Oct 03, 2017

Haratin: Slavery Continues to be a Deep-Rooted Aspect of the Mauritanian Society

Today in Mauritania almost 1% of the entire population is enslaved. Especially exposed to this systematic enslavement are the Haratin, many of whom have been enslaved by oppressive ethnic groups in the region for generations. Majority of slaves endure horrendous living conditions, are treated as property, commonly isolated from their families, raped and traded as desired by the owner. Although illegal, slavery persists as an ingrained institution of the Mauritian culture and the crisis continues to be ignored by the State government.  Opposition leader Biram Dah Abeid served two years in prison for advocating against the cultural norm of slavery. Far from improving, there are still today tremendous strides to be taken to end this illegal and inhumane practice. 

The article below was published by: 9News

Slavery has long been seen as a crime of antiquity, with the United States ending the slave trade in the 1860s. But slavery is such an ingrained part of life in an obscure African nation that it is estimated ten percent of the population is owned by another person. Men and women are routinely bought, sold and forced to work for free in Mauritania, on the Atlantic edge of the Sahara.

Mauritania is no micronation – the population is 4.3 million people and as many as 400,000 people are held in slavery. Slavery is typically along ethnic and racial lines, with black African Haratin oppressed by the Bidhan, or Moors. Haratin outnumber Bidhans in Mauritania, but they remain oppressed in a country where democracy is a dubious concept. The current president came to power in a military coup in 2008, three years after the previous coup.

It's the long-intertwined nature of slavery and ethnicity that makes it deeply rooted and difficult to address, said Abolition Institute co-founder Sean Tenner. "For its victims, the psychology of slavery is incredibly pervasive and incredibly sinister," Mr Tenner told nine.com.au.

"Mental chains are so powerful that physical ones are not needed; enslaved Mauritanians are brought up to believe they belong to their masters.

The Abolition Institute is based in Chicago, but is dedicated to ending slavery in the repressive country.

Slaves aren't publicly sold in the open-air markets that became so grimly iconic in the southern United States in the 19th Century.

But Mauritanian slaves are routinely bought and sold or even given away as gifts.

"Families are also broken up in order to isolate victims – if a slave is alone among her master's family, he or she will have little support structure in order to help further escape – and little prospects for life afterwards," Mr Tenner said.

Rape is also a matter of course for Mauritanian slaves.

"Their bodies belong to their masters and they are routinely violated and often bear their masters children, who also become slaves," Mr Tenner said.

"When our delegation of American civil rights leaders met with former Mauritanian slaves, we heard chilling testimony from young women who were raped and impregnated by multiple members of their masters' families."

Slavery is technically illegal in Mauritania, becoming the last country on Earth to outlaw the practice in 2007.

But it is still widespread and rarely policed, with the government downplaying or outright denying the existence of slavery.

The Mauritanian government even imprisoned opposition leader Biram Dah Abeid for protesting the repeal of a man's conviction for raping his teenage slave in 2014.

Biram was only released from prison two years later.

There has been progress in recent years, with the first substantial convictions against slaveholders were handed down last year.

But it is still a pervasive part of Mauritanian culture, said Mr Tenner.

"Certain customs and traditions that have been ingrained over centuries reinforce the master-slave relationship, so anything that deviates from it can be seen as shattering and challenging society as a whole – with severe consequences for those who do so," he said.

"Many slave families have served their same master families over countless generations."