November 9, 2004

Jacobs Speaks on Modern Slavery, Genocide in Sudan

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Yesterday, in McGraw Hall, Dr. Charles Jacobs, president and co-founder of the American Anti-Slavery Group and Director of the Sudan Campaign, spoke about modern day slavery in Sudan and the unwillingness of the United Nations and human rights organizations to combat genocide internationally.

During his visit, sponsored by Amnesty International, STARS, the Dean of Students Office, the Jewish Student Union and the Student Assembly Finance Commission, Jacobs criticized Western countries for not helping the victims in Sudan.

“Genocide is unfolding in Sudan as the world watches –aware but largely inactive,” he said.

Jacobs condemned the U.N. for allowing the massacre in Sudan to occur. He said U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has relied on “empty threats” instead of action. In 2003, a draft resolution to label Sudan abuses as “an offense to all Muslim countries” was squashed by Pakistan. Last year, Jacobs protested at the Harvard Commencement where Annan was slated to speak, bearing signs such as “Kofi, go to Sudan, not to Harvard.”

Jacobs also criticized human rights establishments for failing to castigate the U.N. for their inaction. He cited the international division of Amnesty International in particular, for its refusal to add slavery to its mission statement. Jacobs believes that although human rights organizations are largely controlled by “decent white people who are very adamant [to act] when they see evil done by people like them,” they do not know how to react when the oppressors are of a different ethnicity.

“When whites see non-Westerners doing evil, they choke,” he said.

He also believes that human rights groups have failed to act because they do not want to be labeled as Anti-Arab. In addition, Jacobs thinks that many organizations believe in Edward Said’s theory that no Western scholars have the right to be critical of Arab countries.

Sudan, the largest country in Africa, encompasses a predominately Arab-Islamic north and a black African south of mixed faiths. A radical Islamic front imposed strict Sharia Law on the country in the 1980’s, as slave raids began common against black Sudanese in the south. Declaring a jihad, a holy war, in 1989, the movement attempted to convert the southern Sudanese to Islam by storming villages and capturing people as slaves. Over two million people have died in southern Sudan as a result of violence from radical Islamists.

In 2002, Jacobs’ organization was instrumental in establishing the Sudan Peace Act, signed by President Bush, which formally condemned Sudan for genocide. Although moderate progress has been made towards peace in the South, increasing violence has also mounted in the country’s western Darfur region. Jacobs compares this massacre to that of Rwanda and estimates that approximately 1,000 Sudanese are murdered here every week.

“[Genocide in Sudan] is right here,” he said. “It’s more evident on the pages of the New York Times than the Holocaust even was. We know it, everyone knows it.”

While working as a management consultant in Boston in 1993, Jacobs first learned of the horrors of contemporary slavery. A year later, he co-founded the American Anti-Slavery Group, one of the country’s leading human rights organizations dedicated to abolishing slavery worldwide. Jacobs has written articles that appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, the New York Times and The New Yorker. He has also testified before Congress and has met with former Secretary of State Madeline Albright. In 1999, Jacobs was awarded the Boston Freedom award for his work helping to liberate Sudanese slaves.

Jacobs encouraged students to combat genocide in Sudan through grass roots efforts, such as raising awareness through self-education, writing to elected officials, raising funds and organizing events. He also stressed the importance of mobilization, such as taking part in protests and signing petitions. Amnesty International Co-President Jamie Richard ’05 expressed her agreement with Jacobs’ statements about the unwillingness of the stop genocide in Sudan. However, she felt that he failed to distinguish between radicalism and mainstream Islam.

Sudan’s oppressors represent only a minority of radical Islamic people, not the majority, a fact that Richard felt Jacobs did not stress.

“[Mainstream] Islam doesn’t support killing, rape and pillage,” she said.

Richard also wished Jacobs had given more credit to Amnesty and other human rights organizations for their work abroad.

“[Amnesty] doesn’t have a military,” she said. “It does as much as it can with no military force.”

Sima Greenbaum ’08, a member of the Seminar in Genocide Class (HIST 218) who attended the lecture, also thought that Jacobs presented the situation in Sudan well. However, because Jacobs’ visit to campus was sponsored by Amnesty, Greenbaum felt that he was unable to express his true feelings about the organization.

“I would have preferred a freer discussion forum,” Greenbaum said. “It was clear Jacobs was holding back.”

Archived article by Olivia Oran
Sun Staff Writer