Tuesday, March 27, 2007

21st-century slavery

Slavery -- forced labor -- still exists in parts of the world, and not just in backward hell-holes like the Sudan. Cloaked in patriotism and pretty uniforms, slavery still exists in some "civilized" countries that otherwise possess all the trappings of relative freedom, including open elections and a free press. In these countries, slavery continues to exist in the form of conscription.

Bermuda is one of the "civilized" places that still forces people to work for the state or face prison terms. Young men in Bermuda have long faced the prospect of a potential draft into service in the Bermuda Regiment. Unsurprisingly, such forced labor is not universally popular among those subject to its call. Now a minor revolt threatens to overturn military conscription in the island paradise -- and it's upsetting local leaders along the way.

Fourteen young men subject to the draft have filed a lawsuit against the authorities, challenging conscription on the grounds that it breaches the human right to be free, and that it's gender-biased. The men are backed by Bermudians Against the Draft, which is providing the lawyers and funding needed to fight the case before the island paradise's Supreme Court.

BAD's leader, the Rev. Larry Marshall Sr., has labeled conscription "21st-Century slavery," and it's hard to take issue with his choice of words. Hard, that is, unless you're Governor Sir John Vereker, or Premier Ewart Brown, both of whom have objected to the whole idea of letting people choose how to live their own lives. Premier Brown, in particular, emphasizes his affection for enforced national service.

Americans shouldn't be too smug about this situation. we have our fair share of political grand-standers who'd love to see conscription revived on the mainland, despite widespread rejection of the idea by the public. Defeating the draft in a neighbor like Bermuda might be a shot across the bow to would be slave-drivers in the U.S.

To help Bermudians Against the Draft with its efforts, go here to contribute.

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