- Africa -

More than 30 years after the official abolition of serfdom in Mauritania, slavery is still widespread in the north-west African state. The slaves are forced to work without payment – such as domestic work, herding cattle, or working in the fields. They belong to the Black African population, which is discriminated against by the Arabs and Berbers who rule the country. About 90 percent of the up to 500,000 slaves in Mauritania are women and children. Children who are born as slaves will remain slaves, belonging to the “masters” of their parents. Although slaves are no longer openly traded on markets in Mauritania, descent-based slavery is still widespread – although slavery became a criminal act in 2007. 

The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) has been trying to help abolish slavery in Mauritania since the 1980s. We published a book focusing on the fate of the Haratin (the newly edited and translated version of John Mercer’s book “Slavery in Mauritania Today”) and organized signature campaigns. We also held vigils in front of the Embassy of Mauritania, and we published press releases to draw attention to the fate of the Mauritanian slaves. We also supported Mauritian human rights activists, established contacts with European politicians and governments, and informed journalists about the struggle of the anti-slavery movement in Mauritania.

Those who try to fight slavery in Mauritania are living in constant danger. There are ongoing attempts to keep them from doing their work, human rights organizations are not recognized as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), activists are exposed to serious threats by the state, and there are many arrests and raids.

One of these human rights organizations we are in close contact with is the anti-slavery organization IRA (Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement). The IRA supports slaves who try to get away from their “owners”, as the laws against slavery are implemented half-heartedly and most of the slaves wait in vain to be released.

There are attempts to silence the human rights activists of the IRA. For example, Biram Dah Abeid, the President of the IRA, has already been arrested several times and sentenced to several years’ imprisonment. Most recently, he was released in May 2016 due to international pressure. Ambassadors from European countries have repeatedly supported Biram Dah Abeid in his work in Mauritania by accompanying him.

To honor his unique commitment, we nominated Biram Dah Abeid for the Weimar Human Rights Prize and the United Nations Human Rights Prize, a highly recognized internationally award to honor his outstanding achievements in promoting and protecting human rights. These Prizes were awarded to him in 2011 and 2013.

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Further information about Mauritania

Header photo: © LenDog64 via Flickr