"Cox means well but looks ever so slightly unhinged" 'The
Times', 30 January 2001,
On 26 January 2002, the Canadian newspaper, 'The Vancouver
Sun', published an article about Baroness Cox entitled "'Battling
Baroness' appeals to missionaries: Caroline Cox has both fans
and critics after buying slaves in order to free them". Written
by Douglas Todd, the article was both unprofessional and deeply
misleading. The article, for example, unquestioningly accepted
claims made by Baroness Cox that she was engaged in "buying"
the freedom of "slaves" in Sudan. The article also voiced
claims which potentially fuel undeserved prejudice against
Arabs and Muslims.
Civil war has raged in Sudan off and on since 1955 between
the Sudanese government and rebels in southern Sudan. Since
1983 the war in the south has been fought by the Sudan People's
Liberation Army (SPLA). (1) The essence of the claims made
by Baroness Cox is that as a consequence of this war there
is a flourishing "slave trade" in Sudan. She claims that the
southern Sudanese people are enslaved by the northern government.
Closely associated with Christian Solidarity International,
and then with Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Baroness Cox
further claims that on visits to parts of southern Sudan she
has bought back or "redeemed" thousands of slaves, often several
hundred at a time. Leaving aside the deeply controversial
issue of whether she is actually buying "slaves" or people
kidnapped for ransom, the Canadian government's special envoy
to Sudan also revealed fraudulent "redemptions" which provided
rebel forces with money with which to purchase arms and ammunition.
"Slavery" and "Slave Redemption" versus Kidnapping, Abduction
The unchallenged claims of large-scale "slave redemption"
made by Baroness Cox, and echoed in 'The Vancouver Sun', can
be clearly assessed against more objective sources. One of
these 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 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." (2)
While Harker was critical of many human rights abuses in Sudan,
he clearly questioned claims of large scale "slave redemption"
such as those made by Baroness Cox. He specifically touched
on the credibility of such allegations:
"[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 'recycliSometimes
a 'redeeming group' may be innocently misled, but other groups
may be actively committed to fundraising for the SPLM/A &
deliberately use 'slave redemption' as a successful tactic
for attracting Western donors. ng' 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..."
The Harker Report documented the deliberately
fraudulent nature of many "slave redemptions":
"Sometimes a 'redeeming group' may be innocently
misled, but other groups may be actively committed to fundraising
for the SPLM/A & deliberately use 'slave redemption' as
a successful tactic for attracting Western donors.
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."
It is not just the Canadian government that has questioned
the sort of process to which Baroness Cox was an all too
willing party, and which was so unquestioningly reported
by 'The Vancouver Sun'.
The claims made by Cox to have "redeemed slaves" have also
clearly been directly challenged by the veteran southern
Sudanese politician Bona Malwal. In a letter to her Malwal
"On at least three different occasions, you have come into
Twic County without the permission of the local leadership,
using Messrs Stephen Wondu and Martin Okeruk [SPLA officials]
as your license to do so. You then say each time that your
mission was to redeem slaves and that indeed you have done
so, when in each instance this had not been the case. The
latest episode was in October  when you landed at
Mayen Abun without even the courtesy of informing the local
area representative....I know that you have put out for
propaganda, and maybe for fundraising purposes as well,
that you redeemed slaves at Mayen Abun in October when nothing
of the sort happened. I sincerely hope that this type of
game stops...I sincerely hope that you do see the harm that
could be caused and that you will refrain from this activity
in the future." (4)
Malwal's standing within the southern Sudanese community
is unassailable. He is the publisher of the 'Sudan Democratic
Gazette'. He is a former Minister of Information and Culture
and was the editor of the 'Sudan Times', the largest English-language
newspaper in Sudan before 1989. Malwal went into exile when
the present government in Sudan came to power a decade ago
and teaches international affairs at Oxford University.
Baroness Cox has herself previously described him as "one
of the well-respected elders of the Dinka tribe". (5) The
implications of Bona Malwal's letter to Baroness Cox are
serious and it is for the reader to draw his or her own
'The Vancouver Sun' quotes Cox as stating: "The Islamic
government is waging systematic slavery." Sir Robert Ffolkes,
director of the Save the Children (UK) programme in Sudan,
an organisation at the forefront of the abductions issue,
contradicts Cox somewhat. Speaking in 2001 he stated: "I
have seen no evidence at all of slave trading. And believe
me, we have looked". (6) Sir Robert has also said: "I do
not believe the government in involved in slave-taking."
