Oct 17, 2011

UNPO To United Nations: Widespread Slavery Persists In Mauritania

UNPO - IRA report to UN Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights highlights continued enslavement of the Haratin in Mauritania.



Below is an article published by UNPO:


UNPO and the Initiative de Résurgence du Mouvement Abolitionniste en Mauritanie (IRA) submitted a joint report this month to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) for consideration during its 47th Pre-Sessional Working Group meeting on Mauritania.


The alternative report focuses on the situation of the Haratin population in Mauritania and the Mauritanian government’s compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The major issue dealt with in the report is the continued existence and widespread practice of slavery in Mauritania.


Mauritania has a history of slavery going back hundreds of years. It is deeply entrenched as part of a hierarchical social structure in all ethnic communities in Mauritania. Due to the profoundly conservative nature of Mauritanian society, strict hierarchical social systems are prevalent, especially in the dominant Berber or ‘White Moor’ classes which have traditionally dominated positions of power, politics and wealth. As a result, Mauritania’s caste system is deeply engrained within society.


Despite repeated attempts to abolish slavery in Mauritania and the criminalization of its practice in 2007, the practice is still commonplace and particularly affects the Haratin, the vast majority of whom continue to live as slaves. 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.


Discrimination is a significant factor in the difficulties facing freed Haratin in finding work; the few who are able to secure employment have been limited to providing manual labour in markets, airports and water ports.


The UNPO – IRA report to the CESCR highlighted the complete absence of enforcement of a 2007 law criminalizing slavery in Mauritania. The state has yet to successfully prosecute a single case of slavery under the Act. The U.S. Department of State recently called the State party’s efforts to protect victims of slavery “negligible.”


The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, who visited Mauritania in 2009, has reported numerous issues with enforcement of this Act, including: cases being re‐filed as inheritance or land disputes; pressure on claimants from family, masters and local authorities to retract the claim; reluctance from police and courts in following up on allegations of slavery‐like practices; difficulties of enforcement in rural areas and among nomadic communities due to movement, porous borders and lack of systematic registration of children; reluctance of judges to act; and the effectiveness of those practicing slavery at keeping the practice hidden.


The Special Rapporteur also criticized the vagueness of the law, noting that “many master‐servant dependencies—often encompassing former slavery bonds—fell short of inclusion in the antislavery policy.”


In describing the complicity of Mauritanian government structures in the continuation of slavery, the alternative report brought particular focus on an incident involving the IRA. In December 2010 eight IRA human rights activists were arrested and beaten at a police station in the capital city of Nouakchott after exposing the case of two young girls forced to work as servants.


After being brought to the police station, the girls were separated from the activists for questioning. The group’s leader, Biram Dah Ould, petitioned the officials to allow him to be present with the girls during the questioning. When he was denied, the activists staged a protest outside of the police station, prompting police to beat and arrest them.


Those detained were charged with “assaulting agents” and “obstructing public order” as well as being members of an unrecognized organization – despite repeated attempts to register, the IRA continues to be unrecognized by the government. Three of the men were sentenced to one year in jail (six months suspended) in January 2011.


A case against the alleged slave owner, an employee of a prominent government institution, was only pursued after extreme pressure from NGOs – she was not charged with slavery, but with a lesser crime of “child exploitation”. She spent only 12 days in prison before being released, and in March 2011 she was acquitted by a court of appeals.


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


1. Amend the 2007 Slavery Act to contain a clearer definition of slavery and to allow civil society organizations to file complaints on behalf of slaves.

2. Provide aid to judicial enforcement of the 2007 Slavery Act, as well as victim assistance programs to aid in victims’ reintegration into society.

3. Develop and implement, in association with independent experts, a comprehensive and holistic national strategy combating slavery.

4. Allow the Initiative pour la Résurgence du Mouvement Abolitionniste en Mauritanie the right to register and engage in consensus building social dialogue with other organizations representing slaves and former slaves.

5. Ensure that all citizens are registered with the local authorities.

6. Include “Haratin” among the ethnic groups listed in the census.

7. Allow Haratin access to property and, specifically, allow them legal ownership of the land they cultivate.