Jul 09, 2020

Haratin: Slavery and Repression in Mauritania; UNPO/IRA Report

The UNPO and its Member, the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA) in Mauritania, have jointly filed a report to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for consideration of the 37th Session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. This report examines the current state of human rights in Mauritania focused specifically on the realization of the human rights of the Haratin people and progress made since the last UPR of Mauritania. Specifically, the report sheds light on the issue of slavery, gender-based violence, discrimination and repression. The report urges concrete measures be urgently taken to resolve what amounts to a continued human rights crisis in Mauritania.

The population of Mauritania is made up of three major ethnic groupings: on the one hand the Arabic-speaking groups including the Bidhân or “Arab-Berbers”, Arabic speaking peoples of mixed Arab and Berber origin, and the Haratin, the indigenous population of northwestern regions of the Sahara that form the largest ethnolinguist group in Mauritania (some 40% of the population); and on the other hand, non-Arabic-speaking ethnic communities such as the Wolof, Soninké, Haalpulaar. The Haratin ethnic group, the focus of this report, were historically enslaved in Mauritania and today continue to deal with the legacy of slavery in various different forms.

Slavery: Slavery continues to exist in Mauritania with Haratin women and children particularly impacted. While there has been significant progress in ending slavery by law, slavery practices persist, with strong indications of counter-actions by former slave owners and the justice system to held perpetuate slavery in other forms and to return freed or escaped slaves to their former captors. That more antislavery activists have been imprisoned in the past years than those perpetuating slavery is testament to how ingrained slavery is to the fabric of those who control Mauritanian government and society.

Gender-Based Violence: Hand-in-hand with slavery is the persistence of gender-based violence and marginalization of women and girls in Mauritania, especially from the Haratin community. Attempts to pass a law on gender-based violence have been consistently withdrawn by the government.

Discrimination: The Haratin continue to be discriminated against in all walks of life. The lack of equal opportunities to participate in public life and to own property present significant barriers to ever being able to successfully move beyond the legacy of slavery in the country. Tentative efforts to encourage greater participation in government service under President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz have been halted nearly entirely since the election of President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani in 2019.  The elections themselves were characterized by systematic efforts to exclude Haratin from engaging on an equal basis in Mauritanian political life and to repress any who sought to engage. Beyond public participation, land ownership remains highly uneven with former slaves struggling markedly to obtain title to good, productive land. A lack of access to official documents, including identity documents operates as another major barrier to resolving the underlying injustices in Mauritanian society.

Repression: Repression of Haratin and antislavery activists is widespread. Arbitrary arrests and detentions are increasing and torture and ill-treatment of the detained is repeated and regular. Public protests are regularly curtailed and those who engage in speech that is critical of the government are harassed and intimidated (if they aren’t arrested and detained).

Antislavery NGOs, including IRA-Mauritania continue to be summarily denied the ability to form and register officially in Mauritania. The report urges concrete measures be urgently taken to resolve what amounts to a continued human rights crisis in Mauritania.

Read the report here.

Photo: Seif Kosmate