Biram Dah Abeid
Biram Dah Abeid (born 12 January 1965) is a Mauritanian politician and advocate for the abolition of slavery. He was listed as one of "10 People Who Changed the World You Might Not Have Heard Of" by PeaceLinkLive in 2014. He has also been called the Mauritanian Nelson Mandela by online news organisation Middleeasteye.net.
Biram was born in 1965 in a village called Jidrel Mohguen in Rosso, Trarza. Though his father Dah, who ran a small business in Mauritania and Senegal, was granted freedom from slavery as an act of benevolence, his mother remained enslaved. Dah was unable to convince his first wife's master and the Islamic judicial authority in Mauritania, to free her from slavery, due to insufficient finance. Even the French colonial governor of the time refused to interfere with matters that fell under Islamic Law.
Dah, inspired his son Biram to amend the injustice of modern slavery inflicted upon the Haratin ethnic group, to which Dah belonged.
As Biram grew up, he attended high school in the city of Rosso in 1979, where the social inequalities also present in his native village, were even more prominent. He became more aware of how the caste system, which separated the black masses from the other tribes, denying the marginalized communities access to education, employment and further impeding their ability to ever gain independence.
When he was 19 years old, Biram started a movement called 'National African Movement' to fight discrimination and slavery and often advocated against the mistreatment of black people by writing open letters to the Secretary of State. At the age of 28, he had to disrupt his studies for economic reasons and ended up participating in municipal elections during this time. But after 3 years, he decided to continue his studies and went on to obtain a master's degree in History and trained as a Lawyer in Mauritania and Senegal.
Life as an Activist and Politician
It was in the year 2007 that Zeine Ould Zeïdane, former presidential candidate offered Biram to work on his political program, advocating for the abolition of slavery and against discrimination. Biram accepted the offer and in the same year, following a hunger strike held by Biram and 3 other activists, the Mauritanian government officials arrested three women, accused of holding children in slavery in the capital Nouakchott. This was the first time in Mauritania that someone was charged with the crime of slavery since the practice was criminalized by law in 2007.
Later in 2008, he founded the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA-Mauritania), which he defines as "an organization of popular struggle," and serves as its president. Abeid sees his abolitionist mission is to make slaves—who are isolated by illiteracy, poverty, and geography—aware of the possibility of a life outside servitude. He believes that slaves are tied to their masters not only by tradition and economic necessity, but also by "a misinterpretation of Islam", that teaches that slavery is not illegal but governed by religious law.
He argues that
there is a kind of informal coalition — Beydanes [the slaveowning caste], the state, police, judges, and imams — that prevents slaves from leaving their masters. “Whenever a slave breaks free and IRA [his antislavery group] is not aware and not present, police officers and judges help Arab-Berbers to intimidate the slave until he returns in submission.”
In 2010, Biram Abeid was discharged from his duties as a Senior Adviser to the President of the National Commission for Human Rights in Mauritania for continuously voicing slavery issues. He was also threatened with prosecution and imprisonment for “illegal activities” if he did not suspend his active role in the fight against slavery.
Abeid was also later arrested, detained and tortured in December 2010 during a dispute between the police and his group, when about 80 of his activists descended on the house of an owner of two slave girls, demanding that the owner be jailed. Abeid told the police "we would not leave until you free the girls and put these criminals in jail.”
On 6 January 2011 along with two other activists, Biram Abeid was sentenced to 12 months in prison. He was imprisoned in February 2011 and then pardoned by Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.
Later in August 2011, the Mauritanian police violently suppressed a sit-in in front of the police brigade over their 'employment of minors against the law'. Biram and 10 other IRA activists were injured and hospitalized in the Kissi clinic in Nouakchott.
In April 2012, during a demonstration in Nouakchott, his group was accused of burning early Islamic legal texts of the Maliki school of Islamic law that permitted slavery. The burnings caused considerable uproar. The President called for his death and even promised to administer the death penalty against him. His phone and Internet service were cut off, and he was imprisoned with other IRA activists. Later the NGO apologized for the incident. After several months of detention and cancellation of their trial, they were released on bail on 3 September 2012 following pressure from European Union.
Then in May 2013, Biram Dah Abeid received the Front Line Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk of the Irish NGO Front Line Defenders and in December 2013, he received the UN Human Rights' Prize.
He also stood as an opposition candidate in the Mauritanian presidential election of 2014 but lost to the incumbent Abdel Aziz.
Again on 11 November 2014, Biram and 16 other IRA-Mauritanie anti-slavery activists were arrested for protesting against the 'repeal of charges against a slave master who raped a 15-year-old girl that worked as his slave.
On May 17, 2016, alongside Brahim Bilal Ramdhane, the Supreme Court of Mauritania reached the decision to immediately release Biram Ould Dah Abeid.
Awards and recognition
- 2013 - Front Line award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk from Front Line Defenders
- 2013 - United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights
- 2017 - Prix Mémoires partagées, from Mémoires et Partages
- "Biram Dah Abeid: An interview with a modern-day abolitionist". Slate Magazine.
- "UNPO: IRA President Biram Dah Abeid Wins UN Human Rights Prize". unpo.org.
- "U.N. Recognizes Plight of Slaves in Africa; U.S. Must Do More". The Huffington Post.
- "Critic: Twenty years since Human Rights Act, work only half done". Frost Illustrated.
- "December 19 - Thursday". U.S. Department of State.
- "South Florida Times". South Florida Times.
- Ponti, Jay. "10 People Who Changed the World You Might Not Have Heard Of". Archived from the original on 27 October 2014. Retrieved 27 October 2014.
- "Mauritania: the thorn in the side of President Aziz digs deeper". Middle East Eye.
- Norris, Carolyn (21 May 2012). "Challenging Descent-based Slavery In West Africa" (PDF). Final Evaluation of Civil Society Challenge Fund project. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
- "BBC NEWS - Africa - Mauritanian MPs pass slavery law". bbc.co.uk.
- OKEOWO, ALEXIS (8 September 2014). "Freedom Fighter". The New Yorker. Retrieved 16 October 2014.
- "Arrest of Mauritanian Anti-Slavery Leader" (PDF). Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization. (several documents compiled by UNPO). Retrieved 21 January 2015.
- "Alternative Report to CESCR – Mauritania E/C.12/MRT/1" (PDF). Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, UNPO. Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, UNPO. August 2012. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
- "Police attack anti-slavery campaigners - IFEX". IFEX.
- John D. Sutter, CNN (20 October 2014). "Attorney: Charges against liberated Mauritanian slave dropped - CNN.com". CNN.
- "Mauritanian Anti-slavery Leader Jailed Over November Protest". VoA. Reuters. January 15, 2015. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
- Mark, Monica (17 January 2015). "Mauritania activists jailed as police quash resurgent anti-slavery protests". Retrieved 21 January 2015.
- Biram Dah Abeid Still Imprisoned: Latest Developments, Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, retrieved 3 March 2016
- "Mauritania – Decision to release Biram Ould Dah Abeid and Brahim Bilal Ramdhane (17.05.16)". France Diplomatie :: Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs.