Mauritania to Set Up Slavery Tribunal

By AFP on December 31, 2014—
“Mauritania is to set up a special tribunal to prosecute suspects accused of involvement in slavery, state media said on Tuesday, in a bid to eradicate the trade in the west African state.

A judicial committee chaired by President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz met on Monday and “decided to create a court to try crimes of slavery”, the Mauritanian Information Agency reported.

Mauritania was the last country in the world to abolish slavery, in 1981, and since 2012 its practice has been officially designated a crime, with those convicted liable to 10 years in prison.

Forced labour is a particularly sensitive issue in Mauritania, where anti-slavery charities are very active, especially SOS Slaves and the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Struggle against Slavery (IRSS), which support victims in court.

A Nouakchott court found six people guilty of slavery in November 2011, in the first such convictions in Mauritania, and many other cases have been waiting to go to court, with the suspects often accused by NGOs of “collusion with slave owners”.

But legal action has in the past taken place in normal criminal courts and campaigners have argued that the government has failed to acknowledge the extent of the trade, with no official data available.

IRSS president Biram Ould Dah said that while the legal means to try slave-holders already existed, there had been a lack of “political will to enforce existing laws”.

  • A Mauritanian boy walks towards his family's shack on March 7, 2007 in a shanty town in Nouakchott's El-Mina quarter, which is mainly inhabited by the descendants of ancient slaves
    A Mauritanian boy walks towards his family’s shack on March 7, 2007 in a shanty town in Nouakchott’s El-Mina quarter, which is mainly inhabited by the descendants of ancient slaves (AFP Photo/Georges Gobet)

Various social security programmes have helped former slaves in the past but the beneficiaries were never recognised as such, with schemes officially targeting other disadvantaged groups.

But in March Mauritania announced the launch of its first government agency charged explicitly with helping former slaves.

The organisation’s mission is to “eradicate the legacy of slavery” by helping the poor and marginalised through better access to housing and employment, the government said.”

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