U.S. State Department on Human Rights in Mauritania
The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor reports annually on human rights conditions in every nation. Its 2015 report provides a comprehensive overview of the extent of slavery and related practices in Mauritania.
From Executive Summary:
The chief human rights problems were continuing slavery and slavery-related practices, trafficking in persons, and harsh, overcrowded, and dangerous prison conditions. Violations of freedom of press and association were also of concern. Other reported human rights problems included use of torture by law enforcement officers, arbitrary arrests, and lengthy pretrial detention. Male guards sometimes patrolled women’s prisons, and authorities incarcerated children with adult prisoners.
Government influence over the judiciary, limits on freedom of assembly, restrictions on religious freedom, and public corruption were also problems. Only Muslims may be citizens of the country. Discrimination against women, female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); early and forced marriage; political marginalization of southern-based (non-Arab) ethnic groups and of the Haratine caste of slave descendants; racial and ethnic discrimination; discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons and persons with HIV/AIDS; child labor; and inadequate enforcement of labor laws also occurred.
The government took modest steps to punish officials who committed abuses and prosecuted a number of officials, but officials frequently acted with impunity. Civil society organizations objected to the scant number of indictments.
From Prohibition of Forced of Compulsory Labor:
Slavery-like practices, which typically flowed from ancestral master-slave relationships and involved both adults and children, continued throughout the year. Former slaves and their descendants remained in a dependent status in part due to a lack of marketable skills, poverty, and persistent drought. Such practices occurred primarily in areas where educational levels were generally low or a barter economy still prevailed, and in urban centers, including Nouakchott, where domestic servitude was relatively common.
The practices commonly occurred where there was a need for workers to herd livestock, tend fields, and do other manual or household labor. Some former slaves and descendants of slaves were forced or had no other viable option than to work for their old masters in exchange for some combination of lodging, food, and medical care. Individuals in subservient circumstances were also vulnerable to mistreatment. Women with children faced particular difficulties; they could be compelled to remain in a condition of servitude, performing domestic duties, tending fields, or herding animals without remuneration.
Some former slaves reportedly continued to work for their former masters or others under exploitative conditions to retain access to land that they traditionally farmed. Although the law provides for distribution of land to the landless, including to former slaves, authorities rarely enforced it. Both NGO observers and government officials suggested that deeply embedded psychological and tribal bonds made it difficult for many individuals whose ancestors had been slaves for generations to break their bonds with former masters or their tribes. Some persons continued to link themselves to former masters because they believed their slave status had been divinely ordained or feared religious punishment if that bond was broken. Former slaves were often subjected to social discrimination and limited to performing manual labor in markets, ports, and airports.
Forced labor also occurred in urban centers where young children--often girls--were retained as unpaid household servants. Human rights groups reported that masters persuaded persons in slave-like relationships to deny such exploitative relationships to human rights activists.
NGOs continued to report cases of trafficking in persons for domestic service, street begging for unscrupulous religious teachers, and slave-like relationships as domestic servants or herders. Victims were men, women, and children.
In May the AFCF and El Hor (a leading antislavery NGO) denounced what they asserted was trafficking of young women from the Haratine community. The AFCF president claimed 300 young women, who initially went to Saudi Arabia to perform white-collar employment, were instead used for menial labor and denied the right to terminate their employment. Local and international organizations helped repatriate 21 girls; others who wished to return home were in the process of repatriation. In its response to the complaints, the Mauritanian government characterized the situation as allowable under a labor agreement between Mauritania and Saudi Arabia and stated the victims should file a legal complaint with the Mauritanian Ministry of Justice, which had an office for that purpose.
In August 2014 activists from the IRA and El Hor staged a sit-in at a police station in Nouadhibou to protest the government’s “indifference” to a slavery complaint. The Nouadhibou case involved two women: Vatma Mint Mohamed, a 22-year-old slave, and her alleged mistress, Zeina Mint Babe, who, according to the IRA, had planned to abduct Mint Mohamed and take her to Dakar. Although police questioned Mint Babe in the wake of the complaint, they declined to recommend criminal charges.
Read the full 2015 report here.