Despite the fact that slavery was officially abolished in Mauritania in 1980 and criminalized by a new law in 2007. The Anti Slavery Act was adopted in 2007 under the old government of Mauritania before the military coup of 2009. Under the new government it only led to the conviction of one man, who was released on bail in 2012. The military coup in 2009 and the following election of Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz as President, dashed all hopes for the abolishment of the practice of slavery in the African country. Instead of convicting slave-owners the authorities of Mauritania are now hunting anti-slavery NGOs and local human rights defenders by calling them ‘terrorists’.
The lack of convictions under the 2007 law is in line with the governments stance on the issue. They clearly deny the existence of slavery in their country. The Minister of Rural Development, last year in June, delivered a statement in which he said that ‘there is a phenomenon (…) that has existed in Mauritania, that has existed in other countries, which is slavery. And it is abolished in all communities and criminalized today by our government. Therefore, there is absolutely no problem of that in Mauritania’.
Statements such as this together public denial by government officials on the issue of slavery in Mauritania leads, as the UN Special Rapporteur said, to the ‘social death’ of half a million people in Mauritania. Due to the denial there is no hope for the abolishment of slavery and therefore no basic services such as protection and legal and medical assistance for the slaves that can be freed.
In the fight against slavery it is also important that the social root causes are being tackled, including cultural values and traditions, which facilitate slavery in Mauritania. It needs a comprehensive approach that helps to prevent slavery by eliminating the causes, supports the reintegration of freed slaves and ensures the accountability of the slave-owners, which have to be punished under the 2007 Anti Slavery Act.