Christian Solidarity International (CSI) has for several years
been actively involved in what the organisation has termed
"slave redemption" within Sudan, whereby the organisation
claimed to have been "buying back" large numbers
of southern black villagers who had been taken as "slaves"
by northern Sudanese forces. These activities have for several
years been criticised as lacking credibility and fuelling
kidnapping and abduction within war-torn southern Sudan. Perhaps
the most devastating criticism of the claims made by Christian
Solidarity International was contained in the Canadian Government's
Human Security in Sudan: The Report of a Canadian Assessment
, which was published in February 2000. This report
was drafted by the Canadian special envoy to Sudan, John Harker.
One of the two missions with which John Harker was tasked
independently investigate human rights violations, specifically
in reference to allegations of slavery and slavery-like
practices in Sudan.
While Harker was clearly critical of many human rights abuses
in Sudan, he clearly questioned claims of large scale "slave
redemption." He specifically touched on the credibility
of Christian Solidarity International's claims of large-scale
[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"
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 also 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 deliberate 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.
There has long been a history of tribal raiding in several
parts of central and southern Sudan, often between tribes
competing for water and pastures at given times of the year.
A spate of such raids was normally settled at an inter-tribal
peace meeting which would traditionally return those abducted.
In central Sudan traditional rivals have been the Dinka and
various Arabised Baggara tribes. These rivalries were exploited
and heightened in the 1980s, when both the government and
the SPLA armed various tribes with modern, automatic weapons,
and encouraged them to attack each other. Since then there
has been considerable inter-tribal conflict, in the course
of which men, women and children have been abducted and kidnapped.
The vastness of Sudan, much of which has always proved difficult
to administer - even without the dislocation of civil war
- has made it very difficult for effective action against
those responsible for such activities.
It is these tribal raids, and the abductions which have occurred
during such conflict, that have been presented by Christian
Solidarity International and other activists as "slavery".
Despite the fact that the Dinka are overwhelmingly animist,
CSI have additionally presented the conflict between the Dinka
and the Arabised Baggara as a religious one. These groups
have also claimed that the Sudanese government are themselves
intimately involved in these "slave raids". It is
also a matter of fact that almost identical patterns of inter-tribal
raiding and abduction between the Dinka and Nuer, two black
southern Sudan tribes, have not been described as "slavery",
while the same activity when it is between the Baggara and
Dinka is presented as "slavery" and "slave
Christian Solidarity International's claims of government-backed
slave raids in Sudan have been criticised by human rights
activists such as Alex de Waal, a former director of African
Rights. Despite the fact that there are no "slave markets
in the 19th century image", de Waal states that:
Nonetheless, overeager 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.'Tens of thousands of Sudanese
Christian men, women and children have been kidnapped and
sold as slaves by government soldiers.' This despite the
fact that there is no evidence for centrally organized,
government-directed slave raiding or slave trade.
Peter Verney, the author of an official 1997 Anti-Slavery
International report on allegations of Sudanese slavery, has
also commented on allegations of government involvement in
[T]he charge that government troops engage in raids for
the purpose of seizing slaves is not backed by the evidence.
The head of Save the Children (UK) in Sudan, Sir Robert Ffolkes,
has also stated: "I do not believe the government in
involved in slave-taking."
Any examination of Christian Solidarity International's activities
can only but reach disturbing conclusions. The Harker Report
points to the fact that CSI's claims about mass "slave
redemptions" are simply not believable. On the other
hand, assuming that CSI has been involved at least in part
in paying for the release of tribal abductees, the evidence
is that CSI 's involvement has grotesquely interfered with
the traditional, long-established inter-tribal mechanism for
returning abductees. The vast amounts of American dollars
that CSI has introduced has seen something approaching a fifty-fold
increase in the usual fees for such reunification. This may
well have led to the deliberate abduction and kidnapping of
civilians for the specific purpose of being "sold"
to CSI. And, as the Harker Report mentioned, fraud and corruption
may also have become a feature of such CSI activities.
