March 16, 2016
On the occasion of the XXXI Regular Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), in collaboration with the Nonviolent Radical Party, Transnational and Transparty (PRNTT), will be organising a side-event entitled “Slavery in Mauritania: Abolished in Theory, Present in Practice”. The event, which will draw attention to the concerning human rights situation in Mauritania and especially that of the Haratin community, will take place in Geneva, on Wednesday 16 March 2016, from 16h00 to 17h00.
Mauritania became the last country in the world to abolish slavery in 1981, and captured the world’s attention by officially criminalising it only in 2007, following significant international pressure. Estimates vary, but between 4% and 17% of the country's population are believed to be enslaved at the moment. Slavery is particularly difficult to escape, as it is hereditary and linked to race: it especially targets the Haratin, the largest minority group in the country, who remain the most politically and economically marginalised, as a result of centuries of enslavement by the dominant Arab-Berbers. Although the Haratin constitute half of the population, they are inadequately represented in Parliament (10%) and in the leading posts of the national administration (8%).
Furthermore, despite the creation of a ‘Roadmap to Combat the Consequences of Slavery’, as well as of a Special Tribunal to prosecute cases of slavery, there seems to be lack of political will to address the problem or at least to admit its existence. Indeed, high government officials have publicly denied that slavery still exists in the country; despite clear signs of it, the Special Tribunal has until now only handled one case, for which procedures were not respected and the accused did not serve a prison sentence.
Mr Biram Dah Abeid, President of IRA-Mauritania and renowned anti-slavery activist, former presidential candidate in Mauritania’s 2014 elections and awardee of many international prices (including, notably, the UN Human Rights Prize in 2013 and the Dutch Tulip Award in 2015), was arrested in 2014 and subsequently sentenced to two years of imprisonment together with some fellow activists, on charges of organising, calling for, and participating in an unauthorized protest and being members of an unrecognised organisation.
Despite considerable international pressure calling for his release, including a European Parliament resolution in December 2014, Biram Dah Abeid remains in prison, where he has been victim of several abuses, such as overnight transfers to remote locations and significant restrictions to visits, including by his wife, who was expecting their first child at the time of his arrest.
The rejection of his latest appeal, only a couple of months ago, further demonstrates that the Mauritanian government's claim to oppose slavery is merely lip-service: the continued persecution of anti-slavery activists shows how little progress is really being made.
Mr Abidine Merzough, European Coordinator of the Initiative de Résurgence du Mouvement Abolitionniste en Mauritanie (IRA Mauritanie)
Mr Hanno Schedler, Department for Asia and Africa, Society for Threatened Peoples
Mr Ahmedou Dieng, Member of the Permanent Council of the Forces Progressistes du Changement
Mr Diko Hanoune, Secretary General of the Association des Haratines de Mauritanie en Europe (A.H.M.E)