The two slave-owners – Sidi Mohamed Ould Hanana and Khalihina Ould Heymad – were also ordered to pay compensation to the two female slaves who had brought the case with the support of SOS Esclaves and Anti-Slavery International (ASI). The presiding judge of the Nema special court, which was set up in December, also imposed a fine of 100,000 ouguiya (about $285) and ordered 1m ouguiya in restitution to each of the women.
The women – Fatimetou Mint Hamdi and Fatimata Mint Zaydih, aged between 35 and 40 – had lived with the Ould Daoud family since birth. They escaped with their children with the help of SOS Esclaves last year. The NGO has been looking after them since.
Speaking after the trial, Zaydih said: “I never received any money or anything for the work I did. I was only ever allowed to eat the leftovers from the masters’ meals. My 10-year-old son became the slave of one of the masters, and was under his control all the time. I never knew what my boy was eating or if he was eating at all.”
By Geoffrey York at the Globe and Mail:
Boubacar Messaoud, a former slave who became one of the country’s most prominent anti-slavery campaigners, has lost track of how many times he has been arrested by the authorities for his activism – at least five or six, he says, including once when he was imprisoned for more than three months.
Jail is still used as a weapon against the anti-slavery movement. Mauritania’s most famous campaigner, Biram Dah Abeid, and one of his comrades, Brahim Bilal, are currently in the second year of a two-year prison sentence. They were arrested while leading a peaceful protest in a convoy of cars driving across a rural district. Another activist, Mr. Touré, has been arrested several times and once spent 40 days in prison.
Their organization, the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA), is considered illegal, and the authorities have closed and padlocked its offices in Nouakchott, the capital city. Diagonal black lines have been painted across its walls to warn away anyone who seeks its help.
“We’re used to this pressure,” Mr. Touré shrugs. “It’s normal. We were a little scared in the past, but now we don’t care.”
Draft legislation that threatens NGO freedom risks undermining the country’s new anti-slavery law, and the ability of NGOs to work with victims.
By Romanucci & Blandin at R&B Law:
he U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee recently approved $5 million in funding to address slavery in the West African nation of Mauritania, ranked by the Global Slavery Index as the nation with the highest percentage of its own people enslaved. This follows last year’s historic appropriation of $3 million for anti-slavery programs in the region.
It is estimated that between 10 and 20 percent of Mauritania’s 3.89 million citizens are enslaved and face horrific, inhumane conditions. A 2012 CNN special report, “Slavery’s Last Stronghold” shared the Mauritanian slaves’ plight with the world and spurred a group of activists to form The Abolition Institute.
The Chicago-based nonprofit is building on Illinois’ long history as a hub for anti-slavery movements and working with lawyers and human rights advocates to end the practice of slavery in Mauritania. Area Chicago attorneys, including Romanucci & Blandin partner Stephan Blandin, have volunteered their services to the Institute to aid in this effort.
“This grant and the Committee’s approval of $25 million for a new initiative to end modern slavery globally solidifies the message that policy makers are making a long term investment in addressing slavery in Mauritania and wherever this abhorrent situation exists,” said Blandin.
By Amnesty International:
The harsh sentence upheld this evening against a prominent anti-slavery activist is a clear indication that Mauritania has no intention of letting up on its crackdown on human rights defenders, Amnesty International said today.
An appeal court in the south-western town of Aleg has confirmed the two year sentence after convicting former presidential candidate Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid, Brahim Bilal and Djiby Sow of membership in an unrecognized organization, taking part in an unauthorized assembly, failing to comply with police orders and resisting arrest.
More than 100 members of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement in Mauritania (IRA) protested in the capital for the release of the organisation`s leader and another employee, the NGO`s spokesman, Hammady Ould Lehbouss, told AFP.
"Twenty-three of the protesters were arrested and six were injured during clashes with police, who were using batons and large amounts of tear gas," he said.
"We wanted to organise a peaceful march. The police attacked us, and violent clashes followed," he added.
The police did not respond to the claim when contacted by AFP for comment.
The leader of the IRA is Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid, who was a candidate for the country`s presidency in June 2014, running against incumbent Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.
Ould Abeid was arrested in January along with two other anti-slavery activists, one of whom was a member of the IRA, and sentenced to two years in prison for "belonging to a non-authorised organisation, protesting, and incitement to rebellion."
The third activist, Djiby Sow, is president of the cultural and civic association Kawtal Ngam Yellitaare, and was recently released on bail for health reasons.
The two jailed members of the IRA are currently appealing their sentences, which the organisation has repeatedly denounced as wrongful imprisonment. The IRA has organised a number of protests since their arrests, which have often been dispersed by authorities.
By Mamoudou Lamine Kane at IRINnews.org:
While she was one of the lucky ones – eventually set free in 2010 after the brother of her master advised him to “get rid of her” – she remains traumatised.
“I have survived all this, but I still have nightmares,” she told IRIN.
In spite of her past, Oumoul Khayri considers her release a new chance at a “normal” life:
"Each day, I go to my job in Arafat, sweeping and doing dishes, and then I come back and relax with my children, without anyone insulting me or ordering me around... I make tea when I feel like it and my children now go to school. They are no longer beaten.”
“The father of my daughters left us, so I have been the one fighting to take care of them,” Zeynabou told IRIN, as she pulled weeds from outside a soft drink bottling factory in Mauritania’s capital Nouakchott.
The divorce rate among Haratine women is among the highest in Mauritania – an estimated 70 percent, according to local professor and sociologist Cheikh Saad Bouh Camara.
“Haratines, because of the poverty, because of the illiteracy, because of the urbanisation, and other causes bounded to their fragile social status, are the most likely to be divorced,” he said. “They almost always marry within their community, often against their will”
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.
By Don R. Sampen at the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin (.pdf):
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.
Land reform that Abeid and the other activists were canvassing for is the latest front in an ongoing battle against the inequalities created by slavery.
"All land belongs to the state in theory," said Bilal Ould Merzeg, a former ambassador and the founding member of the El Hor political movement (founded in the 1970s to fight for the rights of black moors). "But in the distribution of land, even at the state level, feudal reflexes also remain, and land is distributed to the powerful."
Isselmou Ould Abdelkader, a former minister of foreign affairs and a consultant on human rights, disagrees. "Land belongs to the tribe," he told IRIN. "And everyone has access to it." Abdelkader said the "slave mode of production" has been dead for years. But, he said, it is common for certain people in society - what he would prefer to call serfs instead of slaves - are expected to pay a tithe to their masters, former or otherwise, after the agricultural season.
Abdoulaye Sow, a professor of sociology at the University of Nouakchott, told IRIN that serf or slave, the problem is about the country's deep hierarchies. Land reform for the benefit of the slaves and former slaves, "would undermine the foundations of Mauritanian society, which is profoundly unequal," said Sow.
The Mauritanian government continues to crack down on the anti-slavery activists. Several IRA members were arrested in a Nouakchott mosque in October. And on 13 November, a few days after Abeid's arrest, the police and National Guard used violent force to put down a protest led by IRA members and supporters at Nouakchott's main market.