Christian Solidarity International (CSI) has for several years been actively involved in what the organization has termed "slave redemption" within Sudan, whereby the organization 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 criticized 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 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." 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 [Sudan People's Liberation Army] 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!"
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 Arabized 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 Arabized 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 raiding."...
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 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.... 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.