SLAVERY STILL lives in Sudan. The U.S. State Department, as well as international organizations including the British Anti-Slavery Society, the International Labor Organization and Africa Watch, have documented how Arabs have enslaved the African people of southern Sudan, especially in the Nuba Mountains. While this abominable system is obliterating a people, the world community looks on with unfathomable aloofness.

"Traditional slavery . . . survives in modern-day Sudan {and} . . . seems to be on the increase," the International Labor Organization reported last February. In 1990, Africa Watch concluded that there was evidence of kidnapping, hostage-taking and other monetary transactions involving human beings "on a sufficiently serious scale as to represent a resurgence of slavery." And a declassified report from the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum released last May by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) documents how Sudan government troops and armed Arab militias are involved in massacres, kidnapping and the transporting of African Sudanese to Libya. There are credible reports of contemporary slavery from other countries, including Saudi Arabia, Mauritania and Sierra Leone, but the case of Sudan is especially clear-cut.

Ahmed Suliman, the Sudanese ambassador to the United States, accused Wolf of telling "loathsome lies." More recently, a spokesman for the Sudanese Embassy, El Sadiq Abdalla, assured a reporter from Final Call, the Nation of Islam's newspaper, that allegations about Sudanese government troops and militias engaging in murder, rape and slavery were baseless.

At a time when slavery is widely considered a barbarism of the past, reports of contemporary slavery are sometimes hard to accept. But in "The Ideology of Slavery," Paul Lovejoy has identified three salient characteristics of slavery: the use of human beings as property, the denial of humanity and the manipulation of violence. All three features of slavery are prominent in the southern provinces of Sudan today.

As economic commodities, slaves can be bought and sold in the market. Claude Adams, a Christian Science Monitor radio correspondent, recently interviewed the Rev. Bob Knipe, an American Catholic priest who has worked in southern Sudan for the last 12 years. Knipe said that the enslavement of blacks by Arabs was not uncommon. "There's a market for young slaves," Knipe said, "and we're talking about under $100 a head."

In 1987, investigators for the Anti-Slavery Society, a British organization, were offered black children by Arab merchants for the price of 40 Sudanese pounds, less than the cost of an international postage stamp. They estimated that in 1987 alone, Arabs enslaved 7,000 African women and children. However, in the September 1992 issue of the journal Slavery & Abolition, Robert Collins argued that this estimate is conservative, given that the price of a slave boy fell from an average of 60 pounds, Sudanese, at the beginning of 1987, to about 10 pounds by the end of the year.

The U.S. Embassy report, a three-page document sketching what U.S. officials had been able to learn from well-informed sources, says that African women and children are shipped from southern Sudan to the north where they are forced to work on Arab farms and homes; others are exported to Libya. The report also says that the government of Sudan has kidnapped boys up to the age of 13 from African villages in Bahr-el-Ghazal and the Nuba Mountains. Faced with the threat of death, the children are forced to join government militias and to mount further slave raids on other African people.

The second element of slavery, the denial of all forms of human rights and freedoms, is made possible by the current Sudanese civil war. The conflict has sent millions of African civilians fleeing for their lives to the northern part of the country, which is predominantly Arab. Refugees in their own country, they are forced to live in camps in the desert. Most importantly, they are subjects of an Arab-dominated government which seeks to make the Koran the law of the land.

"Credible sources describe different forms of forced Arabization," the U.S. Embassy document stated. "Under a policy sometimes known as the 'marriage of 50,' Arab soldiers are encouraged to wed southern women they capture. Soldiers who have children from these marriages get special premiums." The use of violence is perhaps the most crucial characteristic that distinguishes slavery from other forms of forced labor. Ferocious raids by government forces and militias on African communities have resulted in the enslavement of a large number of black Africans, according to Slavery & Abolition.

