February 26, 2013

UNPO-IRA Report To ICCPR Outlines Widespread Continuation Of Slavery In Mauritania

UNPO and the IRA-Mauritania submitted a joint alternative report to the UN Human Rights Committee, drawing the attention on the continuation of slavery and the widespread discrimination against the Haratin.

Below is an article published by UNPO:

 

UNPO and the Initiative de Résurgence du Mouvement Abolitionniste en Mauritanie (IRA) submitted a joint report to the UN Human Rights Committee ahead of the 107th Session, during the meeting of the Country Report Task Forces regarding the 1st Periodic Report of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, which will take place in Geneva from March 11th to 28th 2013. You can access the full report by clicking on the link to it under "Attached Documents" on the right.

The alternative report focuses on the situation of the Haratin population in Mauritania and the Mauritanian government’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The issues the report focuses on include slavery, child labor, political, economic and social marginalization of the Haratin, lack of opportunities for freed slaves, restrictions of the freedom of assembly and association, and the mistreatment of human rights activists by the authorities.

Mauritania has a very long history of slavery and the practice is still deeply engrained and widely accepted in Mauritanian society. Due to the profoundly conservative nature of the Mauritanian society, strict hierarchical social systems are prevalent, and for hundreds of years the dominant Berber or ‘White Moor’ classes have dominated positions of power, politics and wealth.

Despite repeated attempts to abolish slavery in 1905, 1981, and the criminalization of slavery in 2007, the practice is still common in Mauritania, and affects particularly the Haratin who represent 40% of the population, half of whom still languish in conditions of de facto slavery. Even when freed, slaves often continue to work for their former ‘masters’ due to psychological and economic dependence that has been established through years of enslavement.

The Haratin suffer from pervasive discrimination. Haratin women and children are the one who suffer the most from it, as they represent 90% of Mauritanian slaves. Although officially 6years of school attendance are mandatory, most of the Haratin children do not receive any education. As a result of illiteracy, lack of education and social discrimination, the Haratin face tremendous hurdles finding work. They remain marginalized and underrepresented in political and public positions in Mauritania. The dearth of education, the pressure of their masters and the lack of formal identification papers are many barriers to vote.

The UNPO – IRA report to the ICCPR highlights the complete absence of enforcement of the 2007 law criminalizing slavery in Mauritania, as well as of other legal Acts, such as the child protection laws. The government does not support enforcement or publicizing of the Act and some leaders even deny or trivialize the existence of slavery. They provide no support for programs to assist victims and many people are still unaware that slavery has officially been abolished.

The report also noted that the government respected neither the freedom of Assembly nor the freedom of Association. They often violently disperse protests organized by Human Rights activists and discriminate against Human Rights NGOs, arresting their leaders for their activisim . IRA-Mauritania president Mr. Biram Ould Dah Oudl Abeid was arrested in April 2012 for publicly burning religious texts supporting the practice of slavery. He was released on bail on September 3, 2012 following international outcry. However, he has not been cleared of all charges and the threat of the death penalty is still looming over him.

 

 

The alternative report concluded with the following recommendations to the government of Mauritania:

 

 

1. Ensure full representation of the Haratin in the government, parliament and other public institutions; 

2. Fully investigate the allegations of heavy pressure on the voters during the  municipal council elections of 2009;

3. Combat discrimination based on caste or ethnicity in the education system, the media and government institutions, including through legal means and by establishing awareness raising campaigns to combat racist stereotypes;

4. Collect data on the nature and incidence of slavery in Mauritania, and ensure that this data is disaggregated along ethnic lines; 

5. Adopt constructive policies to guarantee universal access to education and improve the literacy rate, especially for minority groups lacking educational opportunities; 

6. Investigate and prosecute allegations of slavery practices, including bonded or forced labor and domestic servitude, as well as the gender-based violence attached to it;

7. Adopt a clearer definition of slavery within the law that would include contemporary forms of slavery; 

8. Allow third parties to file cases on behalf of the victims of slavery practices; 

9. Train police, prosecutors, and judicial authorities in the handling of victims of slavery practices, especially on how to create a safe, supportive, and gender-sensitive environment for victims to seek legal services; 

10. Compensate adequately the victims of slavery practices, including through vocational training and micro-finance schemes; 

11. Create a fund specific to slaves and former slaves to facilitate access to justice and implement community-based outreach programs to improve understanding of their legal rights; 

12. Respect the freedom of peaceful assembly and association of anti- slavery organizations; 

13. Allow the Initiative de Résurgence du Mouvement Abolitionniste en Mauritanie to legally register as an NGO.