August 31, 2012

UNPO-IRA Report To UN CESCR Denounces Enslavement And Marginalization Of The Haratin

UNPO and the IRA-Mauritania submitted a joint alternative report to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, outlining the widespread continuation of slavery and lack of opportunities for freed slaves in Mauritania.


Below is an article published by UNPO:

UNPO and the Initiative de Résurgence du Mouvement Abolitionniste en Mauritanie (IRA) submitted a joint report to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) ahead of Mauritania’s review at the 49th Session of the Committee taking place in Geneva from November 12th to 30th 2012. You can access the full report by clicking on the link to it under "Attached Documents" on the right.

The alternative report focuses on the situation of the Haratin population in Mauritania and the Mauritanian government’s compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The issues the report focuses on include slavery, child labor, political, economic and social marginalization of the Haratin, forced evictions, lack of opportunities for freed slaves and mistreatment of human rights activists by the official authorities.

Mauritania has a very long history of slavery and the practice is deeply engrained and widely accepted in Mauritanian society. Due to the profoundly conservative nature of the Mauritanian society, strict hierarchical social systems are prevalent, and for hundreds of years the dominant Berber or ‘White Moor’ classes have dominated positions of power, politics and wealth.

Despite repeated attempts to abolish slavery in Mauritania and its criminalization in 2007, the practice is still commonplace and particularly affects the Haratin who constitute 40% of the population, the vast majority of whom continue to live as slaves. Even when freed, slaves often continue to work for their former ‘masters’ due to psychological and economic dependence that has been established through years of enslavement.

As a result of illiteracy, lack of education and social discrimination, Haratin face tremendous hurdles finding work; the few who are able to secure employment have been limited to providing manual labor in markets, airports and water ports.

The UNPO – IRA report to the CESCR highlighted the complete absence of enforcement of the 2007 law criminalizing slavery in Mauritania, as well as other legal Acts before and after that. The government does not support enforcement or publicizing of the Act and many people are still unaware that slavery has officially been abolished.  The U.S. Department of State recently called the State party’s efforts to protect victims of slavery “negligible.”

The report also noted that the government actively defends the institution of slavery by discriminating against Human Rights NGOs and arresting their leaders. IRA president Mr. Birame Ould Dah Oudl Abeid was arrested in April 2012 for publicly burning religious texts which support the practice of slavery. As of August 31st 2012 him and six other activists arrested the same day, are still held in detention and Mr. Birame Ould Dah Oudl Abeid has been in and out of hospital four times in the last month because of deteriorating health. Trial is still pending; charges include threatening national security and good morals, management of a non-authorized organization (IRA) and, solely for Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid, the crime of Apostasy. IRA is one of the main anti-slavery organizations in Mauritania and despite repeated attempts to register the government has not allowed them to do so.

The alternative report concluded with the following recommendations to the government of Mauritania:

 1.       Acknowledge the pervasive existence of slavery in the country.

 2.       Develop educational campaigns to make the population aware of the illegality of

                slavery and to challenge the cultural assumptions that support it.

 3.       Amend the 2007 Slavery Act to contain a clearer definition of slavery, provide aid      

               for judicial enforcement of the Act and allow civil society organizations to file

                complaints on behalf of slaves.

 4.       Investigate extensively alleged slavery cases, particularly those involving child labor.

 5.       Provide victim protection and assistance programs, offering police protection, aiding

               in victims’ reintegration into society and increasing education of Haratin children.

 6.       Develop  and  implement,  in  association  with  independent  experts,  a 

                comprehensive  and holistic national strategy combating slavery.

 7.       Allow the Initiative pour la Résurgence du Mouvement Abolitionniste en Mauritanie

                 (IRA) the right to  register  and  engage  in  consensus  building  social dialogue 

                 with  other organizations representing slaves and former slaves.

 8.       Allow the Haratin access to property and, specifically, allow them legal ownership of

                the land they cultivate. 

 9.       Together with input from civil society, develop a plan to provide economic resources,

                training and education in order to empower Haratin.

 10.   Ensure all citizens are registered with the local authorities.

 11.   Include the “Haratin” among the ethnic groups listed in the census.