(7) The respected human rights expert, and Sudan specialist,
Alex de Waal, while co-director of the human rights group
African Rights, stated with regard to claims made by Baroness
"(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." (8)
Anti-Slavery International has also stated with regard
to allegations of government involvement in slavery that:
"[T]he charge that government troops engage in raids for
the purpose of seizing slaves is not backed by the evidence."
In a July 1999 article entitled 'The False Promise of Slave
Redemption', published by 'The Atlantic Monthly', American
journalist Richard Miniter provided unambiguous first hand
evidence that there was fraud and corruption in the process
of "slave redemption" in Sudan, whereby southern Sudanese
tribesmen, women and children were supposedly "bought back"
from northern Sudanese tribesmen said to have abducted them
during raids on southern villages. (10)
Miniter documented that SPLA officials are involved in
fraud with regard to "slave redemption":
"[They] set themselves up as bankers and insist that redeemers
exchange their dollars for Sudanese pounds, a nearly worthless
currency...The officials arrange by radio to have some villages
play slaves and some play slave-sellers, and when the redeemers
arrive, the Sudanese pounds are used to free the slaves.
When the redeemers are gone, the pounds are turned back
over to the corrupt officials, who hand out a few dollars
in return. Most of the dollars stay with the officials,
who now also have the Sudanese pounds with which to play
Miniter was accompanied during a visit to southern Sudan
by James Jacobson, the president of Christian Freedom International.
Jacobson, a former Reagan Administration official, had previously
served as Christian Solidarity International's Washington
representative. In 1998, the American branch of Christian
Solidarity International USA went its own way as Christian
Freedom International, with Jacobson at its head. He was
an enthusiastic supporter of "slave redemption" until he
actually visited southern Sudan to see the "slave redemption"
situation for himself. Jacobson subsequently publicly disowned
"slave redemption" because the financial incentives involved
encouraged both the taking of captives as well as fraud
and corruption. Reuters has confirmed the "massive corruption"
reported by Jacobson:
"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." (11)
In May 1999, 'The Christian Science Monitor' also clearly
stated: "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." (12)
'The Vancouver Sun' article did not adequately
deal with the issue of whether the people said to have been
"slaves" were "slaves" or rather people kidnapped or abducted
for ransoming to Westerners with large amounts of cash.
Nor did the article even touch upon let alone discuss the
well-documented issue of simple misrepresentation or fraud
within the "slave redemption" issue. The article's inability
to adequately question the serious allegations it voiced
is clear. It is clear that "overeager and misinformed" also
applies to 'The Vancouver Sun' in its acceptance of terms
such as "slavery" in the Sudan.
Has 'The Vancouver Sun' Encouraged Racial
What is perhaps equally disturbing about the
article published in 'The Vancouver Sun' is that it may
have encouraged prejudice against Arabs and Muslims. The
sort of claims articulated in the 'The Vancouver Sun' have
disturbed groups such as Anti-Slavery International, the
world's oldest human rights organisation. In a submission
to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva,
Anti-Slavery International 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." (13)
Anti-Slavery International would seem to believe
that talk of "Islamic" "slavery" as echoed in Todd's article
distorts reality and fuels prejudice against Arabs and Muslims.
Baroness Cox, Sudan and Credibility 'The Vancouver
Sun' appears to have taken a somewhat unprofessional approach
to checking Baroness Cox's credibility regarding Sudanese
affairs. On issue after issue her accuracy has previously
been found to be wanting, and her claims have been contradicted
by the British and American governments, UNSCOM and human
rights groups such as African Rights and Anti-Slavery International.
Even 'The Times' of London has described her as "ever so
slightly unhinged". (14) Why then did 'The Vancouver Sun'
allow her to make controversial and deeply questionable
claims, referring to her as the "Battling Baroness"? Surely
a more apt headline would have been the "Blundering Baroness"?
