In March 2000 the Sun Media group of Canadian
newspapers published several articles by Linda Slobodian,
with titles such as 'Slaughter of the Innocents'. Ms Slobodian
has written on Sudanese affairs for several years for the
. Her track record with regard to objectivity
and her judgement with regard to Sudan, however, are questionable.
Reporting on Sudan, as with any war and particularly civil
war, needs objective, professional journalism. Ms Slobodian's
reporting simply does not come up to scratch. Her willing
association with the southern rebel movement, the Sudan People's
Liberation Army (SPLA), an organisation responsible for horrendous
human rights abuse, and with others who have an unambiguously
Islamophobic agenda, further undermines the credibility of
her reporting from Sudan. She has shown a remarkable selectivity
in picking and choosing the human rights she is concerned
Ms Slobodian's track record on Sudan is a poor one. In 1997,
the Calgary Sun
published her eight-part special report
entitled 'The Slave Trail'.. These articles claimed that the
Sudanese government were complicit in "slave raiding"
in Sudan. The articles also claimed to document a large-scale
"redemption" of southern Sudanese "slaves".
Ms Slobodian spoke of purchasing these "slaves"
from "Arab slave traders". As Ms Slobodian freely
admits, her trip was arranged by Christian Solidarity International
Ms Slobodian handed US$ 2000 over to the SPLA, claiming that
the money helped to "redeem 20 slaves". The claims
Ms Slobodian made in this eight-part series, of slavery and
of large scale "slave redemption", can now be clearly
assessed against an objective source, the report by John Harker
into human rights abuses in Sudan, a report commissioned by
the Canadian government. Significantly, Ms Slobodian appears
to accept the veracity of the Harker Report, citing it as
a source in one of her articles.
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 specifically
tasked was to "independently investigate. 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 large-scale "slave
redemptions" as arranged by groups such as CSI:
[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.
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 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 a matter of record that the "slave redemption"
exercise that Linda Slobodian and the Calgary Sun
party to saw US$ 20,750 handed over to SPLA officials. The
bulk of this payment came from the Canadian Crossroads Christian
organisation. It is now evident that it is very possible that
the US$ 2000 provided by the Calgary Sun
slaves" went towards buying arms and ammunition for the
Sudan People's Liberation Army. The SPLA is headed by John
Garang, a man the New York Times
stated is one of Sudan's
"pre-eminent war criminals". The money handed over
by Ms Slobodian and the Calgary Sun
thus helped sustain one of Africa's bloodiest conflicts.
Furthermore, Ms Slobodian's claims of "Arab slave traders"
and that "slavery" was a government policy have
disturbing implications. Anti-Slavery International, the world's
oldest human rights organisation, in a submission to the United
Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, stated that:
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. (emphasis
Anti-Slavery International has also stated that: "the
charge that government troops engage in raids for the purpose
of seizing slaves is not backed by the evidence". Additionally,
the respected human rights expert, and Sudan specialist, Alex
de Waal, while co-director of the human rights group African
Rights, cited CSI in warning about "overeager or misinformed
human rights advocates in Europe and the US [who play] upon
lazy assumptions to raise public outrage". He has also
stated that "there is no evidence for centrally-organized,
government-directed slave raiding or slave trade."
Given these comments by reputable human rights activists,
Ms Slobodian's reporting therefore may be said to distort
reality and fuel prejudice against Arabs and Muslims. It is
for the reader to decide whether she has also been "overeager
and misinformed". On the issue of Islamophobia, Ms Slobodian
also chooses her Sudan companions and sources of information
unwisely. As she admits in a recent article, she travelled
into the Nuba mountains with Derek Hammond of the South African-based
Faith-in-Action organisation. That Hammond is an Islamophobe
is clear: his website overtly champions the "Christian"
fight against "the evil of Islam". He also refers
to the "anti-Christian religion of Islam".
For someone who wears her heart on her sleeve with regard
to human rights abuses in Sudan as passionately as Ms Slobodian,
she seems to be remarkably selective about those abuses that
are of interest to her. Human Rights Watch, no friend of Khartoum,
has stated with regard to her SPLA friends 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."
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 New York Times
, another vigorous critic of the
Sudanese government, states that the SPLA "have behaved
like an occupying army, killing, raping and pillaging."
Ms Slobodian prefers to refer to SPLA "liberated areas".
The SPLA's involvement in war crimes is all too evident. 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
In her article 'Slaughter of the Innocents', Ms Slobodian
refers to the tragic death of fourteen children in a bombing
incident in the Nuba mountains. The Sudanese government have
stated that the bombing was a regrettable mistake. What cannot
be described as anything other than deliberate is the SPLA's
premeditated burning, spearing, shooting and chopping to death
of 127 southern Sudanese children. Ms Slobodian does not appear
to be concerned about these children. If, as she claims, the
deaths of 14 children in a bombing raid constitutes "nothing
less than a war crime against children", how much more
so does the deliberate butchering of 127 children? Yet on
these and other murders of children, Ms Slobodian is silent.
The above incident was also not an isolated incident. It is
but one of many similar instances of gross human rights abuses
involving civilians and children. Amnesty International, for
example, recorded an incident in which SPLA forces lined up
32 women from the village of Pagau, 12 kilometres from Ayod
in southern Sudan, and then shot each once in the head. Eighteen
children were reported to have been locked in a hut which
was then set on fire. Three children who attempted to escape
were then shot. The rest burnt to death. In Paiyoi, an area
north-east of Ayod, Amnesty International reported that 36
women were burnt to death in a cattle byre. Nine others were
clubbed to death by the SPLA. Amnesty reported that in April
1993, SPLA forces "massacred about 200 Nuer villagers,
many of them children, in villages around the town of Ayod.
Some of the victims were shut in huts and burnt to death.
Others were shot." SPLA ethnic cleansing continues to
this day. Throughout 1999, for example, the BBC and other
reliable sources, reported on SPLA violence towards non-Dinka
ethnic groups, groups which "accused the SPLA of becoming
an army of occupation". These examples are but a tiny
fraction of the many war crimes against civilians carried
out by the SPLA. In Civilian Devastation: Abuses by all
Parties in the War in Southern Sudan
, a 279-page study,
for example, Human Rights Watch devoted 169 pages to SPLA
human rights abuses (government violations were dealt with
over 52 pages).
These then are the people providing Ms Slobodian with her
"information" on Sudan. These are Ms Slobodian's
"liberators". Ms Slobodian's over-identification
with the SPLA is clear. She even went so far as to liken one
SPLA gunmen to a saint: he was "St Paul to me".
The evidence is sadly all too clear. Ms Slobodian has, at
best, been "misled" by those with whom she visits
Sudan. It is obvious that she continues to be misled. She,
in turn, misleads her readers. While this may make for good
propaganda, it does not make for good journalism. She has
surrounded herself with gunmen who by her own definition qualify
as war criminals; with people such as Baroness Cox who have
been described by respected human rights activists as "overeager
and misinformed"; and with Islamophobes such as Derek
Hammond. She has shown an all-too-transparent hypocrisy and
double standard with regard to her professed concern about
Canadians deserve better reporting on Sudan than the selectively
passionate, misinformed and overeager articles written by
Ms Slobodian. The Sudanese conflict has already been dogged
by far too much partisan propaganda. While such journalism
may mislead Canadian readers, it is overshadowed by attempts
by the international community and the Sudanese people to
achieve a lasting resolution to their conflict.