US Trafficking Report.png

 2020 U.S. State 

 Department Trafficking in 

 Persons Report 

2020 U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Report:

Published annually, the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report is the U.S. Government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking. According to the U.S. State Department, it is also the world’s most comprehensive resource of governmental anti-human trafficking efforts and reflects the U.S. Government’s commitment to global leadership on this key human rights and law enforcement issue. It represents an updated, global look at the nature and scope of trafficking in persons and the broad range of government actions to confront and eliminate it.

The U.S. Government uses the TIP Report to engage foreign governments in dialogues to advance anti-trafficking reforms and to combat trafficking and to target resources on prevention, protection and prosecution programs. Worldwide, the report is used by international organizations, foreign governments, and nongovernmental organizations alike as a tool to examine where resources are most needed. Freeing victims, preventing trafficking, and bringing traffickers to justice are the ultimate goals of the report and of the U.S Government's anti-human trafficking policy.

Summary:

The government has rarely imprisoned convicted slaveholders, and the government did not proactively identify any trafficking or hereditary slavery victims. Government agencies charged with combating trafficking and hereditary slavery continued to lack the resources, personnel, and political will to prosecute politically connected offenders, and reports persisted of officials refusing to investigate or prosecute perpetrators.

Prioritized Recommendations:

  • Direct law enforcement to investigate all allegations of slavery and trafficking and hold government officials accountable for failure to investigate alleged hereditary slavery offenses and interference in ongoing investigations.

  • Significantly increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers and slaveholders with appropriate prison terms in accordance with the 2003 anti-trafficking and 2015 anti-slavery laws, and mandate that any human trafficking cases tried under the 2003 anti-trafficking law are automatically referred to the anti-slavery courts.

  • Continue to increase funding for the anti-slavery courts, ensure each of the anti-slavery courts is appropriately staffed with a dedicated prosecutor (procureur), judge of inquiry, and trial judge, and train prosecutors and judicial officials on both the 2003 anti-trafficking and 2015 anti-slavery laws.

  • Develop standard procedures to identify and refer trafficking and hereditary slavery victims to care, and train authorities on the procedures’ implementation.

  • Institute measures to support trafficking and hereditary slavery victims during investigations, including providing easier access to legal assistance and protection from intimidation and threats from their alleged traffickers.

  • Partner with NGOs to provide shelter and services to all trafficking victims, including adults.

  • Proactively screen for trafficking indicators among vulnerable populations, including sexual abuse victims, women in commercial sex, and irregular migrants, and cease detaining, deporting, or otherwise penalizing potential trafficking victims.

  • Investigate and prosecute individuals accused of fraudulently recruiting Mauritanians abroad for exploitation in forced labor and sex trafficking.

  • Legally recognize anti-trafficking NGOs and allow them to register and operate freely within the country without undue government interference.

  • Implement the anti-trafficking national action plan to address all forms of trafficking, including hereditary slavery and forced labor, with input from civil society and all relevant ministries in the government.

  • Continue to enhance dialogue with civil society working on anti-slavery issues and, with input from civil society, develop and implement a plan to continue providing assistance to former slaves and members of traditional slave castes to allow them the opportunity to leave their communities of enslavement.

  • Increase public awareness campaigns against trafficking, including hereditary slavery.

Prosecution:

No slave owners or traffickers are currently in prison and NGOs reported several of the convicted traffickers appealed their court’s decision. A total of 10 cases are pending before the three anti-slavery courts: four before the Nema court, four before the Nouadhibou court, and two before the Nouakchott court. NGOs reported the government did not initiate any new investigations into fraudulent recruitment. Three regional anti-slavery courts had exclusive jurisdiction over trafficking and hereditary slavery cases; however, the courts lacked the staff, funding, and resources to investigate and prosecute trafficking and hereditary slavery crimes throughout their regions.
 
While the appointed judges received specialized training on the 2015 anti-slavery law, they have not been trained in its enforcement and the unique challenges of investigating hereditary slavery cases, including how to prevent slaveholders from intimidating victims to withdraw their cases. Moreover, while other topical courts had specialized prosecutors, there were no specialized prosecutors for the anti-slavery courts.
 
Efforts to address hereditary slavery remained weak. Despite past persistent concerns of official corruption impeding investigation of hereditary slavery cases, the government did not report any prosecutions or convictions of government officials accused of corruption related to human trafficking and hereditary slavery offenses. Four Mauritanian soldiers and police officers deployed as UN peacekeepers to the Central African Republic (CAR) were accused of sexual misconduct in 2019; the government appointed a national investigation officer to investigate one of the four allegations involving two Mauritanian soldiers. The other three allegations are pending investigation by the UN. Some police, prosecutors, and investigative judges reportedly refused to investigate and try cases of hereditary slavery or to acknowledge hereditary slavery continued to occur. The government at times relied on lesser statutes to punish potential slavery offenses due to a lack of adequate training for government officials and a lack of political will to prosecute such offenses. NGOs reported some local authorities encouraged victims and their families to resolve trafficking and hereditary slavery cases through social mediation rather than through the criminal justice system. Although prosecutors have a legal obligation to transfer slavery cases to the anti-slavery courts, some prosecutors encouraged victims to withdraw their complaints in exchange for a small amount of financial compensation.

