The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not represent the opinions or editorial position of I-Witness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected]

When you talk about slavery in some parts of Africa today, it’s not like talking about slavery in Europe or America today. It’s still real old-fashioned slavery. They are still at it. African life still revolves around slavery, possibly the same families that sold our ancestors, the same scum, different times.

I will submit a twice-weekly series about African countries and today’s slavery over the next 10 weeks. Almost 80 per cent of people enslaved today, are in Africa.

Mauritania is located on the North West Saharan Coast, sub-Saharan Africa, possibly the closest African country to the Eastern Caribbean.

Estimated published number enslaved: 140,000 – 160,000

Population: 3,796,141 (2012)

Ref: 2012 Population Data, The World Bank 

GDP: $4.199 billion (2012)

Ref: 2012 GDP $US Data, The World Bank.

GDP/Capita

$1,106 (2012)

Ref: 2012 GDP per capita $US Data, The World Bank

US TIP Report Ranking: Tier 3 (2013)

In 2013 African Mauritania has the highest proportion per capita of people in slavery in the world. According to one NGO in Mauritania, up to 20 percent of the Mauritanian population is enslaved [760,000 persons, the official figure published are far less than this].

Ref: “US Trafficking in Persons Report 2013”, Mauritania Country Narrative, p258, US Department of State.

Slavery in Mauritania primarily takes the form of chattel slavery, meaning that adults and children in slavery are the full property of their masters who exercise total ownership over them and their descendants. Slave status has been passed down through the generations from people originally captured during historical raids by the slave-owning groups.

Ref: “US Trafficking in Persons Report 2013”, Mauritania Country Narrative, p258, US Department of State.

People in slavery may be bought and sold, rented out and given away as gifts. Slavery is prevalent in both rural and urban areas. It is reported that women are disproportionately affected by slavery; for example, they usually work within the domestic sphere, and a high level of control is exercised over their movements and social interactions. They are subject to sexual assault by their masters. Women’s roles include childcare and domestic chores, but they may also herd animals and farm, as men in slavery do.

Ref: “Thematic report on slavery in Mauritania for the UN Human Rights Committee – Adoption of the List of Issues on the initial report of Mauritania” (11- 28 March 2013), 107th Session, Anti-Slavery International.

Beyond the context of private homes, it is reported that some boys, who have been sent to attend Koranic schools to become talibes (students), have been forced into begging. Although the scale of this problem is not known, it is thought to be quite significant; affecting local boys as well as boys trafficked into Mauritania from the surrounding regions.

Ref: “US Trafficking in Persons Report 2013”, Mauritania Country Narrative, p258, US Department of State.

It is also reported that women have been subjected to forced marriage and sexual exploitation, both within Mauritania but also in the Middle East.

Ref: “US Trafficking in Persons Report 2013”, Mauritania Country Narrative, p258, US Department of State.

Slaves are not permitted to have any possessions, as they are considered to be possessions themselves. As such they are denied inheritance rights and ownership of land and other resources. When an enslaved person marries, the dowry is taken by the ‘master’ and if they die their property can be claimed by the ‘master’.

Ref: Thematic report on slavery in Mauritania for the UN Human Rights Committee – Adoption of the List of Issues on the initial report of Mauritania” (11- 28 March 2013), 107th Session, Anti-Slavery International.

Mauritanian society is made up of three main ethnic groups, commonly known as Black Moors or Haratins, Afro-Mauritanians, and White Moors. Haratins, whose name literally means “ones who have been freed”, are descendants of the Black Moors, the historical slave population (‘Haratin’ is not a term that is used by Haratin people to identify themselves as it can be discriminatory). The Haratins are understood to be the ‘property’ of the White Moors, who are a minority in the country but wield disproportionate (majority) political and economic power.Ref: “United Nations Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, including its Causes and Consequences” (24 August 2010), Shahinian, p5, United Nations General Assembly Report.

Indoctrination to ensure people in slavery accept their situation of ownership is a key feature of slavery in Mauritania, with understandings of race and class, as well as some religious teachings being used to justify slavery. Without access to education or alternative means of subsistence, many believe that it is God’s wish for them to be slaves.

Ref: “United Nations Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, including its Causes and Consequences” (24 August 2010), Shahinian, p5, United Nations General Assembly Report.

As most people in slavery are kept illiterate and uneducated, they are unaware of the fact that according to Islamic law, a Muslim cannot enslave a fellow Muslim. Compounding this, the legal and policy framework to protect women’s rights in Mauritania is extremely deficient, with many discriminatory laws. Indeed, according to the 2001 Family Code (Code du Statut personnel), women remain perpetual minors. Harmful traditional practices, including early and forced marriages and female genital mutilation, are commonplace. There is no specific law against violence against women and marital rape is not a crime. Although Mauritania has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), it entered a reservation stating that only articles that comply with Sharia Law and the Mauritanian Constitution would be applied. The Sharia Law and the Criminal Code currently pose grave violations to women’s rights; for instance, women who are victims of rape can be prosecuted for the crime of Zina (adultery).

Ref: Information from field based source: The Walk Free, Global Slavery Index 2013

How does this sit with our claims for reparations? Perhaps we should buy as many slaves as we can and bring them to the Caribbean to freedom; like us, they will be much better off.

Peter Binose
Self Appointed Keeper of the Whistle

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].

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