February 18, 2014

UNPO Concludes Fact-Finding Mission to Mauritania

UNPO concluded a 9-day fact-finding mission to Mauritania, during which first-hand evidence of slavery practices was collected. In addition, UNPO met with civil society organizations and convened a roundtable with different relevant actors on the practice of slavery in Mauritania.

At the end of January 2014, UNPO conducted a 9-day visit to Mauritania to assess the practice of slavery in the country. Despite having abolished slavery numerous times, Mauritania remains the country where slavery is the most prevalent in the world, with about 20% of Mauritania’s 3.5 million residents living in enslavement, almost exclusively coming from the Haratin ethnic group.

UNPO had the opportunity to meet with a range of stakeholders, including civil society organizations, national institutions, government officials as well as victims of slavery. The discussions focused on the overall situation of slavery in Mauritania and the most recent developments in this regard, most particularly about the announcement of the creation of a special tribunal to deal with slavery cases. Unfortunately most stakeholders expressed serious doubts about the efficiency of this tribunal, considering that a majority of the magistrates are themselves slave owners.

These meetings were complemented by a roundtable on slavery. UNPO opened the floor by presenting the findings of the mission and officially launched the International Campaign Against Slavery, which aims at advocating for concrete steps to put an end to slavery at the level of the United Nations General Assembly. This introduction was followed by interventions from Mr. Biram Dah Abeid, president of the IRA Mauritania, Mr. Boubacar Messaoud from SOS-Esclaves,  Senator Youssouf Tijani Sylla and Mr. Ahmed Salem Ould Bouhoubeiny, president of the National Bar Association. None of the government officials who were invited attended the event. The floor was then opened to all other participants, including representatives of civil society organizations, which stressed the need for a strong commitment at all government levels to combat slavery.

In addition to attending a demonstration held in front of the ministry of justice calling for the release of an anti-slavery activist, UNPO also visited a project developed jointly with the IRA, consisting of a vocational program to help former women slaves to start their own businesses.  The project displayed extremely promising results, and hopes to expand its outreach and scope of activities to become a permanent institution. Finally, on the last day of the mission, UNPO provided 25 activists from IRA-Mauritania with a training session in human rights and advocacy. The training focused on the notions of human rights, nonviolence and activism.