Nov 02, 2023

Update on the Haratin and the celebrated advocacy of the IRA-Mauritania in the face of increased repression

Mauritanian civil society and their human rights are currently under severe risk. In response, the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA-Mauritania), driven by the perseverance of their President and Mauritanian National Assembly deputy, Biram Dah Abeid, have intensified its international activism. The unrelenting advocacy of Biram Dah Abeid was recently recognized through his shortlisting for the 2024 Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity.


Trends of increasing repression within Mauritania

The IRA has published the concerning report of the transnational repression experienced by Youba Siby. Youba was kidnapped on the 15 September 2023 by the police authorities in Dakar, Senegal, of which he is a citizen, and transferred to Mauritanian officials in Nouakchott. He is now being prosecuted for denouncing slavery and racism in his country of origin.

The UNPO, along with the IRA, strongly condemns the practises of transnational repression and arbitrary detention. Additionally, whilst Mauritania's National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) report that they work with both Youba Siby and the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights, the IRA condemns the CNDH for acting as both the unofficial, and official, mouthpiece of the Mauritanian government bodies that orchestrate repression.

The CNDH have recognised that Youba Siby has not been permitted to receive visits from his family or had access to a lawyer; they have promised to resolve these issues. However, the IRA state that the CNDH’s report has not accurately portrayed Youba Siby’s treatment during detention. The IRA were only permitted to visit Youba after three weeks in detention, and could only do so whilst being accompanied by the CNDH Secretary General. The IRA believe they were only allowed to visit once the Mauritanian authorities had broken his character and resolve, making him ‘presentable’. As a result of the systemic police violence and impunity in Mauritania, the IRA presume that Youba was subjected to torture and moral harassment whilst in solitary confinement.

MP Biram Dah Abeid, in his recent visit to Geneva to renowned NGOs and international institutions, denounced the accelerating trend of human rights abuses under the regime of President Mohamed Cheikh El-Ghazouani. In addition to the case of Youba Siby, Biram Dah Abeid increased awareness of the detention of the Mauritanian MP Mohamed Bouya Ould Cheikh Mohamed Fadel. This act represents a clear threat to Mauritania’s democracy; it is the first time that the National Assembly has voted to remove the parliamentary immunity awarded to all members of parliament.

IRA-Mauritania’s international activism

In the face of increased repression, the IRA, driven by the determination and courage of President Biram Dah Abeid, has persevered in its international activism.

On the 28 September 2023, the IRA-Mauritania held a protest in-front of the European Parliament, accompanied by the UNPO Secretariat. During the UNPO’s speech, delivered on behalf of Secretary-General Mercè Monje Cano, it expressed its staunch and unwavering support of the IRA-Mauritania. Their efforts are an inspiration and serve as a blueprint for other ethnicities or castes that are subjected to oppression through slavery. The UNPO presented the following demands, directed to the government of Mauritania: We call on the government of Mauritania to honour their pledge of democratisation; We call on the government to afford citizenship rights for all castes in Mauritanian society and strengthen their efforts to integrate the Haratin into Mauritania society; We call on the government of Mauritania to immediately cease the criminalization of Radical pour une Action Global members, and to recognise RAG as a political party.

As noted, President Biram Dah Abeid recently conducted a visit to Geneva. In addition to meeting allied NGOs, Biram Dah Abeid was received at the Geneva city hall, met with ambassadors accredited to the United Nations Human Rights Council and met with United Nations human rights mechanism officials.

President Biram Dah Abeid has also conducted an interview with TV Tooba, published Wednesday 11 October. During the interview, Biram Dah Abeid provides insight on three recent reports published by UN bodies that cover on contemporary slavery, discrimination against women and enforced disseverances, all of which portray the Mauritanian state in a negative light.

In response to the report of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, Biram Dah Abeid states that the actions of Mauritania present an attempt to cleanse Mauritania of the minority ethnic groups within its population. He describes how racial discrimination is systematically maintained and reproduced by the state, in a de facto apartheid of the population. Mr. Dah Abeid pays homage to the organisations who work to raise awareness of human rights violations, and stresses that this report shows that crimes perpetrated by the state will not be erased and victims will not be silenced.

Biram Dah Abeid also addresses the report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, who conducted a country visit in May 2022. He describes the attempts of the Mauritanian government and affiliated organisations to lie and manipulate the international community during this process. Mr. Dah Abeid states that the reported progress regarding legal and institutional frameworks that protect human rights may have been implemented in law, but are not present in practise. In reality, the state and courts impose no sanctions on the higher classes. Biram Dah Abeid reiterates the Special Rapporteur’s observation of descent-based slavery within Mauritania and highlights the unpunished, deep-rooted and ancestral practise of economic, social, cultural  and sexual slavery with Mauritania. Around half of the Haratin people, who make up around 1/4 of Mauritania’s population, exist in de-facto slavery.

Biram Dah Abeid also shares comments regarding the report produced by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women on Mauritania. The report commended the State for advances made regarding the education of women, but enquires about the practice of Female Genital Mutilation and human trafficking. However, Biram Dah Abeid stresses that the state must do more to address the inherent inequality and extreme oppression that women face. Women from minority segments of the population experience an abuse of their economic, social and cultural rights. However, all women in Mauritanian society are subjected to an abuse of their civil and political rights. Women are sparsely represented in the National Assembly and other government bodies. Additionally, women posses an inferior legal status to men and are afforded sparse protection, similar to that of a minor. Biram Dah Abeid states that the current Mauritanian regime is so extreme that women no longer hold any hope of gaining their rights or a place within society.

IRA-Mauritania President Biram Dah Abeid shortlisted for the 2024 Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity

The UNPO would like congratulate Biram Dah Abeid for being shortlisted for the 2024 Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity; a recognition of his fervent, unwavering and determined advocacy for the Haratin people and for the abolition of slavery. It is an honour and a privilege to stand with Biram Dah Abeid for the Haratin people. The Aurora Prize is a global humanitarian award that recognises and supports the world’s unsung heroes who are risking their lives to help those suffering from humanitarian crises and human rights violations.

This shortlist is an addition to the extensive recognition that Biram Dah Abeid has received for his work, including the 2013 Front Line award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk from Front Line Defenders, the 2013 United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights, the 2017 Prix Mémoires partagées from Mémoires et Partages, and Honorary doctorate at the University of Leuven in 2019.