Leaving aside the clear criticisms of Baroness
Cox regarding "slavery" in Sudan, her track record of making
other unreliable claims concerning Sudan is a clear one.
On 17 February 1998, in the British Parliament,
for example, Baroness Cox claimed that four hundred Scud
missiles (including support vehicles, well over one thousand
vehicles) had been secretly transferred to Sudan from Iraq
since the Gulf War. This supposedly in the face of unprecedented
satellite, electronic and physical surveillance of that
country by the United States, the United Nations and other
concerned members of the international community. It is
a matter of record that, on the same day that Baroness Cox
made this claim, Reuters reported the statement by the White
House that: "We have no credible evidence that Iraq has
exported weapons of mass destruction technology to other
countries since the (1991) Gulf War."
The British government also refuted Cox's
claims, stating that: "We are monitoring the evidence closely,
but to date we have no evidence to substantiate these claims....Moreover,
we know that some of the claims are untrue...". (15) The
British Government Minister also cited UNSCOM, stating that:
"Nor has the United Nations Special Commission reported
any evidence of such transfers since the Gulf War conflict
and the imposition of sanctions in 1991." (16)
Similarly, in October 1999, Baroness Cox claimed
that Sudanese Government forces had used chemical weapons
in locations in southern Sudan in July 1999. On 17 October
1999 the United Nations revealed that tests conducted by
the laboratories of the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta
on medical samples taken by Operation Lifeline Sudan members
in the areas cited by Baroness Cox "indicated no evidence
of exposure to chemicals". (17) Baroness Cox supplied further
samples which she claimed proved her case. In June 2000,
the British government revealed the results of the "very
careful analysis" of the samples provided by Baroness Cox
and all other evidence. The samples had been tested by the
British Defence Ministry's world-renowned chemical and biological
weapons establishment at Porton Down. The results showed
that the samples provided "bore no evidence of the CW [Chemical
Weapons] agents for which they had been tested". The British
government also pointed out that in addition to the American
tests, further samples had been tested by the Finnish institute
responsible for chemical weapons verification. These too
had been negative. The Government commented on the "consistency
of results from these three independent sets of analysis".
As a general view on Baroness Cox's reliability,
it is worth nothing that in Andrew Boyd's very sympathetic
biography of her, 'Baroness Cox: A Voice for the Voiceless',
Dr Christopher Besse of Medical Emergency Relief International,
a humanitarian aid organisation with which Cox is closely
associated (Dr Besse and Baroness Cox are both trustees
of Merlin), is quoted as saying:
"She's not the most popular person in Sudan
among the humanitarian aid people. She has her enemies,
and some of them feel she is not well- enough informed.
She recognizes a bit of the picture, but not all that's
going on." (19)
It must be emphasised that Dr Besse was referring
specifically to "humanitarian aid people". That 'The Vancouver
Sun' chose to accept at face value claims made by Baroness
Cox, of whom even her friends say that she only "recognizes
a bit of the picture" with regard to Sudan is simply unprofessional.
Baroness Cox and Canadian Business Involvement
Cox was also very critical of Canadian business
involvement in Sudan, claiming that such involvement props
up the Sudanese government. She is once again characteristically
ill-informed and out of touch even with opposition opinion
within Sudan itself. In June 2001, for example, 'The Washington
Post' reported in an article entitled 'Activists in Sudan
Fear Loss of Western Oil Firms' Influence' that human rights
activists within Sudan "emphasize that as long as the companies
involved are Western, their concerns about corporate citizenship
provide valuable leverage to ...many critics. Talisman Energy,
the Canadian firm...has quietly pressed human rights concerns
on a Sudanese government over which the West has little
other influence, the opposition figures say." The paper
quoted key Sudanese human rights and opposition activist
Ghazi Suleiman: "If Talisman were to pull out of Sudan,
this doesn't mean the oil business will come to an end.
Talisman will be replaced by some company." Suleiman said
that any replacement company will be less interested than
Talisman in the Sudanese people. 'The Washington Post' also
reported that Suleiman credited Talisman's presence with
some of the freedoms now enjoyed by opposition parties in
Sudan. Another voice on the issue has been that of Alfred
Taban, himself from southern Sudan. Taban, the publisher
of Sudan's only independent English language newspaper,
stated that Talisman has acknowledged some of the difficulties
the oil project has brought with it: "The way forward is
not to take away companies that admit some of this is going
on and have been working to try to end some of that abuse."
