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National Geographic Slave to Bias


National Geographic’s September 2003 article by Andrew Cockburn entitled “21st Century Slaves” fails to mention the world’s leading human-rights and slave-trafficking offender, Sudan, while unfairly highlighting with a double-page photograph Israel’s relatively insignificant prostitution rings.

Though forced prostitution in Israel is a grave problem, its scale compared to the extensive abuses elsewhere hardly merits the attention National Geographic gives it. By contrast, the omission of Sudan, a country that has enslaved and exploited an entire people in its southern region, is inexplicable.

Why Israel and Not Sudan?: Background

Since 1983, Sudan’s extremist Islamic government has killed over two million people and displaced over four million in fighting and slave raids conducted on a vast scale. In the course of enslaving the southern Dinka, Sudan has committed terrible acts of brutality. This year, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture cited the following Sudanese barbarities to the U.N.’s Commission on Human Rights: “cross amputation (i.e., the amputation of the right hand and left foot), death by hanging with crucifixion, and death by stoning.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports on its Web site that in 1999, despite a newly announced Sudanese policy “prosecut(ing) abductors and urg(ing) the population to report cases of slavery,” no such action was taken. Similar policies reiterated by the government in 2001 have also brought none to trial.Why has Cockburn neither discussed Sudan in his article nor highlighted the egregious situation there in pictures?

Unlike the other countries discussed in the article, with the exception of the United States, Israel has significant anti-prostitution legislation it enforces. (These laws were tightened in 2001 and 2002). In accordance with a bill passed Feb. 7, 2002, convicted traffickers of women must serve a minimum jail term of two-and-a-half to four years. The bill, as described in a Jerusalem Post article the following day, applies to such crimes “committed here [in Israel] or abroad.” The law further states:

The Justice Ministry's legal aid department will represent the women. The department will look after their interests during the process of administrative detention and deportation and will help them press civil suits against their procurers ...According to the police, 60 suspects were arrested in 2001 on allegations of trafficking in women. (emphasis added, “Knesset panel sets minimum sentence for trafficking in women,” Feb. 8, 2002)

Cockburn, unfortunately, makes no distinction between Israel’s intensified efforts to halt trafficking in women, and the rampant forced prostitution and inherited slavery that plague much of the world. By what criteria has National Geographic singled out Israel and omitted Sudan?

It should be noted that Andrew Cockburn also authored a severely distorted and erroneous article for National   Geographic in the October 2002 issue (“Lines in the Sand: Deadly Times in the West Bank and Gaza”). The publication afterwards stated it had received an enormous outpouring of complaint, but it did not correct errors made in that article or clarify any of the deceptive assertions.


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