Jul 07, 2023

The Bellah people: The forgotten community of Mali

The Bellah people are an indigenous black community living in the Sahel/Sahara area of Mali. They are estimated to have a population size ranging between 300,000 and 500,000 people, belonging to various ethnic groups. Despite their significant size, the Bellah people have not received adequate recognition, as they are not represented on ethnic maps. This lack of visibility has led to their marginalization and exclusion from political and economic decision-making processes in Mali, leading them to poverty and vulnerability. 

Historically, the Bellah people have endured a long and painful history of enslavement, which has been practiced in Mali for centuries. Various groups, including the Tuareg, have subjected the Bellah people to slavery. Although slavery was abolished in 1960, it is still prevalent in some areas of the country, especially among the Bellah community. The lack of access to resources and limited opportunities for economic advancement have made them vulnerable to the ongoing practice of enslavement by the Tuaregs.  

In 2012, the Malian government took a significant step towards addressing the issue of slavery by passing a law that criminalizes human trafficking. However, the implementation of this law remains a challenge, as the practice of slavery based on descent persists. In 2016, the Malian government was criticized for its inability or unwillingness to pass a law criminalizing descent-based slavery, which is the practice of enslaving individuals based on their ancestry, often passed down from generation to generation. Many officials in Mali have defended these practices as cultural, thereby preventing them from being criminalized. However, this argument is widely discredited by human rights activists and organizations, who view slavery as a violation of basic human rights and believe it should be illegal, regardless of cultural practices.   

Despite some improvements in their situation, the Bellah people continue to suffer from violence, social prejudice, stigmatization, and exclusion from education, healthcare, and political representation. They have also faced challenges in securing political representation and participation in the decision-making processes of the country.  

UNPO condemns the ongoing practice of slavery and repression of the Bellah people by the Tuaregs and calls upon the Malian government to take action to end all forms of slavery and repression towards the Bellah people. UNPO further urges the integration of the Bellah community in the peace process to achieve recognition and rehabilitation of the community and create national reconciliation in the country.