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Covid-19 and modern slavery in Sudan

Project exploring the impact of Covid-19 on modern slavery in Sudan - a country in transition.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Sudan was in the midst of a democratic transition, involving the reconstruction of state institutions, development of new laws and a commitment to ensuring the protection of human rights. The Sudanese Government demonstrated the political will to address modern slavery and improve the country's rating in the US State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report, which placed it on ‘Tier 2 Watch list’, marking it as a state not meeting minimum standards, but making an effort to do so.

Yet, despite the commitment, these activities faced the obstacles of economic strain, limited resources and the ongoing need to prioritise peace and stability in the country. Covid-19 exacerbated these obstacles and presented substantial new challenges to improving its anti-slavery response. However, the specific impact of the pandemic on modern slavery in Sudan remains unknown.

A research team from the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham, in collaboration Royal United Services Institute, an independent think tank on international defence and security, Global Partners Governance, a social purpose company devoted to strengthening political institutions that is currently working to deliver modern slavery programming in Sudan, and Waging Peace, a London-based NGO campaigning against human rights abuses in Sudan, completed research to analyse the impact of Covid-19 on modern slavery in Sudan.

The research analysed different aspects of this impact, considering local, regional, and international developments, including on the dynamics and manifestations of modern slavery in Sudan; particularly in key trafficking routes in Darfur, South Kordofan, and the Blue Nile.

It also looked at structural, community, and personal factors that underpin people’s vulnerability to modern slavery, the development and implementation of anti-slavery policies and how they were adapted to challenges presented by the pandemic, and what measures should be adopted to improve the response during and after the pandemic.

The project combined three layers of research and analysis: a comprehensive review of existing and emerging evidence, in-depth interviews with key actors in policy and practice in Sudan and internationally, and a supplementary survey of key stakeholders.

This formed the foundation for the development of guidance for effective policy and practice to address modern slavery in Sudan during and after the pandemic, built-in collaboration with UK-based Sudanese survivors. Focus group discussion with survivors ensured the voice of affected communities shapes policy and practice guidance and responds to their specific needs and interests. This approach positioned survivors as co-creators rather than subjects of the research.

The research is embedded in a longer-term process of political transition in Sudan, providing an opportunity to significantly influence Sudanese anti-slavery policies into the future and to support greater stability and human rights protections in Sudan and in the region more broadly.

This project was funded as part of the Modern Slavery PEC call for research on the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on modern slavery.

Project team: Project lead: Dr Katarina Schwarz, Dr Ana Valverde Cano, Rights Lab, University of Nottingham; Keith Ditcham, Michael Jones, Royal United Services Institute; Dr Mohammed Abdelsalam Babiker, Emily Death, Maria Peiro Mir, Abdal-Rahman Eltayeb, Global Partners Governance; Maddy Crowther, Sonja Miley, Waging Peace.