A group of Chicago-based lawyers and human rights advocates have nonetheless begun to try to deal with the challenges. Their efforts have been focused on working with a Chicago-based organization known as the Abolition Institute.
The institute was inspired by a 2012 CNN expose, “Slavery’s Last Stronghold.” The story begins with a former Mauritanian slave who escaped after her master killed her infant daughter because he believed she would work faster without the child on her back. The Mauritanian government never pursued prosecution.
Following the expose’s publication, Sean Tenner, a Chicago-based political consultant active in African philanthropy, and Bakary Tandia, a Mauritanian native who now lives in Brooklyn, created the Abolition Institute as an Illinois nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation.
Chicago attorneys who have lent their pro bono services to the institute include Michael O’Malley Kurtz of Kurtz, Augenlicht & Froylan LLP; Stephan D. Blandin of Romanucci & Blandin LLC; Renato T. Mariotti, an assistant U.S. attorney; and myself.
The institute has worked closely with leading Muslim organizations, including the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, Inner-City Muslim Action Network, Masjid Al-Taqwa and various Muslim bar associations and attorneys. Mauritania is nearly 100 percent Muslim.
The institute’s activities have included advocating successfully for $3 million in new funding for antislavery programs in Mauritania and its region. U.S. Sen. Richard J. Durbin provided strong leadership in efforts to secure the anti-slavery funding.
The institute also worked on a bipartisan basis with U.S. Sen. Mark S. Kirk (known for his antitrafficking proposals) and U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Peter J. Roskam. On Dec. 13, Congress approved the $3 million appropriation, which may mean the difference between freedom and slavery for thousands of Mauritanians.