|Published June 2001
TIME TO SPEAK
OUT ON CHRISTIAN SOLIDARITY INTERNATIONAL AND SUDAN:
AN OPEN LETTER
TO ANTI-SLAVERY INTERNATIONAL
We address this open letter to Anti-Slavery
International because of its well-deserved reputation as one
of the world's premier human rights organisations, and its
particular concern about slavery and slavery-like practices.
We call upon Anti-Slavery International to once again publicly
speak out with regard to the claims of government-sponsored
slavery and "slave redemption" in Sudan being made
by groups such as Christian Solidarity International.
A civil war has been fought in Sudan between the Sudanese
government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) since
1983. As Anti-Slavery International will be only too aware,
while there have been legitimate concerns about inter-tribal
raiding and abduction in the course of this conflict, several
organisations and anti-Sudanese activists have claimed there
is a flourishing "slave trade" in Sudan in which
the Sudanese government and its northern forces raid southern
villages and "enslave" Dinka tribesmen, women and
children. These claims have been made by groups such as the
Swiss-based Christian Solidarity International (CSI). CSI
further claim that in the course of visits to parts of southern
Sudan it has engaged in "slave redemptions" whereby
southern Sudanese tribesmen, women and children are supposedly
"bought back" from northern Sudanese tribesmen said
to have abducted them. Christian Solidarity International
and other groups claim to have "bought" back or
"redeemed" thousands of slaves, often several hundred
at a time, from Arab traders . These groups have also been
active in taking outsiders in with them on pre-arranged trips.
Westerners, often with no experience whatsoever of Africa,
then come back believing what they have been told they saw.
Having taken these claims at face value, several of these
"political pilgrims" have taken somewhat opportunistic
positions with regard to "slavery" in Sudan.
This has degenerated into little more than a propaganda circus.
African-American activists such as Rev Al Sharpton and pop
star Michael Jackson have now also been caught up in this
spectacle. Even The New York Post has described Al
Sharpton as "a crass opportunist". We now also have
further self-promotion in the form of anti-Sudanese activists
deliberately getting themselves arrested in front of the Sudanese
embassy in Washington. Former District of Columbia Congressional
delegate Walter E. Fauntroy, radio talk show host Joe Madison
and the Hudson Institute's Michael Horowitz all chained themselves
to the fence in front of the Sudanese embassy in protest at
"slavery" in Sudan. When they appeared in court
their lawyers were Johnnie Cochran, of O.J. Simpson fame and
former Monica Lewinsky scandal independent counsel Kenneth
W. Starr. All these people claim to be responding in large
part to allegations about "slavery" and "slave
redemption" made by groups such as Christian Solidarity
It is also clear that there is concern amongst better-informed
sources much closer to the issue about this American campaign.
'Africanews', a Nairobi-based newsletter closely identified
with the Roman Catholic Church in Kenya and in southern Sudan,
has observed that:
Analysts, mainstream Church officials, and aid workers
are worried that the stance taken by the Christian Right
might jeopardize relief operations and precipitate a humanitarian
crisis in Sudan.Since last year, interest in Sudan by
Americans has mushroomed largely due to campaigns led
by missionary groups and U.S. based African-American churches,
resulting in an unusual alliance of right-wing politicians
identified with the Republican Party and members of the
Democratic Congressional Black Caucus.Observers also note
that some leaders - particularly Rev. Al Sharpton - could
be using the Sudanese conflict to build political careers
Anti-Slavery International has itself spoken out in the past
challenging many of the claims made by Christian Solidarity
International. The official 1997 Anti-Slavery International
report on allegations of Sudanese slavery commented on claims
of government involvement in slavery: "[T]he charge that
government troops engage in raids for the purpose of seizing
slaves is not backed by the evidence.
Anti-Slavery International's comments were supported by the
then co-director of African Rights, the human rights expert,
and Sudan specialist, Alex de Waal:
(O)vereager or misinformed human rights advocates in
Europe and the US have played upon lazy assumptions to
raise public outrage. Christian Solidarity International,
for instance, claims that "Government troops and
Government-backed Arab militias regularly raid black African
communities for slaves and other forms of booty".
The organization repeatedly uses the term "slave
raids", implying that taking captives is the aim
of government policy. This despite the fact that there
is no evidence for centrally-organized, government-directed
slave raiding or slave trade.
Anti-Slavery International has also articulated deeper concerns
about the sort of claims made by Christian Solidarity International.
In a submission to the United Nations Commission on Human
Rights in Geneva you publicly stated:
There is a danger that wrangling over slavery can distract
us from abuses which are actually part of government policy
- which we do not believe slavery to be. Unless accurately
reported, the issue can become a tool for indiscriminate
and wholly undeserved prejudice against Arabs and Muslims.
[We] are worried that some media reports of "slave
markets", stocked by Arab slave traders - which [we]
consider distort reality - fuel such prejudice.