Christian Solidarity International: Creating its Own Market
Writing in 1998, de Waal publicly placed on record what would
come to be very justified concerns about the process of "buying
back" slaves. He stated that:
It is easy to envisage how this could be manipulated
by traders and local officials, and could even create incentives
for kidnapping children for ransom.
It is a sad fact that everything warned about by de Waal,
and Anti-Slavery International has come to pass. Peter Verney,
the author of the 1997 Anti-Slavery report on Sudan has stated:
It is not clear what impact hundreds of dollars are having.
Maybe it's even maintaining the set-up. Market forces mean
that you can probably buy a child if you want one.
Even journalists who have sensationalised the allegations
made by groups such as Christian Solidarity International
by taking most "slavery" claims at face value, have
raised the question of whether the activities of these groups
in effect encourages the abduction of civilians specifically
to then be "sold" to Christian Solidarity International.
David Orr, a London Times
correspondent who went on
one of CSI's carefully organised "slave" purchasing
visits in early 1998, certainly had some doubts:
CSI claims to have bought the freedom of 1,400 enslaved
Sudanese. But its programme prompts disturbing questions.
Does it encourage the taking of slaves by creating a lucrative
market in an otherwise shattered economy? This and other
questions must be answered.
Christian Solidarity International Has Pushed Up the Price
of Redeeming Captives
David Orr himself provides evidence of how the price of Sudanese
captives has increased as a result of Christian Solidarity
International's "redeeming" of "slaves".
He raised his concerns with CSI's John Eibner:
Is CSI not worried it is inflating the prices for slaves,
making Dinka communities dependent on Western largesse?
'We pay 50,000 Sudanese pounds per slave, the equivalent
of five cows,' says Eibner. 'The rate was agreed between
Dinka and Arab elders before we arrived'. I remember my
conversation with Ahmed, the trader, who after selling 386
slaves to CSI could hardly get out of his chair, so great
was the pile of cash on his lap. Ahmed, enjoying a celebratory
cigarette, had confided to me that he used to get just a
few cows. CSI were paying him three times as much now, he
said with pride.
That Christian Solidarity International has misrepresented
itself on this issue is clear. The figure given in Sudanese
pounds is meaningless given Sudanese inflation. The dollar
figure is the crucial one. It has been established that Christian
Solidarity International pays some US $50 per "slave"
in their dealings with the people they term "middlemen".
Groups other than Christian Solidarity International pay $100.
De Waal has unambiguously stated that prior to Christian Solidarity
International's intervention, the "great majority"
of those abducted were released:
through the intervention of their relatives on payment
of a fee normally between LS 8,000-13,000, equivalent to
Christian Solidarity International would seem to have increased
the amount paid for tribal abductees by several thousand percent
from between US $1-4 to $50 There is perhaps little wonder
that CSI would have found a willing market for its monies.
Christian Solidarity International's Misrepresentation
about the "Middlemen" They Deal With
That Christian Solidarity has also mislead observers with
regard to the people they term "middlemen" is also
apparent. This particular misrepresentation was laid bare
in a lengthy article on Sudan by William Finnegan entitled
'The Invisible War', which appeared in the New Yorker
magazine in January 1999. The article was hostile to the government
of Sudan, and it probed the slavery issue. In SPLA-held territory,
Finnegan came across a group of captives at the Nyamlell airstrip
in the custody of someone who introduced himself as 'Ibrahim',
although he admitted that was not his real name. 'Ibrahim'
said he was waiting for Baroness Cox, and that her organisation
paid US $50 for every "slave".
Back in Khartoum, Finnegan discussed this meeting with Ushari
Mahmud, a widely respected Sudanese UNICEF official working
on abduction issues who had written extensively about "slavery"
in Sudan. It should also be pointed out that Mahmud has been
a vocal critic of the past two Sudanese governments. He identified
'Ibrahim' as Doka Awut, who also went by the name of Adam
Ali, and that he had direct dealings with Christian Solidarity
International and Baroness Cox. He further stated that Doka
Awut personally participated in raids on Dinka communities
and he then sold those taken in these raids. Several months
later, in May 1999, Christian Solidarity International spokesman
John Eibner was still maintaining the untruth, telling Newsweek
that "the retrievers and raiders are not the same".
