Dec 18, 2014

European Parliament Overwhelmingly Approves Resolution on Biram Dah Abeid and Colleagues, and Calls for Their Immediate Release

The European Parliament today (18th December 2014) passed an urgent resolution on Mauritania (in particular the case of Biram Dah Abeid), for which UNPO had been pressing since Mr Abeid’s arrest on 11 November. The vote was approved almost unanimously by the 751 MEPs, and followed a debate in the Strasbourg hemicycle in which MEPs from all political groups denounced the arrest of Biram Dah Abeid and called for his immediate release. They also reiterated the importance of Mr Abeid’s IRA-Mauritania movement, and underlined the necessity of dismantling slavery in Mauritania.

Thursday’s debate in the plenary featured an array of high-profile speakers, such as Human Rights Subcommittee Vice-President Barbara Lochbihler MEP (Greens/EFA, Germany), EPP coordinator on the Foreign Affairs Committee Cristian Dan Preda MEP (Romania), and S&D coordinator on the Human Rights Subcommittee Josef Weidenholzer MEP (Austria). All three had proposed the urgency and proved instrumental in its successful passage.

Ms Lochbihler stressed that the Mauritanian Government should consider IRA-Mauritania as a supportive partner in their apparently mutual aim of eradicating slavery, and made the key point that eradicating slavery was also the means to eradicate poverty. Mr Preda emphasized his personal engagement and emotion on this issue, considering his personal encounters with Mr Abeid, and called upon the Mauritanian Government to shake off its ‘mindset of denial’. Many other MEPs referred to the institutionalization of slavery in Mauritania, the need for Haratin land rights, and the obligation for the EU and Mauritanian Government alike to support the activists on the ground. The lawmakers also echoed UNPO’s calls for the Mauritanian authorities to implement their own anti-slavery legislation. Fabio Castaldo MEP (EFDD, Italy) memorably declared that “Biram Dah Abeid must be freed and the Mauritanian population must be freed”.

The resolution, to which UNPO contributed a significant proportion, “condemns strongly the arrest and ongoing detention of anti-slavery activist Biram Dah Abeid and his fellow campaigners, and calls for their immediate release”; the European Parliament also formally notes its concern about allegations of violence against the IRA-Mauritania activists, urging the authorities to “prosecute those officials who have been involved in the abuse and torture of prisoners”.

Within the wider context of civil society and a functioning democracy, the resolution urges the Mauritanian government to desist from using violence against peaceful protesters and media who are critical of the state. As urged by UNPO, the European Parliament also appeals to the Mauritanian Government to outlaw racial discrimination against the Haratin (particularly in the fields of education and employment), to develop formal universal education in order to provide current and former slaves, and their children, with the tools to find meaningful opportunities, and to improve land rights. The resolution “notes that all Mauritanian citizens should be entitled to own land, particularly when they have occupied and cultivated it for generations” – and points out that Biram Dah Abeid and IRA-Mauritania identify this as “the key means to end the cycle of slavery”.

UNPO further welcomes the Parliament’s call to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, as well as the EEAS and Member States, to “ensure a clear and workable foreign affairs and human rights policy which is in line with the EU strategic framework on human rights and democracy”, and to promote a human rights dimension in the EU Sahel strategy, as well in bilateral dialogues and agreements with between the EU and Mauritania. UNPO recognizes that Mauritania is an important geopolitical partner for the EU – but this can in fact represent a strength in the campaign to eradicate slavery, not a weakness.

In response to the debate, Italian Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs Benedetto della Vedova, representing the Commission, Council and EEAS in the capacity of Italy’s Presidency of the Council, welcomed the resolution. He reminded MEPs that Biram Dah Abeid stood as a presidential candidate this year, and declared that the EU was gravely concerned by his arrest and those of his fellow activists. He announced that EU ambassadors had discussed their concerns with Mauritania’s Prime Minister, and stressed that there must be no ethnic or racial discrimination in that country. On behalf of Federica Mogherini he pledged that the EU would continue to monitor the situation of human rights in Mauritania, as well as the specific situation of Biram Dah Abeid and the other imprisoned campaigners. Crucially, he underlined that the EU would continue to push for the full eradication of all forms of slavery, and that Biram Dah Abeid’s arrest reminds us of the progress that remains to be made.

UNPO echoes these sentiments, and congratulates the European Parliament for its unanimous endorsement of this urgent resolution. As an organization built on the principles of human rights, UNPO will continue to work with IRA-Mauritania and allies worldwide to ensure that the scourge of modern slavery can eventually become a thing of the past.

It is our sincere hope that this urgency adds to the pressure on the Mauritanian Government to release Biram Dah Abeid and his colleagues, and represents a key development in the human rights dialogue between Mauritania and the EU. Even after Mr Abeid is freed, the campaign to improve the education, employment and land rights of current and former slaves, and to eradicate the practice of slavery once and for all, will continue.