Mar 16, 2017

IRA Delegation to Washington DC Discusses Slavery and Curtailment of Civil Society in Mauritania

President and Founder of IRA Mauritania (Initiative pour la Résurgence du Mouvement Abolitionniste), Mr Biram Dah Abeid, visited Washington, DC between 2 and 9 March 2017. They held a round of advocacy meetings to raise awareness of the wide presence of slavery in Mauritania. Through targeted meetings, the delegation was successful in raising US policy-makers’ and experts at various high-level think tanks’ awareness about the current situation in Mauritania, where the Haratins’ most basic human rights are being systematically denied and civil liberties severely curtailed.

During his 7-day visit to Washington, DC in March 2017, Mr. Biram Dah Abeid met with Members of the US Senate, representatives of international human rights organizations, as well as experts of various think tanks. The delegation’s visit was an opportunity to renew pre-existing links with supporters and advocates of the Haratin and to establish new ties with US policy-makers and government representatives not yet familiar with the plight of the Haratin. Through these targeted advocacy meetings, the delegation was successful in raising awareness about the 150,000 people in Mauritania still being trapped in slavery, while those who dare voicing their opposition to this archaic practice are being systematically persecuted and silenced.

Meetings with representatives of various renowned human rights organizations were particularly helpful in exchanging views on current political developments in Mauritania and the deplorable situation of hundreds of thousands of slaves in the country. During instructive meetings with experts at Human Rights Watch, the Freedom House and Free the Slaves, the delegation was able to discuss the curtailment of individual and political freedoms and restrictions the Haratin in general and human rights activists in particular face on a daily basis and in almost all walks of life.

Mr Abeid also raised the fact that – despite outlawing slavery three times and making it a criminal offence in 2007 – to this day, the Mauritanian government not only lacks the will to genuinely tackle the problem, but is also part of it, falsely using their own interpretation of Islam to legitimise the perpetuation of the slavery system. In its discussions, the delegation also raised the issue of two human rights activists, both IRA members, still being held in detention, both of whom have been sentenced to five years in prison in 2016, namely Mr Moussa Biram and Mr Abdallahi Seck. Ten other activists who had been held with them were released in August 2016, after a national and international outcry following what has been widely denounced as a sham trial.

During the discussions with policy-makers on the Hill, the delegation in particular highlighted the fact that the US government wields considerable leverage when it comes to curbing the detrimental practice of slavery in the West African country, as Nouakchott is heavily dependent on financial and military support by external actors. The delegation reinforced that the international community, and the US in particular, should make use of its clout to eradicate the dehumanizing practice of slavery in Mauritania and prevent the government’s crackdown on civil society organizations.