Published October 2000
ISBN: 1-903545-04-8







On 2 October 2000, The Washington Post published an article by syndicated columnist William Raspberry, entitled 'Some Things Simply Must Not Stand', alleging the existence of slavery in Sudan. Mr Raspberry based his article on claims made by Joe Madison, described as Washington radio's "Black Eagle". Mr Raspberry stated that Mr Madison had just returned from Sudan "where, along with Swiss-based Christian Solidarity International, he participated in the redemption of 4,435 slaves". The basis of Mr Raspberry's claims was hearsay. It is perhaps unnecessary to point out that accusations of slavery and involvement in slavery are amongst the most serious that can be levelled at a country or people. One would therefore have expected a vigorous professional approach to such an issue and such claims.

It is apparent, however, that Mr Raspberry simply did not do even the most elementary of journalistic research before propagating these claims. Had he even fleetingly checked their sources, he would have immediately realised that the credibility of Christian Solidarity International (CSI), and the claims made by it - and echoed by Mr Madison - have been seriously questioned.

Christian Solidarity International, Madison and Raspberry: "overeager and misinformed"?

Christian Solidarity International has for several years been actively involved in what the organisation has termed "slave redemption" within Sudan, whereby it claims 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 both lacking credibility and perhaps actually 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 Mission, 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 was to: "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" such as those claimed by CSI (and echoed by Messrs Madison and Raspberry) He specifically touched on the credibility of Christian Solidarity International's claims of large-scale "slave redemption".

[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 available!

The Harker Report also detailed how fraudulent "slave redemptions" were being used to raise money for the Sudan People's Liberation Army, 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 further 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.

Christian Solidarity International's claims of Government-backed slave raids in Sudan have also 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 slavery:

[T]he charge that government troops engage in raids for the purpose of seizing slaves is not backed by the evidence.

The Harker Report's conclusions echoed earlier concerns. In a July 1999 article entitled 'The False Promise of Slave Redemption', published by The Atlantic Monthly, for example, an article fiercely critical of the Sudanese Government, American journalist Richard Miniter provided unambiguous first hand evidence that there was fraud and corruption in the process of "slave redemption" accepted at face value by Madison and Raspberry and The Washington Post.. This evidence confirmed precisely the concerns about such fraud 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, Charles Jacobson, 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.

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 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.

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.

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 visitors have probably created their own market in kidnapping and abduction. 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. The Economist has 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, a vigorous critic of the Sudanese Government, states that the SPLA: "[H]ave behaved like an occupying army, killing, raping and pillaging". The New York Times has also categorised SPLA leader John Garang as one of Sudan's "pre-eminent war criminals". 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". These are the people to whom, by his own figures, over one hundred thousand dollars was handed over in the course of Mr Madison's brief African carefully-choreographed excursion.


It is abundantly clear, therefore, that there are significant question marks regarding CSI and its claims of "slave redemption". It is also clear that far from being the "hero" Mr Raspberry claims Mr Madison to be, Mr Madison may well have naively been party to a process described as fraudulent by, amongst others, the Canadian Government. He may in all likelihood have participated in a process which has handed money over to a rebel movement with an appalling human rights record and, in so doing, helped to perpetuate the Sudanese civil war. At worst, given that there undoubtedly have been abductions and kidnappings in parts of Sudan, such ready cash may have served to sustain a self-perpetuating market for abductions aimed at satisfying naïve Western visitors such as Mr Madison. Mr Raspberry's role in eulogising such a deeply questionable process is regrettable to say the least. It is unfortunate that Mr Raspberry could not have found the time to check with reputable human rights groups such as Anti-Slavery International or African Rights on CSI's standing and credibility.

It has to be stated that The Washington Post would appear to operate a journalistic apartheid. It apparently has one set of journalistic standards for reporting on people in North American and Europe and another for reporting on the developing world. In reporting on the latter, one seemingly does not need to research the story or check sources: hearsay is sufficient. Mr Raspberry would never have dared produce an article with such serious claims about alleged situations in Europe or North America without at least attempting to check the credibility of the sources. To have accepted such serious accusations at face value is the journalist equivalent of a lynch mob.

Mr Raspberry has produced notable and commendable journalism on many issues. Sadly, on this issue, he was simply out of his depth. Sources are all in journalism, and the questionable sources for the basis of Mr Raspberry's article are all too clear. There are two things, however, that should be said in defence of this otherwise outstanding journalist. Firstly, war, and particularly civil war, inevitably produce distortions of the truth and reality, with or without the deliberate use of propaganda by participants. He will not have been the first commentator on events several thousand miles away to have been misled. Secondly, The Washington Post has shown itself to be all too receptive to claims about Sudan that are at best clearly questionable and at worst simply untrue. Mr Raspberry was merely following already lax editorial and journalistic standards in reporting on Sudan. Had such an article been written on a different issue by a novice reporter, a reporter who had not checked sources, and who had nonetheless made very serious allegations without checking sources, the journalist in question would have been severely taken to task by his editors. It would seem that with regard to Sudan such elementary journalistic standards and ethics have been swamped in the all too questionable prejudice that passes for reporting on that country.

To use African Rights' description of similar Western commentators on Sudan, William Raspberry has been overeager and misinformed, and has relied upon lazy assumptions in his claims about Sudan. All in all, given his reputation one would have expected considerably more from Mr Raspberry - if not perhaps from The Washington Post.
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Espac Published by The European - Sudanese Public Affairs Council Copyright © David Hoile 2005
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