Mauritania: UN expert encouraged by progress made to combat slavery

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At the end of a 10-day visit to the country, Tomoya Obokata, UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, called on the authorities to take urgent measures to speed up the implementation of anti-slavery legislation. -Mauritanian slaveholder and to resolve the practical, legal, and social obstacles that prevent people affected by slavery from seeking justice and achieving equality.

“I am grateful to the Government for hosting my visit and for the cooperation extended to me by the highest authorities, including the President of the Republic,” Tomoya Obokata said in a statement to the press, indicating that ‘he was encouraged by the President’s acknowledgment that “denial of slavery is the wrong approach, and his commitment to ending slavery, bringing perpetrators to justice and fostering the social and economic inclusion of formerly enslaved people”.

He said that since his last visit in 2014, “Mauritania has taken significant steps to combat slavery and there is a greater willingness to discuss slavery issues openly”.

Moreover, the adoption of Law 2015-031 criminalizing slavery and slavery-like practices filled many gaps in previous Mauritanian anti-slavery legislation, he added. “I am also encouraged by the efforts undertaken by the Government to sensitize legal practitioners, the judicial police, the security forces, civil society, and the public”.

Child labor a matter of concern

Nevertheless, the UN Special Rapporteur warned that descent-based and contemporary forms of slavery still exist in Mauritania, among all major ethnic groups in the country and between some groups.

“Traditional slavery persists in Mauritania, despite the denial of this practice by some actors,” he said.

He said enslaved people, especially women and children, “are subjected to violence and abuse, including sexual violence, and are treated as property. Caste-based slavery is also a problem, and people from repressed castes who deny their slave status face violent reprisals and denial of access to basic services by the dominant castes”.

Tomoya Obokata also indicated that child labor remains a concern, in particular the practice of forced begging, and forced labor practices that are common in Mauritania’s informal sector, affecting migrants as well as Mauritanian citizens.

He observed that full enforcement of Mauritania’s anti-slavery legislation remains elusive and encouraged to redouble efforts to fully implement the country’s anti-slavery legal framework and address deep-rooted social practices.

“The continued existence of slavery and other slavery-like practices in Mauritania unfortunately demonstrates that the relevant laws are not fully enforced in practice and that social transformation and a change of mindset by the country’s leaders are needed to recognize directly and to fight against slavery rather than denying its existence,” he said.

“More efforts will be needed to ensure that complaints of slavery are investigated and judgments rendered in a timely manner, that victims of slavery are informed of their rights and have access in practice to complaint mechanisms as well as protection and assistance, and that the sanctions provided for are fully applied”.

Obstacles to civil registration

Mr. Obokata also received information that people reduced to slavery and their descendants face difficulties in registering with the Mauritanian civil registry, which is a prerequisite for access to education, formal employment, and basic services.

“Without access to formal employment and education, victims of slavery, and their children, have no viable path out of slavery and remain trapped in a vicious circle of dependence on of their former slaveholders or exploitative forms of work,” he said. “It is imperative that the government address these communities’ barriers to civil registration.”

The Special Rapporteur will present a full report to the Human Rights Council in September 2023.

NOTE

The Independent Experts are part of what is referred to as the “special procedures” of the Human Rights Council. The Special Procedures, the most important body of independent experts in the UN human rights system, is the general term applied to the Council’s independent investigation and monitoring mechanisms that address specific situations countries or thematic issues anywhere in the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and they do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of governments and organizations and they exercise their functions in an independent capacity.

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