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Frequently asked questions

Q

What has CSI achieved?

The media spotlight that CSI placed on slavery and our efforts to build a broad, left-right, black-white, Christian-non-Christian coalition were two crucial factors in President Bush’s decision to in September 2001 to launch, a diplomatic initiative, headed by former Senator John Danforth, that ultimately brought peace to Southern Sudan. Moreover, local community leaders have recorded the liberation of over 80,000 slaves through the CSI-supported Underground Railroad since 1995.

Q

What does it cost CSI to free each slave?

It costs CSI $109 to help emancipate a slave and provide him or her with essential humanitarian aid. For nearly a decade, CSI paid 50,000 Sudanese pounds for the liberation and return of a slave. In local terms, that is the purchase price of two goats.  In U.S. currency the value has ranged over the years between $50 and $35.  At the present time, CSI does not exchange cash for slaves. Instead, we make cattle vaccine available to slave-owning cattle camp Arabs.

Q

Is it morally right to give money or other valuable items to slave owners for the freedom of slaves?

Yes, when there is no better way to affect liberation, and when the families of the enslaved and the leaders of the victimized community desire it. In Sudan, the government in Khartoum, the UN, and the rest of the international community, including the NGOs, have failed to produce a more effective system for liberating slaves.  The redemption of slaves is sanctioned by the Judeo-Christian tradition. The great 12th century Jewish scholar Maimonidies judged that the redemption of slaves was a religious obligation. Two Catholic orders, the Trinitarians and the Mercedores were established explicitly for the purpose of redeeming slaves. Fredrick Douglas was a redeemed slave, as was Mother Bakhita - Sudan’s only canonized saint.

Q

How does Sudan’s Underground Railroad work?

Local Arab-Dinka peace agreements are the basis of the slave retrieval system. In the early 1990s, some Arab clans which have an economic dependence on Southern Sudan - either the need for trade or land for dry season grazing – forged peace agreements with their Black African neighbors to the South.  These Arabs were allowed to trade at designated markets in Southern Sudan and graze their cattle in designated areas, in return for rejecting the Government of Sudan’s declared jihad and facilitating the return of women and children who had been enslaved. Masters expected some payment for the release of their slaves, and the retrievers incurred costs. For nearly a decade, CSI paid 50,000 Sudanese pounds for the liberation and return of a slave. In local terms, that is the purchase price of two goats.  In U.S. currency the value has ranged over the years between $50 and $35.  At the present time, CSI does not exchange cash for slaves. Instead, we make cattle vaccine available to slave-owning cattle camp Arabs. When slaves are returned to Southern Sudan, they are documented by local community leaders and CSI staff. Tribal chiefs help locate the families of the liberated slaves.

Q

Doesn’t the redemption of slaves merely create a market?

No. The revival of slavery in Sudan was not driven mainly by economic forces. It was instead driven primarily by political and military factors. The suspension of slave raiding in Southern Sudan at the time of the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the Government of Sudan and the SPLA – notwithstanding the ongoing redemption of slaves – clearly proves this fact. Moreover, the religious and civil leaders of the victimized communities would not have encouraged CSI to redeem slaves had they experienced an increase of slave raiding because of CSI’s efforts. There is a broad consensus within these communities in favor of the CSI-supported liberation system. Were this not the case, CSI would not wish to liberate slaves, and, indeed, would not be permitted to.

Q

How do you know that the people that come back through the Underground Railroad were really enslaved?

CSI has employed many safeguards to prevent against fraud. There have been many independent investigations of CSI’s work, especially by the media. None of the eye witness journalists have discovered and revealed false slaves. CSI also involves many people, representing different segments of the victimized communities, including the local churches, in the documentation process.  None of the few outsiders who have claimed that not all the slaves are genuine have ever produced the name or other details of a false slave. Such allegations remain today unsubstantiated. CSI openly encourages anyone that might have credible evidence of wrongdoing to present it to us in detail so it can be properly investigated and appropriate remedial action taken. So far, no one has presented CSI with such evidence.

Q

What happens to slaves once they have been liberated?

CSI’s field staff interviews and photographs each liberated slave. Once the documentation is complete, each slave receives a survival kit, including a mosquito net, a blanket, a plastic sheet, a water container a cooking pot, a sickle, fishing hooks and food rations. The freed slaves find their way back to their home areas through the chieftainship network. Most slaves find their relatives. The few who do not are taken in by a chief or the church.

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