Anti-Slavery International has also questioned other claims
made by Christian Solidarity International, particularly its
claims that tens of thousands of people have been "enslaved"
in Sudan. In your 1999 submission to the Working Group on
Contemporary Forms of Slavery, for example, your organisation
A representative of Christian Solidarity International
spoke at the beginning of this year of "tens of thousands"
of people in slavery in Sudan, and of "concentration
camps" for slaves. At Anti-Slavery International,
we know of no evidence to justify an assertion that 20,000
people or more are currently held as captives and slaves
in these areas of Sudan.
Christian Solidarity International's Claims Challenged
by Other Independent Sources
As Anti-Slavery International will know, there have since
been further detailed criticisms of the claims made by Christian
Solidarity International. One credible source is the report
by the Canadian government's special envoy to Sudan, John
Harker, into human rights abuses in Sudan. The Harker report,
'Human Security in Sudan: The Report of a Canadian Assessment
Mission', was commissioned by the Canadian government
and published in February 2000. One of the two missions with
which John Harker was tasked was to: "independently investigate
human rights violations, specifically in reference to allegations
of slavery and slavery-like practices in Sudan. While Harker
was critical of many human rights abuses in Sudan, he clearly
questioned the credibility of claims of large-scale "slave
redemption" made by Christian Solidarity International:
[R]eports, especially from CSI, about very large numbers
were questioned, and frankly not accepted. Mention was
also made to us of evidence that the SPLA were involved
in 'recycling' abductees.Serious anti-abduction activists.cannot
relate the claimed redemptions to what they know of the
reality. For example we were told that it would be hard
not to notice how passive these 'slave' children are when
they are liberated or to realize how implausible it is
to gather together so many people from so many locations
so quickly - and there were always just the right number
to match redemption funds available!
The Harker Report also detailed how fraudulent "slave
redemptions" were being used to raise money for the SPLA,
money which he stated is used to purchase arms and ammunition:
Several informants reported various scenarios involving
staged redemptions. In some cases, SPLM officials are
allegedly involved in arranging these exchanges, dressing
up as Arab slave traders, with profits being used to support
the SPLM/A, buy weapons and ammunition.We did speak with
an eyewitness who can confirm observing a staged redemption
and this testimony conformed with other reports we had
from a variety of credible sources. The 'redeeming group'
knew they were buying back children who had not been abducted
or enslaved. The exchange was conducted in the presence
of armed SPLA guards. The 'Arab' middle man/trader delivering
the children for 'redemption' was recognized as a member
of the local community even though he was dressed up in
traditional Arab costume for the event.
Christian Solidarity International's claims of mass "slavery"
in the Nuba mountains have also been firmly questioned by
human rights experts. Alex de Waal, for example, states that
CSI has "also alleged that there is mass enslavement
in the Nuba mountains, which is contested by Nuba human rights
activists". De Waal states that "African Rights'
monitors in the Nuba Mountains have come across two incidents
of possible - but unconfirmed - enslavement in two and a half
The Reuters news agency has also reported deliberate misrepresentations
with regard to "slave redemptions": "Local
aid workers.say that they have seen children who they have
known for months passed off as slaves.And Reuters interviewed
one boy in Yargot who told a completely implausible story
of life in the north, a story which he changed in every respect
when translators were swapped."
In May 1999, the Christian Science Monitor also clearly
There are increasingly numerous reports that significant
numbers of those 'redeemed' were never slaves in the first
place. Rather, they were simply elements of the local
populations, often children, available to be herded together
when cash-bearing redeemers appeared.
It is clear that several independent sources have questioned
fundamentally the claims made by Christian Solidarity International.
The Canadian government's special envoy has dismissed CSI's
claims of "slave redemption" as unbelievable. Anti-Slavery
International has itself questioned several of CSI's claims.
It is now clear that many "slave redemptions" are
staged. Independent sources have stated that while some of
those outside groups involved in these "redemptions"
may have been innocently misled, other outside groups may
be purposefully using "slave redemptions" in order
to raise money for the SPLA.
As Anti-Slavery International will know, these "slave
redemptions" fuel the Sudanese conflict in at least two
ways. They echo inaccurate and stereotyped propaganda images
of Sudan and the Sudanese conflict which serve only to misinform
the international community, which in turn can distort positions
taken by countries such as the United States. And, if what
credible outside commentators have said is true, the money
raised through fraudulent "slave redemptions" is
actually used to procure weapons for the SPLA which are then
used to prolong the war.
Anti-Slavery International has previously articulated concerns
that claims made by Christian Solidarity International "distort
reality" and that fuel "indiscriminate and wholly
undeserved prejudice against Arabs and Muslims". It is
clear that Christian Solidarity International continues to
make these claims, that they have gained even more prominence
within the United States and that such claims are fuelling
an ill-informed anti-Sudanese frenzy in that country. Anti-Slavery
International must have the courage to once again urge the
international community to exercise the utmost caution in
assessing claims made by groups such as Christian Solidarity