For only the second time in the country's history, a judge in Mauritania this week convicted two people on charges of slavery, according to anti-slavery activists and U.S. officials.
Slavery is thought to be more common in that West African country, which CNN featured in the 2012 documentary "Slavery's Last Stronghold," than anywhere else on Earth. According to a report from the Walk Free Foundation, an estimated 4% of Mauritanians -- 155,600 people -- live in modern slavery.
"This is a significant development," the U.S. ambassador to Mauritania, Larry Andre, said of the convictions. "It sends a clear message to people who deny freedom to others risk losing their own."
Mauritanian officials long have denied modern slavery exists in the country. This week's convictions provide new evidence not only that slavery continues but that some factions of the government finally are willing to do something it, said Sarah Mathewson, Africa program coordinator for Anti-Slavery International.
"Lots of people (in Mauritania) will be very encouraged by this ruling -- encouraged to leave slavery, encouraged to access justice," she said. "And slave owners will be discouraged from continuing to abuse them."
"It's unbelievable," she said. "It keeps dawning on me."