagation of false news" and sentenced to six months imprisonment unless he paid a fine of five million Sudanese pounds (US$1,933). Bol was released on 17 January after colleagues from Khartoum Monitor paid the fine. The Khartoum Monitor itself has been fined 15 million Sudanese pounds (US$ 5,799) with the threat of asset seizure if the fine is not paid.

The article concerned accused the Government of facilitating slavery by not preventing raiders, who it said were enslaving women and children in the south, from travelling on government-owned trains. The fact that the armed train running between Wau and Babanusa has been used by government supported militia to carry out raids and abductions over a number of years is a matter of public record. For example, in April 2002 United Nations resolution on the situation of human rights in Sudan (E/CN.4/2002/L.27) called on the Government of Sudan "to take further measures to eradicate the practice (of abductions), in particular those cases connected with the passage of the government train through Bahr al Ghazal".

Consequently, Anti-Slavery is shocked by this journalist's arrest and conviction for publishing information which is already in the public domain and well known to the authorities. The punishment of Nhial Bol and Khartoum Monitor is a clear infringement of the right to freedom of expression and indicates that the Government is more interested in prosecuting those who express concern over the practice of slavery than those who are responsible for the abductions themselves.

In the same month that Bol was being prosecuted, the Sudanese Government agreed with US Senator John Danforth that the issue of "slavery, abductions and forced servitude" should be one of four main issues that should be the subject of "confidence building" measures in Sudan in advance of any peace negotiations.

The US initiative to investigate slavery, abductions and forced servitude will see the deployment of a technical team to support field visits conducted by monitoring commissioners. On 8 April 2002, a US-led international commission of inquiry arrived in Khartoum to begin the investigation.

The Sudanese Government's support for these US initiatives is to be welcomed as is its commitment to strengthening and supporting the work of CEAWC. However, it should be stressed that, up till now, CEAWC has not been part of a systematic policy to prevent further incidences of abduction taking place or to ensure the prosecution of those responsible for these human rights violations. Anti-Slavery International therefore recommends that the Government of Sudan:

1. Publicly state that abductions and all associated practices are illegal, make the appropriate legislative amendments and effectively enforce the law. Priority should be given to prosecuting all those responsible for new abductions.

2. Provide the Working Group with detailed information on measures taken to prevent further abductions and details of the number of people charged and prosecuted, with the sentences given, for carrying out abductions and exacting forced labour.

3. Ensure that abducted women who have subsequently married are given full information about their options in a neutral setting, enabling them to decide freely to remain with their husbands or to leave. In the case of children who have been absorbed into households, the best interests of the child should be principal criterion for deciding what should happened to them.

4. Provide CEAWC with the appropriate funding, resources, staff and political support to ensure that it can carry out its work effectively.


1 There is no official figure regarding the number of people enslaved since 1983. However, the Dinka Committee estimates that around 14,000 Dinka have been abducted in total, of whom 8,000 were taken to West Kordofan and 6,000 to South Darfur. In early 2000, a UNICEF representative was reported to have estimated that between 5,000 and 10,000 children were believed to remain in captivity.