In 1995, as Research Director of the American Anti-Slavery Group, I co-authored a New York Times op-ed with Mohammed Athie, an African Muslim refugee, that first brought broad national attention to the plight of black chattel slaves in North Africa. In Sudan, for decades, as part of a war waged by the Arab north against the black, mostly Christian south, militia armed by Khartoum stormed African villages, killed the men and captured the women and the children. These served their masters as goat-herds, domestic servants, and sex-slaves. In Mauritania, Arab Berbers who had conquered the area centuries before had always kept African slaves, even though these were Muslims. As our Times piece explained, Western rights groups had thoroughly documented human bondage in these two countries, but did next to nothing to marshal their constituencies to act. No one was trying to free the slaves.
As interest in the issue grew, especially in the black press, Mohammed and I were invited on PBS’s Tony Brown’s Journal, a popular news show where we described our experience and research. We cited reports on current day slavery from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the State Department in Sudan, Mauritania, and Libya.
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