Protection:

The government maintained insufficient efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims. Similar to the previous reporting period, the government did not report identifying any trafficking victims. An NGO reported identifying 2,704 child forced begging victims and 364 child sex trafficking and domestic servitude victims in 2019.
 
The government did not provide financial or in-kind support to NGOs that continued to provide the majority of protective services to trafficking victims
 
Psychological support for trafficking victims is insufficient and not offered in languages other than French or Arabic. The lack of long-term rehabilitative care rendered victims vulnerable to re-trafficking. The government did not provide any services to protect victims from threats or intimidation from their traffickers. In 2019, an international organization conducted microbusiness training for Mauritanians exploited in trafficking abroad with support from the government. The government did not have a formal policy to encourage victims to assist in investigations and prosecutions against their alleged traffickers. NGOs reported the government often brought victims and accused traffickers together when interviewing, which placed enormous pressure on victims to change their testimony. The 2015 anti-slavery law provided for comprehensive legal assistance for victims of hereditary slavery and the creation of support centers in each province; however, the government did not report implementing such provisions during the reporting period. The law allowed victims to obtain restitution, although the complex and opaque legal system made such efforts extremely difficult;
 
Victims could also file civil suits against their traffickers; however, the government did not report any victims doing so, in part due to their lack of awareness of this option. Mauritanian law allows potential victims to file for asylum or refugee status; however, the government did not report granting these legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they may face hardship or retribution.
 
There were reports the government penalized and imprisoned on fornication charges girls who had been sexually abused, some of whom were likely victims of domestic servitude or sex trafficking.

Trafficking People:

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Mauritania, and traffickers exploit victims from Mauritania abroad. Adults and children from traditional slave castes in the Haratine (Black Moor) and Afro-Mauritanian (Halpulaar, Soninke, and Wolof) communities are subjected to hereditary slavery practices rooted in ancestral master-slave relationships, where they are often forced to work without pay as cattle herders and domestic servants.
 
Many former slaves and their descendants remain in dependent relationships with the family of their former slaveholders due in part to cultural traditions as well as a lack of skills and alternate economic opportunities. Some former slaves reportedly continue to work for their former masters or others under exploitative conditions to retain access to land they had traditionally farmed. Corrupt marabouts force boys from Mauritania and other West African countries who study at mahadras to beg for food and money; boys from low income families in the Halpulaar community are particularly vulnerable.
 
According to a 2015 survey, approximately 41 percent of Mauritanian children lack birth certificates and are thus generally not permitted to enroll in school, which increases their risk for trafficking. Fraudulent recruiters promise Mauritanian women and girls—especially those from the traditional slave castes and Afro-Mauritanian communities—shelter and an education, but force them into domestic servitude, especially in larger cities such as Nouakchott, Nouadhibou, and Rosso.
 
Children of Haratine and Afro-Mauritanian descent working in the fisheries sector are vulnerable to forced labor. An NGO reported traffickers coerce women and children to smuggle illicit drugs. West African women and girls, especially Senegalese and Ivoirians, are vulnerable to domestic servitude and sex trafficking in Mauritania. Refugees in Nouadhibou reportedly engage in commercial sex due to their dire financial situations, increasing their vulnerability to sex trafficking.
 
Mauritanian, Nigerian, and Senegalese traffickers in the port city of Nouadhibou exploited Sub-Saharan African migrants transiting Mauritania en route to Morocco and Europe in forced labor and sex trafficking.
 
Foreign agencies and Mauritanian intermediaries fraudulently recruit Mauritanian women for nursing and teaching jobs abroad and exploit them in domestic servitude and sex trafficking in the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia. Men from Middle Eastern and North African countries use legally contracted temporary marriages to sexually exploit Mauritanian girls and young women. Mauritanian women and girls from poor families enter into these forced marriages, facilitated by brokers and travel agencies in both Mauritania and in the Middle East, promising substantial payment, and are exploited as sex slaves and in sex trafficking in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. In 2016, an international organization identified and removed from a refugee camp in southeastern Mauritania 16 Malian child soldiers aged 15-17 associated with Malian rebel groups; some of the victims had been recruited in Mali, and others allegedly had been recruited from the camp in Mauritania.

Photos in Mauritania by Michael Hylton for Anti-Slavery International

Photos in Chicago by Jason Jones

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