Photo: Mauretanian children. Source: Global Information Network - Photo: 2024

Slavery Still Ingrained in Mauritania, Activist Says

By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK | 2 July 2024 (IDN) — Mauritanians have re-elected President Mohamed Ould Ghazaouni with over 56% of the vote in a 6-way race. With provisional results from over 99.27% of polling stations, President Ghazaouni, a retired army general and current president of the African Union, is serving his last 5 year term with this election.

Mauritania achieved independence in 1960 but has since experienced recurrent coups and periods of military dictatorship. Since independence from France in 1960, Mauritania has suffered from repeated military coups.

Mauritania was the last country in the world to officially abolish slavery in 1981. But the practice was not criminalized until just over a decade ago in 2007.

Former slaves, known as Haratin, now form Mauritania’s lowest caste, living in extreme poverty under a regime that denies them access to work, education and the basic rights that come along with citizenship.

Slave status is passed down from mother to child, and anti-slavery activists are often tortured and detained. Yet the government routinely denies that slavery exists in Mauritania, instead praising itself for eradicating the practice.

Fatimatou and her daughter Mbarka, profiled in Newsweek magazine, were slaves to a family in the Aleg region, roughly 150 miles from the capital, Nouakchott. “They called me ‘Fatma the servant’, she recalled. “I looked after the cattle, prepared food, and fetched water from the well.”

“I lost two babies to this family because they prevented me from taking care of my own children. I was forced to work when I had just given birth.”

Fatimatou was freed with her children in the early 1990s by the organization SOS Slaves. Today, she lives with her family in one of the capital’s working-class neighborhoods.

“Slavery is ingrained in Mauritanian values

In the recent presidential poll, Ghazaouni’s main rival was anti-slavery activist Biram Dah Abeid.

“Slavery is ingrained in Mauritanian values,” commented Dah Abeid, a human rights defender. “That’s why it continues to plague Mauritania in such a massive way.”

Dah Abeid noted that his grandparents were slaves and as a consequence, he spent much of his life campaigning against the practice. His grandmother was a slave until her death. His father later married a slave and saw his wife and their two children sold before his eyes.

“My father was driven by the fight against slavery and he left this legacy, said Abeid. “I promised him that I would fight against slavery all my life, and that is what I am doing,”

Thousands of Black Mauritanians still live as unpaid domestic servants, while anti-slavery activists face repression.

Dah Abeid has been arrested and imprisoned over the years because of his work with the anti-slavery NGO “Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement.”

There are currently about 149,000 people enslaved in Mauritania, according to the Global Slavery Index in 2023.

Human rights in Mauritania are generally seen as poor according to international observers, including Freedom House, the U.S. Dept of State, and Amnesty International. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: Mauretanian children. Source: Global Information Network

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