Slavery in Mauritania

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Slavery in Mauritania is an entrenched phenomenon. In 1981, Mauritania became the last country in the world to abolish slavery[1] when a presidential decree abolished the practice. However, no criminal laws were passed to enforce the ban.[1][2][3] In 2007, "under international pressure", the government passed a law allowing slaveholders to be prosecuted.[1]

The descendants of black Africans abducted into slavery now live in Mauritania as "blacks" or haratin and some of them still serve the lighter-skinned "Moors" (Berbers or mixed Berber-Arabs, collectively known as al-bidhaan).

The number of slaves in the country has been estimated by SOS Slavery to be up to 600,000 (or 20% of the population),[4][5] and by Global Slavery Index to be at least 140,000.[1] Even though slavery is illegal, sociologist Kevin Bales believes that Mauritania is the country with the largest proportion of its population in slavery.[6]

However, the government of Mauritania denies that slavery exists in the country. Responded to accusations of human rights abuse, the Mauritanian Minister of rural development, Brahim Ould M'Bareck Ould Med El Moctar, stated:

I must tell you that in Mauritania, freedom is total: freedom of thought, equality – of all men and women of Mauritania... in all cases, especially with this government, this is in the past. There are probably former relationships – slavery relationships and familial relationships from old days and of the older generations, maybe, or descendants who wish to continue to be in relationships with descendants of their old masters, for familial reasons, or out of affinity, and maybe also for economic interests. But (slavery) is something that is totally finished. All people are free in Mauritania and this phenomenon no longer exists. And I believe that I can tell you that no one profits from this commerce.[7]

Among the reasons given for the difficulty of ending slavery in Mauritania are:

  • Many of the slaves are isolated by illiteracy, poverty, and geography, and do not know life outside of servitude is possible.[1]
  • The difficulty of enforcing any laws in the country's vast desert[8]
  • Poverty that limits opportunities for slaves to support themselves if freed[8]
  • Belief that slavery is part of the natural order of this society.[8]

Mauritanian organizations like Al'Hor الحر (translated as "the free"), In'itaq إنعتاق (translated as "emancipation"), SOS Esclaves (meaning "SOS Slaves" in French), and Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement, (IRA) work against slavery.

A United Nations mission, headed by UN Special Rapporteur and mission leader Gulnara Shahinian, was in Mauritania in November 2009 to evaluate slavery practices in the country.[9] The mission's findings were presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in August 2010.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e OKEOWO, ALEXIS (8 September 2014). "Freedom Fighter". The New Yorker. Retrieved 16 October 2014. 
  2. ^ "Mauritanian MPs pass slavery law". BBC News. 9 August 2007. Retrieved 2010-05-23. 
  3. ^ Corrigan, Terence (6 September 2007). "Mauritania: Country Made Slavery Illegal Last Month". The East African Standard. Retrieved 2008-01-21. 
  4. ^ Millions 'forced into slavery' BBC News, 27 May 2002
  5. ^ The Abolition season on BBC World Service
  6. ^ Akhil Patel, Review of Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy by Kevin Bales, Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 3, August 2000
  7. ^ "Mauritanian minister responds to accusations that slavery is rampant". CNN. 17 March 2012. 
  8. ^ a b c Slavery's last stronghold. (16 March 2012). Retrieved 20 March 2012.
  9. ^ ANI and Journal Tahalil reported on 2 November 2009

External links[edit]