One of the continuing allegations made against the Sudanese
government is that "slavery" exists in south-western and central
Sudan. The Khartoum government's position has been to state
that there has historically been a problem with abduction
and kidnapping within the context of inter-tribal violence
between traditional ethnic rivals such as the nomadic Arabised
Baggara communities and pastoralist Dinka tribes over access
to grazing and water in parts of Bahr al-Ghazal and Kordofan.
Such conflict has also been a fact of life between the Dinka
and Nuer, and within other tribes in southern Sudan since
the last century, if not earlier. There is also no doubt that
these long-standing inter-tribal conflicts have become more
intense as a result of the ongoing Sudanese civil war.
Inter-tribal raiding, which had been virtually dormant for
decades was given a new lease of life as the Baggara and Dinka
and Nuer were armed with modern, automatic weapons by opposite
sides in the Sudanese conflict and encouraged to attack each
other. Additionally, given the vastness of Sudan, and even
without the dislocation of civil war, several large areas
of the country have proved difficult to administer - just
as they had been during British colonial times - providing
ideal circumstances for abduction and kidnappings. The escalating
conflict has also made inter-tribal reconciliation conferences,
the traditional mechanism for agreeing water and grazing rights
and the exchange of abductees, usually overseen by government
These inter-tribal abductions have been a feature of contemporary
conflict in several parts of southern Sudan. In addition to
inter-tribal raiding in Bahr al-Ghazal, there have been similar
activities between the Dinka and Nuer tribal groupings in
both Western and Eastern Upper Nile. The United States government's
'Sudan Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2000' has
"There...were periodic reports of intertribal abductions of
women and children in the south, primarily in the Eastern
Upper Nile. The abductions are part of traditional warfare
in which the victor takes women and children as a bounty and
frequently tries to absorb them into their own tribe." (2)
In 2001, Human Rights Watch also provided clear evidence of
inter-tribal raiding and abductions. It spoke of:
"Dinka-Nuer cross-border raids. These raids involved thousands
of civilian casualties, large-scale theft of cattle, abduction
of women and children, and destruction of hundreds of villages."
What is disturbing is that the inter-tribal conflict between
the Baggara and Dinka communities, and the resultant raiding,
abductions and kidnappings within Bahr al-Ghazal and central
Sudan has been presented by partisan groups such as Christian
Solidarity International (CSI) as "slavery". These claims
portray "Arabised" northern tribesmen "enslaving" black "Christian"
southern tribesmen, women and children. Groups like Christian
Solidarity International have also made much of claims that
they have been "buying" back such "slaves" from northerners.
The "enslavement" of women and children particularly has highlighted
by anti-Sudanese groups, as were what were presented as forced
marriages between captors and captives. The eagerness of groups
such as CSI to "buy" back "slaves" may have resulted in a
vast increase in the number of tribes people being abducted
specifically to be "redeemed" by Christian fundamentalist
activists. There is additionally considerable evidence that
many "redemptions" have been staged. (4) Vast amounts of money
has been raised by these groups presenting the issue as "Christian"
southerners being enslaved by Arab "slave traders" then being
"redeemed" by groups such as CSI.
While it is clear that what has been increasingly presented
as "slavery" by anti-Sudanese and anti-Islamic propagandists
can in no way be compared to slavery as we understand it,
this propaganda onslaught has clearly also taken root within
the North American and European media. Such claims have also
been taken up and encouraged by the United States government,
complementing the American government's repeated attempts
to isolate and destabilise the government of Sudan.
Given the attempts by Christian fundamentalist groups such
as Christian Solidarity International to redefine tribal abductions
as "slavery", it is particularly significant to note the details
of the Dinka-Nuer West Bank Peace and Reconciliation Conference,
held at Wunlit, in Bahr al-Ghazal, between 27 February and
8 March 1999. (5) Dinka and Nuer chiefs and elders, church,
civil and community leaders, women and youth met under the
auspices of the New Sudan Council of Churches in an attempt
to end years of bitter conflict between the Dinka and Nuer
ethnic groups, both of them black southern tribes. A covenant
and series of resolutions were agreed and adopted by the conference.
The Wunlit Accords were hailed by several church groups, both
within and outside of Sudan, as a very significant development
in conflict resolution within southern Sudan. It should be
noted that the Wunlit process has been supported by Christian
Aid UK and DanChurch Aid of Denmark who funded and facilitated
the meetings of the Peace Council.
The United States' government acknowledged the basis of the
"In March 1999, at a grassroots peace conference in Wunlit,
Bahr El Ghazal, representatives of the Nuer and Dinka tribes
signed a peace covenant. The Dinka and the Nuer are the two
largest tribes and had been on opposite sides of the war since
1991. The Wunlit accord provided concrete mechanisms for peace,
including a cease-fire, an amnesty, the exchange of abducted
women and children, and monitoring mechanism."
Even 'Christianity Today' has conceded that
"Recently, the NSCC [New Sudan Council of Churches] and humanitarian
groups facilitated reconciliation talks between the warring
Dinka and Nuer tribes in the south. One of the peace treaty
requirements stipulated returning all people they had abducted."
