Human rights activist Simon Deng discussed the devastating effects of child slavery in Sudan at a lecture Tuesday.
As a child in southern Sudan, Deng said he was abducted and given away to an Arab family as a “gift.” He added that in Sudan, a human can be sold for $10.
“I am not ashamed to speak about what I went through as a child,” he said. “It is very painful, but I talk about it now so we do not turn a blind eye to slavery.”
As a slave, Deng said his master told him he must “convert to Islam, take an Arab name and become their son” in order to be treated humanely by his captors.
“How could I give away my identity?” Deng said. “Freedom is a God-given right to every human being, which I didn’t know then. Today, I know.”
Deng said the United Nations has “denounced the facts” of slavery in Sudan out of fear of receiving accusations of Islamophobia. He added that the UN — which he called the “United Do-Nothing Nations” — wrongly condemns the state of Israel, while ignoring the “slaughter, abduction and displacement” of millions of Sudanese people.
Deng also rejected the idea that Israel is an apartheid state, labeling this claim an “insult” to black Africans who have suffered under apartheid.
“I have become a friend to the state of Israel,” he said. “I have become the voice for those who have no voice, for those whom I’ve left behind in Sudan who are still being brought into slavery.”
Deng has also collaborated with the Israeli government to bring southern Sudanese refugees to safety in Israel. He said peace must come to the Middle East in the midst of conflict, calling peace is “the only way for us to live together.”
Cornellians have the capacity to be advocates for Sudanese human rights issues, even from a distance, Deng said.
“As long as you are a student, you have a power,” he said. “You have a power of your pen. Don’t turn a blind eye. Stand up for something.”
This lecture was sponsored by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America and Zionist Organization of America.
Initially published at the Cornell Daily Sun, the newspaper of Cornell University