Tackling slavery in Mauritania

Mauritania's law against slavery is not being properly enforced and victims are not encouraged to come forward, according to a UN expert who has just completed a fact-finding mission to the country.

Although "significant steps" have been taken, "a comprehensive and holistic national strategy" is needed, the UN Special Rapporteur, Gulnara Shahinian, told a news conference in the capital, Nouakchott. If the issue is not addressed, "slavery in all its forms may be an obstacle to the stability, sustainable development and prosperity of Mauritania,” she warned.

The practice of owning slaves, which has gone on for centuries, was not criminalised in Mauritania until two years ago. Since then, no one has been prosecuted but Ms Shahinian said she was informed that the government has "some cases under investigation".

The afrol News website says "Only the recent military reform government under Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall (2005-07) and the democratic government under President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi (2007-08) seriously addressed slavery in the country."

The current regime, led by president, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who seized power in 2008 and recently won a dodgy election, has shown little interest in fighting slavery and helping slaves to be freed, afrol News says.

Ms Shahinian, who will report to the UN Human Rights Council next year, is urging changes in the 2007 law. These include a clearer definition of slavery (which would facilitate prosecutions) and support programmes for victims that would encourage them to come forward.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 5 November 2009.