As both the American government and 'Christianity Today' stated
one of the major items discussed was the issue of those men,
women and children abducted by either the Nuer or Dinka in
the course of their inter-tribal raiding and fighting. Several
of the main resolutions that central to the Accords specifically
addressed this issue.
Resolution A of the conference, for example, states that:
"Girls who have been abducted but are not yet married shall
be repatriated to their parents/relatives as soon as they
Resolution B concerns "girls who have been married in captivity"
and offered solutions for the repatriation of girls who have
been abducted and were then married off to their abductors,
stating that these girls can return to their own tribe if
they so wish. Children from any such forced union can be "redeemed"
by the father "according to Dinka/Nuer traditions".
Resolution D (1) deals with "boys or men in captivity", and
"in all cases boys and men who have been abducted and held
in captivity shall be freed and repatriated to their natural
parents or guardians as soon as they are discovered."
Resolution F deals with the creation of "abductee identification
teams" made up of tribal chiefs who will visit both Dinka
and Nuer areas searching for abducted men, women and children.
The conference also agreed that "border grazing lands and
fishing grounds shall be available immediately as shared resources".
(7) In October 1999, the New Sudan Council of Churches issued
a report which followed up on the Wunlit Accord. It was reported
that the Wunlit Accords "had born impressive fruit".(8)
The Peace Council elected at the Wunlit Conference has produced
several documents, one of which was entitled 'Working Group
1: Return of Missing Persons, Abductees & Cattle'. This
document reported that 148 abductees had been returned to
their communities, and that five marriages between women captives
and captors had been finalised. Appendix A of the report lists
'Abductees returned between the Dinka of Rumbek County and
the Nuer of Nyuong and Leer Provinces", Appendix B "Abductees
returned between the Dinka Atuot of Yirol County and the Nuer
of Leer Province", and Appendix C 'Missing people from Nuer
now in Rumbek County", this latter listed dozens of children.
It was stated in the October report that the working groups
had as an immediate and longer term plan the "establishment
of a process for final resolution in the tracing of missing
persons (and) the return of abducted people". (9)
It is significant that groups such as Christian Solidarity
International have deliberately chosen to present inter-tribal
raiding and abduction between sections of the Dinka tribe
and the Baggara nomads in northern Bahr al-Ghazal, conflict
largely over grazing and watering rights, as slavery and Islamic
holy war or jihad, while ignoring identical inter-tribal raiding
and abduction between the Nuer and Dinka, two black southern
tribes. This is one more example of the subjective, misleading
and selective approach that CSI has taken to Sudanese issues,
and inter-tribal abductions in particular. Fund-raising and
propaganda is much easier if the issue is presented as a case
of Christians persecuted and "enslaved" by Muslims.
The Wunlit Accords, together with the up-to-date statements
made in the State Department human rights report and by Human
Rights Watch, also clearly reinforces the Sudanese Government's
position, dismissed by some partisan groups, that what had
been presented as "slavery" to naïve Western observers
was infact raiding, abductions and kidnappings within ages-old
The Wunlit Conference and Accords, and the follow-up work
being carried out by the Peace Council with regard to those
abducted within inter-tribal raiding, clearly exposes the
contradictions and selectivity with regard to the "slavery"
issue of people such as Baroness Cox and Christian Solidarity
International/Christian Solidarity Worldwide in the United
Kingdom and Charles Jacobs and the Boston-based American Anti-Slavery
The simple question which must be asked of these groups is
when is a "slave" not a "slave" in Sudan? The obvious answer
is that a "slave" is not a "slave" when such an allegation
is of no propaganda or commercial value to Christian Solidarity
International, the American Anti-Slavery Group or anyone else
with an anti-Sudanese agenda. A "slave" is also not a "slave"
when he or she has been abducted by the wrong tribal grouping,
a tribal grouping that cannot be presented as pro-government
Arab raiders deliberately targeting "Christian" settlements,
in an area that cannot be presented as a fault line between
Islam and Christianity.
1 This publication updates '"Slavery" in Sudan: When is a
"Slave" Not a "Slave"? An Examination of the 1999 Wunlit Accords',
published by the British-Sudanese Public Affairs Council,
2 'Sudan Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2000',
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor,
U.S Department of State, Washington-DC, February 2001, Section
4, available at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2000/af/index.cfm?docid=822
3 Letter from Human Rights Watch to Secretary of State Colin
Powell, Human Rights Watch, Washington-DC, 1 March 2001.
4 See, for example, John Harker, 'Human Security in Sudan:
The Report of a Canadian Assessment Mission', Prepared for
the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ottawa, January 2000, available
5 'Sudan tribes agree ceasefire', BBC World, BBC Online Network,
Wednesday, March 10, 1999 Published as 23:38 GMT.
6 'Slave Redemption: Americans are becoming instant Abolitionists.
But is the Movement Backfiring?, 'Christianity Today' magazine,
9 August 1999
7 'Wunlit Dinka-Nuer Covenant', at Sudan Infonet Web Site,
8 'Sudanese Communities Benefit From Church-Brokered Pact',
News Article by the All Africa News Agency, October 15, 1999.
9 'Peace Council Refuses to be Intimidated and Documents Remarkable
Progress in People-to-People Process', A Press Release by
the New Sudan Council of Churches, October 4, 1999 .