The most recent documented attack occurred in March 1993 in the Bahr-el-Gazal province. According to the U.S. Embassy report, between late 1992 and March 1993 the Sudanese government sent 6,000 troops to the area. The troops swept through the area between two towns, Manwal Station and Aweil, burning houses, farmlands and grain stores and stealing cattle and other goods. The five-day operation resulted in the death of 1,000 African civilians and the enslavement of 300 women and children.

These are not isolated incidents. The Anti-Slavery Society reported that in January 1986, government soldiers raided the Dinka villages at Maryal Bay in southwestern Sudan; 612 Africans were killed and 7,000 women and children were enslaved. In 1987 government soldiers attacked a small town called Diein. Fifteen hundred Africans died and many others were captured and forced into slavery, according to two linguistics professors who were working in the area. Ushari Mahmud and Sulayman Baldo, two members of the Sudan Human Rights Organization, wrote an account of the raid and circulated it among human rights organizations. It eventually reached Britain. By then Mahmud and Baldo had been arrested. They were held for six years before being released last summer.

While denying human rights abuses, the government of Sudan defends its policies of Islamization as legitimate means of building the Sudanese nation. Gen. Omar Hassan el Beshir, the country's current military leader, maintains that "Arabism without Islam will degenerate into tribalism." According to the July 1990 issue of New African magazine, el Beshir "is reputed to have a number of Dinka and Nuer slaves in his own home, from the time he was military commander in Muglad, southwest Sudan."

In the 20th century, the world has ignored the enslavement of black Africans in the Sudan. The British government, which colonized the Sudan between 1898 and 1956, tolerated Arab slavery of Africans as long as it was discreet. Under the disastrous "Southern Policy," British rule in the Sudan between 1930 to 1946 left the African south as an underdeveloped slave preserve for the Arab north. As reports of slavery reached England, public outcry forced the British Home Office to direct senior British officers to discourage slavery. The officers were more interested in preserving their colonial alliance with Egypt. Rather than provoke conflict with their local allies, they simply camouflaged slavery, describing slaves as "servants."

In recent times, the U.N. has confined its role to one of dispassionately documenting slavery. It has failed to speak out and act zealously against those countries that support and perpetuate slavery of Africans. The U.S. government has downplayed the issue of slavery in the Sudan. What is clearly slavery, in all its manifestations, is mildly referred to as "forced labor" and is portrayed as an outcome of the ongoing civil war in the Sudan. In the popular media, the issue of slavery is either ignored or relegated to a footnote on the civil war and famine. Even in the African-American community in the United States, where vivid accounts of Western slavery are imprinted in the minds of black people, little, if anything, is known of contemporary slavery in Sudan and elsewhere. It's time for stronger, principled action. The U.S. representative to the U.N. should put on the table a Security Council resolution to lead an "Operation Stamp Out Slavery" in the Sudan. Such an operation would consist of creating and enforcing a U.N. anti-slavery demarcation line along the border between Arab territories and African territories in the Sudan. It would entail disarming the government militias and other armed groups engaged in the enslavement of Africans. All Africans held as slaves must be released and paid full compensation. The U.N. should then establish "safe havens" for the provision of resettlement, relief and rehabilitation services to African Sudanese and for those in Arab territories who are vulnerable to enslavement.

The U.N. should also lay the groundwork for governance mechanisms that will protect African Sudanese from future enslavement. These would include providing a forum for the African Sudanese to deliberate on the system of governance appropriate for them, and overseeing a referendum on self-determination.

As anti-slavery activist C. W. W. Greenidge observed in her book, "Slavery," "The battle against slavery cannot be fought in a vacuum. Unless people can be found sufficiently courageous to say that slavery exists wherever it does exist, the struggle might as well be abandoned." Knowing that slavery exists in the world today, we must be bold enough to confront it and stamp it out.

Augustine Lado, an assistant professor of management at Cleveland State University and native of Sudan, is president of Pax Sudani, a human rights organization. Betty Hinds is a freelance writer.