By Marissa Brescia, Cara Vileno on September 13, 2017
Mauritania, a geographically large country located just across the Atlantic from Washington, DC, is a country rich in history and traditions. More than three times the size of New Mexico, its desert landscape is home to approximately four million people. Landing in the capital of Nouakchott to visit two foreign assistance programs supported by our bureau, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL), we quickly understood that Mauritania’s past is very present in how its people live today. We spent the following week learning more about the nature of the country’s highly complex ethno-racial society and history, and how active civil society groups are bravely advocating for the rights of enslaved individuals and other marginalized populations.
DRL’s mandate is to monitor and promote human rights and democracy worldwide. In Mauritania, this means supporting work that seeks to combat the issue of hereditary slavery. According to the Department of State’s 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report: “Adults and children from traditional slave castes in the Black Moor and Afro-Mauritanian communities are subjected to hereditary slavery practices rooted in ancestral master-slave relationships, where they are often forced to work without pay as cattle herders and domestic servants.” DRL-funded programs support local civil society efforts to combat these practices by working to obtain legal identity documents for stateless and marginalized groups, providing skills and opportunities to help people emerging from slavery achieve socio-economic independence, and building the capacity of local journalists to raise awareness of the issue.
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