By Jason Rezaian
In 1981, Mauritania became the last country in the world to officially abolish slavery. It took another 26 years for its government to pass a law enforcing abolition. So it's perhaps no surprise that slavery continues to plague the nation of roughly 4 million people in northwestern Africa.
Now a landmark ruling by an African Union court, which requires the Mauritanian government to compensate two escaped child slaves and punish their former master, is offering hope to thousands of still-enslaved Mauritanians.
Said and Yarg Salem were born into slavery and escaped in April 2011. Soon after, they brought charges against their former master, Ahmed Ould El Hassine, who was found guilty in the Criminal Court of Nouakchott — Mauritania’s capital — of enslavement and depriving the boys of schooling. It was the first and, so far, only successful prosecution under Mauritania’s 2007 anti-slavery legislation. Advocates considered it a crucial step forward in eradicating slavery there.
“The anti-slavery law is good, but it’s a useless piece of paper if you don’t put it into practice,” said Lucy Claridge, the legal director for Minority Rights Group International, in an interview with The Washington Post.
But Hassine's sentence in the case — two years in prison and compensation amounting to about $4,700 — was far below the suggested penalty. The state prosecutor appealed the overly lenient ruling, while Hassine filed his own appeal against the decision itself — and was released from custody pending a further decision. All of this took place in 2011, but the Mauritanian legal system has taken no further action in the case, which remains pending at the country's Supreme Court.
Seeing no prospects for justice in Mauritania itself, the Salems' local lawyer, in coordination with Minority Rights Group International and SOS Esclaves, a Mauritanian NGO that supports current and former slaves, took the case to a regional court called the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, or ACERWC. They argued that Mauritania failed the boys by not enforcing its own anti-slavery laws.
The ACERWC ruled in their favor on Jan. 26. Mauritania's government, the court said, is responsible for providing the brothers with financial compensation as well as psychological support and legal protection for not enforcing the slavery ban. Claridge is hoping the ruling “will have a positive bearing on the ongoing appeal before the Mauritanian Supreme Court and other criminal complaints of slavery which are currently stagnating in the Mauritanian courts.”
There are 19 other lawsuits against slave owners working their way through the Mauritanian judicial system, as well as many others at the investigatory stage. The ACERWC ruling could offer the incentive needed for the courts to get tough on slave owners.
Pressure from abroad may also play a role. The United States looks set to downgrade Mauritania's status under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a trade pact with the United States, because of Mauritania's lack of action on forced labor.
But the ultimate goal is systemic change in a society and governing system that do not consider slavery a problem.
There are no reliable statistics on how many people are enslaved in Mauritania — the government does not include slaves in its census, and its official stance is that there are no slaves in the country because of the anti-slavery law passed in 2007. But the World Slavery Index estimates that Mauritania has one of the highest rates of enslavement on Earth, with more than 1 percent of the population engaged in forced labor. That number may not account for other, less-formalized types of indentured servitude.
Forced labor of all kinds has a long history in Mauritania, driven by centuries-old social divisions. Most slaves have been members of the Haratine tribes, indigenous West Africans who make up the country’s largest ethnic group — about 40 percent of the population. They are known locally as Black Moors. “White Moors” are Arab-Berbers from North Africa who took control of the region in the 17th century and have been enslaving Haratines ever since.
Slavery passes from one generation to the next, and Mauritania's government — long run by White Moors — has been reluctant to challenge the status quo.
“When I was in Mauritania we worked closely with some anti-slavery NGOs. But there were so many crosscurrents, it was a difficult issue to deal with,” John Limbert, who served as U.S. ambassador to Mauritania from 2000 to 2003, told The Post. “It was also hard to get the Mauritanian court system to deal with slavery cases. The White Moors dominated the legal system and were not about to take decisive action against themselves.”
Between the Salems' case and Mauritania's hosting of the upcoming session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights in April, anti-slavery crusaders such as Claridge hope it will become increasingly difficult for Mauritania to ignore its ugly history of slavery.
“We are taking a holistic strategy in the hopes of creating real change,” she said.
Published on The Washington Post on February 7, 2018
See the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child's decision below.