In the light of the independent evidence presented above,
it can safely be stated that Christian Solidarity International's
statement with regard to whether it deals directly with those
who abduct Sudanese men, women and children has been shown
to have been untrue.
Christian Solidarity International: Out of Step with Southern
In a July 1999 article entitled 'The False Promise of Slave
Redemption', published by The Atlantic Monthly
article fiercely critical of the Sudanese government, American
journalist Richard Miniter reported at first hand how out
of touch groups like Christian Solidarity International are
with regard to the wishes of local southern Sudanese on the
issue of "slave redemption". Miniter's reporting
echoed the concerns of the Dinka communities as outlined by
Anti-Slavery International in 1997.
On the issue of "redeeming" captives, Miniter interview
local southern tribesmen at first hand about the issue of
buying captives abducted during raids.
[T]he Dinkas I spoke with, all of whom live in villages
that have been victimised by the raiders, strongly oppose
redemption altogether on the grounds that it promotes raids.
Miniter interviewed Machar Malok Machar, a tribesman from
Akoch who had escaped from captivity during a previous raid,
It is bad. They do these terrible things to put shillings
in their pockets. They are crazy for the money. Why would
you give it to them?
In conclusion, Miniter also interviewed Manase Lomole Waya,
a representative of Humanitarian Assistance for South Sudan,
based in Nairobi, about his view on "redemption":
Where does the money go? It goes to the raiders to buy
more guns, raid more villagers, put more shillings in their
pockets. It is a vicious circle.
There is clearly evidence, therefore, that the very people
Christian Solidarity International have dealings with are
themselves directly involved in the kidnapping and abduction
of civilians. These are the very people Christian Solidarity
International presents as well-intentioned "retrievers".
There is also evidence that CSI has repeatedly misrepresented
the nature of its relationship with the men of violence who
would appear to raid villages to provide captives for the
growing Christian fundamentalist propaganda market. And, there
is also evidence that CSI, and other similar groups, continue
to be out of touch with grass roots Dinka opinion on the issue.
Systematic Fraud within "Slave Redemption"
Miniter's July 1999 article also provided unambiguous first
hand evidence that there was fraud and corruption in the process
of "slave redemption" in Sudan. This evidence confirmed
precisely the concerns about fraud in the process of "slave
redemption" previously expressed by Anti-Slavery International
and Alex de Waal.
Miniter documented at first hand how SPLA officials were fraudulently
presenting local villagers as "slaves" to be "purchased"
or "redeemed" by Westerners. Miniter and an accompanying
American Christian activist were offered children from a neighbouring
village as "slaves", would-be stand-in "slaves",
for purchase. Miniter records that the price per person was
US $100. He also stated that CSI "bought" "slaves"
at a special rate of US $50 each.
Miniter was accompanied during his 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 had been
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. Jacobson has publicly
stated that "[i]t had become a cottage industry"
and that the money paid to redeem purported slaves was used
"to buy more guns, hire more people, to abduct more innocent
Miniter clearly set out the way SPLA officials are involved
in "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
A Reuters report in July 1999 has also 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.
In May 1999, the Christian Science Monitor
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
It is apparent that the SPLA is very supportive of the "work"
of the very people who apparently abduct people from their
own communities in order to sell them to Christian Solidarity
International. The Harker Report clearly points to the financial
gain to the SPLA of staged slave redemptions. There is also
a definite propaganda advantage to any such encouragement
of kidnappers and abductors such as Doka Awut or Adam Ali.
These are questions which Christian Solidarity International
does not appear to have spent much time thinking about.
Other Christian Solidarity International Claims Challenged
Christian Solidarity International's claims of tens of thousands
of people "enslaved" in Sudan have also been challenged
by human rights professionals, and experts on the issue of
"slavery". Anti-Slavery International, in its 1999
submission to the Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery,
for example, stated that
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 of mass "slavery"
in the Nuba mountains has 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".
Christian Solidarity International's Support for "War
On 23 March 1999, Christian Solidarity International, an organisation
which describes itself as a "human rights organisation"
helping those "suffering repression, victimised children
and victims of disaster", nominated John Garang, the
leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Army, the Sudanese
rebel movement, to speak as its representative, at the fifty-fifth
session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights at
the Palais des Nations
in Geneva. Despite warnings,
however, Garang, began his speech in the name of the SPLA,
and began a political diatribe against the government of Sudan.
