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Slavery - the sadistic trade

By Harry Throssell - posted Friday, 27 April 2007

This a horror story, have your favourite tranquilliser handy.

It’s ironic that as we celebrate William Wilberforce’s campaign to end slavery by Britain 200 years ago there are now 27 million slaves worldwide, more than at any time in history, including some in Australia.

Caroline Cox, former deputy speaker of the British House of Lords, and human rights campaigner John Marks recount details of modern slavery in This Immoral Trade, paying particular attention to Uganda, Sudan and Burma. The confronting stories raise questions about why the United Nations and countries wealthy enough to wage expensive wars seem powerless to control these excesses of human cruelty.


Northern Uganda has been subject to the relentless campaign of the Lord’s Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony since 1987. Olara Otunnu, United Nations Under-Secretary-General, delivering the 2005 Sydney Peace Prize Lecture, said this humanitarian catastrophe “is a methodical and comprehensive genocide, conceived and carried out by the government. An entire society is being systematically destroyed - physically, culturally, emotionally, socially and economically - in full view of the international community”.

Villages have been systematically sacked, property destroyed, people slaughtered, over a million herded into densely overcrowded concentration camps lacking water, sanitation, food, health care, education, with a death rate of 1,000 a week.

Most horrifying is the LRA’s systematic abduction of 20,000 to 40,000 children who are brutalised, terrorised, and forced to abduct and maltreat other children, including their own people.

“Florence”, 15, was fed little for 10 days while having to carry food on her head, given a gun, trained as the soldier “wife” of an LRA commander, and was going on missions to take other children.

She later reported “I became wild, I didn’t care about killing and I possibly became worse than them. If I had met my mother and father I would have killed them. I acted like someone who is deranged. I don’t know how many people I have killed.” However, despite all the brainwashing she wanted to escape and did so during an operation. Her parents and four abducted siblings are dead.

A girl of 15 was with the LRA for 19 months. She became the “wife” of two commanders, drank blood as part of her training, was taught to kill by knife or beating and used these methods on other prisoners. One day when the food she was cooking burned she was beaten unconscious. Eventually she escaped but has been afflicted with nightmares since.


In Sudan an old tradition of slavery re-emerged following independence and in the 1980s and 1990s Arabs again set about capturing Africans. Following raids on communities, young women became concubines, young boys - killers, older women - domestic servants, and older men and women were often killed. In one raid 82 men died and 282 women and children became slaves.

One woman, 26, captured in 1995, reported government soldiers killed her husband and gouged out one of her eyes before tying her to a horse. She was not fed and thorns cut her bare feet. “I was taken to stay with a slave owner and his two wives who beat me if I refused to do anything and had to work whenever they told me. For three years the owner forced me to have sex with him whenever he wanted. If I tried to refuse, he would beat me. I have an eight-month-old baby from him.”

A 42-year-old man had his home destroyed three times, his livestock repeatedly stolen, his daughter, then ten-years-old, taken away. On a later raid his sons, aged ten, eight and five were taken. Later again his wife was beaten, two children, 15 and eight, killed. The father was chained to other captives, attached to a horse, and beaten regularly.

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About the Author

Harry Throssell originally trained in social work in UK, taught at the University of Queensland for a decade in the 1960s and 70s, and since then has worked as a journalist. His blog Journospeak, can be found here.

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