Anti-Slavery Boycott Hits Amoco

NEW YORK — Advocates of persecuted racial and religious minorities in Sudan have announced that they will boycott Amoco gasoline.

Human rights groups, led by the Boston-based American Anti-Slavery Group, are targeting BP Amoco because it agreed to buy a 20% stake in PetroChina, China's largest oil and gas producer, which operates in Sudan.

Amoco has defended the move, saying it will encourage PetroChina to adopt “progressive policies which meet international standards.” It did not comment on the boycott by press time.

At an April 8 rally outside the United Nations in New York, human rights advocates claimed that the company will profit from a situation in which some 2 million people have been killed and others enslaved or forced off their land in a 17-year Sudanese civil war.

The Anti-Slavery Group, which has a chapter in New York, joined with other human rights, labor and environmental-ist groups to persuade several pension funds not to invest in PetroChina.

The group, headed by Charles Jacobs, believes consumers’ dollars ultimately will aid the Khartoum government responsible for the abuses in Sudan. It has also called for Talisman Energy of Canada to withdraw from Sudan.

In Sudan's war, the fundamental-ist Islamic government wants to wipe out other cultures and religions, said Samuel Cotton of New York, author of Silent Terror: A Journey Into Contemporary African Slavery. Troops are told that they are waging a jihad, or holy war, he said; slavery is used as a political tool and a form of payment for loyal troops.

Many of the slaves have been women, who have been raped by their masters, he said. Boys are routinely captured and taken to “peace camps,” where they are forcibly indoctrinated into Islam.

Curtis Sliwa, an ABC Radio talk show host and leader of the Guardian Angels in New York, pointed out that a debate is raging in South Carolina over the flying of the Confederate flag, which he called a symbol of slavery, while ongoing slavery in Africa is largely ignored.

Officials of the Diocese of El Obeid, Sudan, said in an April 3 statement that Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir's regime “may be mounting its most significant attempt yet” to clear populations from lands in the south where oil could be drilled. It reported that government forces are continuing to encroach on civilian targets, including schools and hospitals and a relief center run by Concern Worldwide.

A Feb. 8 air attack on Holy Cross Catholic School in Kauda left 20 people dead, mostly children. The Register is the only Western newspaper to have carried a first-person account of the devastation there, by senior writer Gabriel Meyer, who visited the site.

In a recent statement, El Obeid Bishop Max Macram Max Gassis said, “They want to clear [the region] once and for all. All this is because of the oil.” He is based in Nairobi, Kenya, and restricted from entering Sudan.

Demonstrators at the United Nations held signs reading “Free the Slaves Now” and “Stop the Oppression and Persecution in Sudan” and calling for action by the United Nations and the U.S. government.

“When Clinton visited Africa about two years ago, he promised that what took place in Rwanda would not be allowed to happen again,” said speaker Sabit Alley, a coordinator of a South Sudanese community in New Jersey. “We challenge the president to make true his promise of ‘never again.’”

The White House did not return phone calls for comment.

Demonstrators included high school and college students and 10 members of a Westchester County, N.Y., parish. “I came to bring more awareness to the public about this issue,” said Dorothy Pantano of St. Joseph's in Croton Falls, whose pastor also participated in the rally.

The parish started a “Southern Sudan Connection” ministry after learning of the plight of Sudanese from a visiting priest. Father Akio Johnson Mutek returned to Sudan in 1996 and become bishop of Torit. St. Joseph's sends medical, school and athletic supplies to the diocese, which St. Joseph's considers a “sister parish.”

Organizers are planning a march from New York's Central Park to the United Nations in September.

John Burger is based in New York.