We address this open letter to Anti-Slavery
International given 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
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. (1) 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 propagandistic
circus. African-American activists such as Rev Al Sharpton
and pop star Michael Jackson have now also been caught up
in this circus. (2) Even 'The New York Post' has described
Al Sharpton as "a crass opportunist". (3) We now also have
further crass opportunism 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. (4) 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
back home." (5)
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. (6)
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." (7)
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." (8)
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
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. (9) 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
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 andammunition...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."
(10) 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 years". (11)
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." (12)
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
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
groups such as Christian Solidarity International.
1 See, for example, 'Five Thousand Sudanese Slaves "Freed"',
News Article by BBC World Africa Online on 22 December 1999
at 18:24 GMT and 'Swiss NGO Buys Freedom for 4,000 Sudanese
Slaves', News Article by Agence France Presse on 1 February
2 See, for example, 'Jackson to Tackle Child Slavery', News
Article by BBC News Online on 20 April 2001, at 10:57 GMT.
3 'Rev. Al Has No Bravery on Slavery', 'The New York Times',
24 April 2001.
4 'Sudan Protest Makes Odd Bedfellows', 'The Washington
Post', 30 April 2001.
5 'Christian Right Might Inflame War, Observers Fear', Africanews,
Issue 62, May 2001. It should be noted that Africanews describes
itself as "the initiative of a group of lay Christians...AFRICANEWS
editorial staff wants to prove that the media can be used
to promote peace and solidarity. In particular, AFRICANEWS
expresses its preferential option for the poor. All news
and their analysis will be given from the perspective of
the African grassroot people, their struggle for freedom,
dignity and justice." 'AFRICANEWS: News and Views From Africa'
6 Peter Verney, 'Slavery in Sudan', Sudan Update and Anti-Slavery
International, London, May 1997.
7 Alex de Waal, 'Sudan: Social Engineering, Slavery and
War', 'Covert Action Quarterly', Spring 1997.
8 The reference number of this submission
to the United Natios Commission on Human Rights is TS/S/4/97,
and is available to view on the Anti-Slavery International
web-site at http://www.charitynet.org/asi/submit5.htm
9 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.
10 Ibid., pp.39-40.
11 Alex de Waal, 'Exploiting Slavery:
Human Rights and Political Agendas in Sudan', 'New Left
Review', (London), Number 227, 1998, p.145.
12 'Aid group tries to break Sudan slavery
chain', News Article by Reuters on July 11, 1999 at 23:40:58.
13 "Slave 'Redemption' won't save Sudan",
'Christian Science Monitor', 26 May 1999.