Slavery Still persi...

Slavery Still persists in Mauritania  

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Slavery still persists in Mauritania

November 4th, 2009

Despite strong efforts by the toppled democratic government of Mauritania, slavery has yet to be rooted out in the country, a UN report documents. Under the new government, little progress is made to fight slavery.

Gulnara Shahinian, the first UN "Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery" appointed only last year, today reports her findings after a longer research visit to Mauritania. While diplomatically praising the Mauritanian government for "progress", she is quite clear on demanding stronger action to finally root out slavery in the country.

"A more a holistic, collaborative and sustained approach addressing all forms of discrimination together with poverty at all levels of society is required," Ms Shahinian says, warning that slavery is partly "unaddressed" in Mauritania. This "may be an obstacle to the stability, sustainable development and prosperity of Mauritania," said the UN expert.

Slavery in modern times has been documented in Mauritania by many local and foreign human rights groups and the UN for decades. Most Mauritanian governments, stemming from the military elite, have headed policies of denial regarding slavery, often criminalising organisations fighting slavery or speaking about it to foreign media.

Only the recent military reform government under Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall (2005-07) and the democratic government under President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi (2007-08) seriously addressed slavery in the country. In August 2007, an anti-slavery bill was approved and serious efforts were made to assist remaining slaves to obtain freedom.

Since the 2008 coup, however, civil society has again been limited in its freedom and the military government has shown little interest in fighting slavery and helping slaves to be freed.

The UN's Ms Shahinian confirms that slavery continues to be a problem. "In my visits to communities I met with people who told me that they had been victims of slavery practices such as serfdom and domestic servitude. These people had fled slavery and also told the stories of those they had left behind," she reports from her Mauritania visit.

"These victims said that they were utterly deprived of their basic human rights. Having no alternative, they voluntarily stay or after fleeing, return back to slavery. This perpetuates the vicious circle of slavery for men, women and children. The women I met felt that they were the most vulnerable as they suffer triple discrimination firstly as women, secondly, as mothers and thirdly as slaves," Ms Shahinian reports.

The UN Special Rapporteur urged Mauritanian authorities to do more to address slavery. While the 2007 anti-slavery law was still in place, little is done to implement it, she noted between the lines.

"In order for victims to be encouraged to come forward, I recommend that the 2007 slavery law include provisions that provide for victim assistance and socio-economic programmes for their reintegration into society," stressed Ms Shahinian. Enslaved Mauritanians still have little incentives to come forward, even risking being sent back to their masters by local police.

Ms Shahinian also urged the military government to bring back civil society into the process to fight slavery, as done by the toppled government. "The national strategy to combat slavery should be developed by different stakeholders from the government, local and international NGOs, political parties, religious leaders, trade unions, UN agencies and the donor community," she urged.

Finally, Ms Shahinian found the 2007 law too vague in its definition of slavery, as many master-servant dependencies - often encompassing former slavery bonds - fell short of inclusion in the anti-slavery policy.

"In order for the judiciary to effectively use this law, I would strongly recommend that the law be amended to contain a clearer definition of slavery and socio-economic programmes which would act as an incentive for victims to bring cases before the law," Ms Shahinian advised.

Posted : 04/11/2009 11:31 pm

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