The chairman of the session stopped Garang from speaking,
and dismissed him from the podium.
Christian Solidarity International was one of many non-governmental
organisations that enjoyed consultative status within the
United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which
allowed its representatives to speak during Commission on
Human Rights meetings. Its deeply questionable attempt to
have Garang, a man described by the New York Times
as one of Sudan's "pre-eminent war criminals", speak
on its behalf as a Christian Solidarity International member
and spokesman, was a clear abuse of its consultative status
for political ends. This resulted in CSI having its United
Nations accreditation withdrawn by the United Nations Economic
and Social Council.
A clear picture of CSI's SPLA associates emerges from the
eight US-based humanitarian organisations working in Sudan,
including CARE, World Vision, Church World Service, Save the
Children and the American Refugee Committee, no friends of
the Sudanese government, who, at the end of November 1999,
felt it was their responsibility to publicly state that the
engaged for years in the most serious human rights abuses,
including extrajudicial killings, beatings, arbitrary detention,
Human Rights Watch, similarly no friend of Khartoum, stated
in December 1999 that "The SPLA has a history of gross
abuses of human rights and has not made any effort to establish
accountability. Its abuses today remain serious." The
New York Times
, also a vigorous critic of the Sudanese
government, states that the SPLA "[H]ave behaved like
an occupying army, killing, raping and pillaging." The
also summed up the general image of the SPLA
when it stated that: "[The SPLA] has.been little more
than an armed gang of Dinkas.killing, looting and raping.
Its indifference, almost animosity, towards the people it
was supposed to be "liberating" was all too clear."
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Sudan,
for example, documented an incident in which John Garang's
SPLA forces attacked two villages in Ganyiel region in southern
Sudan. SPLA personnel killed 210 villagers, of whom 30 were
men, 53 were women and 127 were children. The Special Rapporteur
Eyewitnesses reported that some of the victims, mostly
women, children and the elderly, were caught while trying
to escape and killed with spears and pangas. M.N., a member
of the World Food Programme relief committee at Panyajor,
lost four of her five children (aged 8-15 years). The youngest
child was thrown into the fire after being shot. D.K. witnessed
three women with their babies being caught. Two of the women
were shot and one was killed with a panga. Their babies
were all killed with pangas. A total of 1, 987 households
were reported destroyed and looted and 3, 500 cattle were
The SPLA has also murdered dozens of humanitarian aid workers
from the mid-1980s onwards. In one attack alone, for example,
SPLA gunmen killed 23 relief workers, drivers and assistants.
In 1998, the SPLA murdered relief workers in the Nuba mountains,
and in 1999 the SPLA murdered four aid workers assisting with
a Red Cross project in southern Sudan.
It is all too obvious that Christian Solidarity International
has been guilty of the most appalling naivety and bad judgement
in its activities in Sudan. Its claims with regard to "slave
redemption" in Sudan have been totally undermined by
the Canadian Government's Harker Report which outlined serious
concerns about fraud and corruption in CSI-staged "redemptions".
It has been said that the road to hell is paved with good
intentions. Even assuming CSI claims about abduction and "redemption"
were remotely accurate, CSI's cash-rich officials have probably
created their own market in kidnapping and abduction. And
despite their studied claims to the contrary, CSI is clearly
dealing with those who are directly engaged in kidnapping
and abduction. Christian Solidarity International's propagandistic
blundering with regard to inter-tribal raiding in Sudan has
been of deep concern to other, less partisan, organisations.
CSI's "slave redemptions" and its claims about the
numbers of "slaves" in Sudan and the Nuba Mountains
have also been challenged by reputable human rights groups
and activists. Perhaps of equal concern has been Christian
Solidarity International's close and willing association with
the SPLA. CSI's over-identification with men clearly guilty
of systematic and deliberate crimes against humanity makes
a mockery out of out its claims to be a "human rights
organisation" helping those "suffering repression".