By Annie Kelly
Victims of slavery who have acted as witnesses in the prosecution of their traffickers are ending up destitute and homeless on the streets of Britain, campaigners have warned.
Other potential whistleblowers, left without accommodation or access to support services for weeks after being identified as victims of slavery, have been forced to return to their traffickers simply to keep a roof over their heads.
“We know that once they have been formally identified as victims of slavery, most victims are not given a secure immigration status or right to remain and so find themselves almost instantly destitute and without anywhere to live,” said Kate Roberts of the Human Trafficking Foundation.
She said there was a lack of reliable data on what happened to people following positive identification as victims of slavery under the government’s national referral mechanism (NRM).
“Anecdotally, we know that some victims who have done everything they have been asked to by the authorities are actively re-entering exploitation just to get a roof over their heads. Others who have helped secure the prosecution of their traffickers are finding themselves on the streets,” said Roberts.
“At a time when the government and police services are under fire for failing to use the Modern Slavery Act to secure more prosecutions, the failure to provide victims with basic support services immediately is utterly counterproductive.”
Hope for Justice, which provides pro bono legal support to victims of slavery, said that in 2015, 70% of their clients faced homelessness and reported problems accessing welfare support.
“If someone disappears or is homeless and potentially re-trafficked, we have not only failed in a basic moral duty, we have also lost them as a potential prosecution witness,” said Phillipa Roberts, the organisation’s legal director.
Roberts said that while funding shortfalls since 2015 have meant the charity could only take on the “most at need” cases, the situation facing clients has become increasingly desperate.
Last year, a highly critical report by the House of Commons work and pensions committee said there was an “inexcusable” lack of support for the estimated 13,000 modern victims in the UK.
The committee recommended the introduction of a system to give all confirmed victims of slavery at least one year’s leave to remain, with recourse to benefits and services.
Currently, the Home Office provides victims of trafficking with 45 days of support while they go through the NRM process, with an additional two weeks if they receive a positive identification. Last October, the government announced it was extending post-identification support to 45 days.
“Obviously we welcome any extension but, while this is some help, it is still not sufficient to ensure that victims are not falling off a cliff-edge at the end of this period,” said Roberts.
Anti-trafficking charities have formed a new coalition, Free for Good, to support new victim support legislation written by Lord McColl of Dulwich, aiming to implement the recommendations of the Work and Pensions Committee in law.
“The government does not have an understanding of what happens to victims of modern slavery once they have been rescued, leaving them impoverished, homeless and often deported to a country where they have no friends or family,” said Frank Field, the Labour MP taking the bill through the House of Commons.
In a statement, the Home Office said: “In October 2017 we announced a package of reforms to the national referral mechanism, the system for identifying and supporting victims. Confirmed victims of modern slavery will receive a minimum of 90 days’ specialist support, including accommodation, subsistence, counselling, access to mental, physical and dental health services, and signposting to legal support.”
Published on The Guardian on January 25, 2018
Slavery in Your Shopping Cart and Retirement Account
There is slavery in every shopping mall in America. From clothing to computers, coffee to cell phones—a wide range of consumer products are tainted by slavery.
Slaves in sweatshops are forced to manufacture household goods. Child slaves are forced to harvest commodities and raw materials under brutal conditions in mines and on plantations.
Our retirement accounts grow on the backs of slaves when portfolio managers invest in companies that are tainted by slavery. That’s how slavery flows through the global supply chain and into our lives—economics and profit drive modern slavery.
Everyone can help remove slavery from our lives—business leaders, investors, and consumers.
Creating Slavery-free Commerce
Helping Businesses See Slavery
Free the Slaves has produced an insightful eight-minute documentary, Becoming a Slavery-Free Business, to help companies confront the challenge of slavery in their products. It reveals the real and devastating impact of supply-chain slavery on people throughout the world.
Becoming a Slavery-Free Business is intended to…
Be a Conscientious Consumer
Free the Slaves is a partner in the Know the Chain initiative, which investigates corporate compliance with a groundbreaking law in California that requires major companies to investigate and disclose slavery in their products. By visiting the Know the Chain website, you can learn if the places you shop are taking a stand against slavery.
Free the Slaves believes that the California approach should be applied nationwide. See our Global Advocacy page for details.
Source: Free the Slaves