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Slavery in Mauritania

Slavery practices in their traditional heritage form still exist in the Saharan state of Mauritania, northwest of the African continent, despite conflicting views on the proportion of its presence.

In 1981, Mauritania became the last country in the world to abolish slavery. Rights reports argue the credibility of this abolition, however, there are 2.4% of enslaved people reported to exist while 62% were “exposed” to this type of slavery according to the World Slavery Index. There were no official statistics on the extent of the problem, and successive Mauritanian Governments usually claimed that figures from international law organisations were exaggerated for political purposes.

Although international laws and charters of slavery have been criminalised the acts of traditional slavery, it continued and have taken other modern forms, such as trafficking in human beings for sexual exploitation, forced labor, crime, or organ theft, in addition to forced labor, forced marriage and child slavery.

In Mauritania, practices of a relaxed or enslaved nature no longer exist, at least in their crude classical style, given the existence of a tight legal arsenal that is explicitly and categorically criminalised, yet the society continues to suffer from the social deposits of this abhorrent phenomenon, as some cases are observed in certain areas, according to some BBC journalists.

Professor Stephen King at Georgetown University, talks in a paper published by the Arab Reform Initiative last August, about two types of slavery in Mauritania: First, inherited slavery based on descent “treating human beings as property,” as well as others “living under modern slavery or slavery-like conditions.”

However, the head of the IRA humanitarian movement, Biram Weld Ebeid, said that the victims are under genetic slavery through the mother, giving birth to the property of others who act in their rights and their lives. They are treated like a property of the owner. Some of them even treat women as slaves, giving their offspring as a wedding gift. So, it’s not modern slavery, but it’s traditional slavery that’s widespread and has a lot of victims.

Causes of slavery

Despite the presidential decree abolishing slavery in Mauritania in 1981, criminal laws were not enacted to enforce the prohibition.

In 2007, Mauritania passed a law allowing the prosecution of slave owners, but it was rarely applied, according to domestic and international jurists and United Nations reports. Indeed, a large number of anti-slavery jurists have been prosecuted and imprisoned. In 2015, the Government of Mauritania had established three special courts to try those accused of slavery, but had also investigated a few cases.

Human rights defenders in Mauritania maintain that one of the reasons for the non-application of legislation on the prohibition of slavery is that many communities, judicial and security controllers continue to believe that slavery is legitimate and sacred and cannot be dismantled, supported by the continuous social sediments of slavery and the weakness of civil and social awareness caused by the fragility of the educational system.  Extreme poverty among former slaves as well, causing them to continue to live “under the will of their former masters due to the urgent need. Despite legislation, and President Mohamed Ould Al-Ghazwani’s emphasis on the elimination of “slavery and its causes,” the children of former slaves “continue to live in poverty, vulnerability and deprivation.”

Despite the positive signs and the legislative and reform efforts made by the authorities in recent years to address the phenomenon of slavery in Mauritania, there is still a long way to go and, according to many observers, there is a need for radical treatment at many levels – economic, social, educational, political and judicial – not only to eradicate the phenomenon, but also to help its victims and their children, who suffer from poverty and marginalisation.

For our part, we would like to shed light on the existence of this kind of slavery, which has long ceased to exist in all countries but still exists “in Mauritania. While emphasising the existence of other types of modern slavery, such as trafficking in human beings, exploitation, abuse, especially, of migrants who face torture, and killing. We, therefore, call for efforts to unite and for cooperation with the Mauritanian State and human rights defenders to eradicate this abhorrent phenomenon.

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