(20) It should be noted that both Suleiman and Taban have
been detained by the government for periods of time, and
are infinitely closer to the reality of events within Sudan
It clearly ill behoves Canadians to judge
fellow Canadians on the basis of claims made by people such
as Baroness Cox.
All in all, there are a number of questions
that need to be answered by Douglas Todd and 'The Vancouver
Having simplistically raised the issue of
"slavery", why was the clear issue of exactly what constitutes
"slavery" not examined?; Why were clearly articulated international
concerns about the possibly fraudulent nature of precisely
the sort of "slave redemption" not discussed?; Was 'The
Vancouver Sun' not at all concerned that it was fuelling
undeserved prejudice against Arabs and Muslims in its stereotyped
portrayal of "Islamic" slave traders"?; Why was 'The Vancouver
Sun' not aware that Baroness Cox has previously repeatedly
made unsubstantiated or untrue claims with regard to Sudan,
and that many of her claims have been dismissed by sources
that cannot be described as being supportive of the Sudanese
government; Is 'The Vancouver Sun' not concerned that the
unquestioning acceptance of claims described as being rooted
in "lazy assumptions" only serves to distorted an already
very confusing picture of events in Sudan?
1 The SPLA is sometimes also referred to as
the SPLM/A, a reference to the Sudan People's Liberation
2 John Harker, 'Human Security in Sudan: The Report of a
Canadian Assessment Mission', Prepared for the Minister
of Foreign Affairs, Ottawa, January 2000, p. 1.
3 Ibid., pp.39-40.
4 Letter from Bona Malwal to Baroness Cox, 23 January 2000
posted on South Sudan Net (http://southsudanet.net/baroness_caroline_cox_1_arne
5 "A Response to the Sudan Foundation' s 'Questions ' and
Criticisms of CSI's Work in Sudan", 'CSI Magazine ', Issue
90, December 1997 available at http://home.clara.co.uk/csiuk/90page4.html.
6 Sir Robert Ffolkes was quoted in "'Sudan', A Special International
Report", 'The Washington Times', 10 July 2001.
7 "Anti-Slavery Drive in War-Torn Sudan Provokes Response
Critics Say Buyback Boost Market", 'The Washington Times',
25 May 2000.
8 Alex de Waal, "Sudan: Social Engineering, Slavery and
War", in 'Covert Action Quarterly' (Washington-DC), Spring
9 Peter Verney, 'Slavery in Sudan ', Sudan Update and Anti-Slavery
International, London, May 1997.
10 The article was published in two parts in 'The Atlantic
Monthly' and is also available online in two parts. Part
one is available at http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/99jul/9907sudanslaves.htm
and part two at http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/99jul/9907sudanslaves2.htm.
Miniter's work has previously appeared in 'The New York
Times', 'The Wall Street Journal' and 'Reader's Digest'.
11 "Aid group tries to break Sudan slavery chain", News
Article by Reuters, 11 July 1999
12 "Slave 'Redemption' Won't Save Sudan", 'The Christian
Science Monitor' (Boston), 26 May 1999.
13 The reference number of this submission to the United
Nations Commission on Human Rights is TS/S/4/97, and is
available to view on the Anti-Slavery International web-site
14 'The Times' (London), 30 January 2001, p.27.
15 House of Lords 'Official Report', London, 19 March 1998,
16 House of Lords 'Official Report,' London, 19 March 1998,
17 Note by the Spokesman of the United Nations Secretary-General
handed to the Sudanese Ministry of External Relations by
the UN Resident Coordinator in Sudan, Philippe Borel.
18 Letter from Baroness Symons, Minister of State for Defence
Procurement, to Baroness Cox, (Reference D/MIN(DP)/ECS/13/3/3),
5 June 2000.
19 Andrew Boyd, 'Baroness Cox: A Voice for the Voiceless',
Lion Publishing, Oxford, 1998, p.324.
20 "Activists in Sudan Fear Loss of Western Oil Firms' Influence",
'The Washington Post', 24 June 2001.