Biram Dah Abeid

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Biram Dah Abeid
Cropped image of Biram Dah Abeid looking left, wearing a yellow suit, white shirt, and gold tie.
Biram Dah Abeid, 2014
Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid

(1965-01-12) 12 January 1965 (age 56)
Rosso, Trarza Region

Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid (Arabic: بيرام ولد الداه ولد اعبيدي‎; born 12 January 1965) is a Mauritanian politician and advocate for the abolition of slavery.[1][2][3][4][5][6] He was listed as one of "10 People Who Changed the World You Might Not Have Heard Of" by PeaceLinkLive in 2014, and by Time magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People".[7][8] He has also been called the "Mauritanian Nelson Mandela" by online news organisation[9]

A leader of the international anti-slavery movement, Abeid has been arrested and imprisoned several times by Mauritanian authorities. His case has been taken up by Irwin Cotler and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.[10]

Early life[edit]

Biram was born in 1965 in a village called Jidrel Mohguen in Rosso, Trarza.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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 finances. Even the French colonial governor of the time refused to interfere with matters that fell under Islamic Law.[citation needed]

As Abeid grew up, he attended high school in the city of Rosso in 1979, where the social inequalities, also present in his native village, were more prominent. He became more aware of how the caste system, which separated the black masses from the other tribes, denied the marginalized communities access to education and employment, and further impeded their ability to ever gain independence.[9]

When he was 19 years old, Abeid started a movement called National African Movement, to fight discrimination, 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 interrupt his studies for economic reasons and ended up participating in municipal elections during this time. However, after three years, he decided to return to school and went on to obtain a master's degree in history and trained as a lawyer in Mauritania and Senegal.[citation needed]

Life as an activist and politician[edit]

It was in the year 2007 that Zeine Ould Zeïdane, former presidential candidate, offered Abeid work on his political program, advocating for the abolition of slavery and against discrimination. Abeid accepted the offer and in the same year, following a hunger strike held together with three other activists, 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[11] since the practice was criminalized by law in 2007.[12]

Later in 2008, Abeid founded the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA-Mauritania), which he defines as "an organization of popular struggle", and where he serves as president.[citation needed] Abeid sees his abolitionist mission as making 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.[13][14]

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."[13]

In 2010, 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.[15] He was also threatened with prosecution and imprisonment for "illegal activities" if he did not suspend his active role in the fight against slavery.[15]

He was also arrested, detained, and tortured in December 2010 during a dispute between the police and his group, when about eighty of his activists descended on the house of an owner of two slave girls, demanding that the owner be jailed. Abeid told the police that "we would not leave until you free the girls and put these criminals in jail."[13]

On 6 January 2011, along with two other activists, Abeid was sentenced to twelve months in prison. He was imprisoned in February 2011 and then pardoned by Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.[citation needed]

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'. Abeid and ten other IRA activists were injured and hospitalized in the Kissi clinic in Nouakchott.[16]

In April 2012, during a demonstration in Nouakchott, Abeid's group was accused of burning early Islamic legal texts of the Maliki school of Islamic law that permitted slavery. The burnings caused a considerable uproar. The President called for Abeid's death and even promised to administer the penalty himself.[13] Abeid's phone and internet service were cut off, and he was imprisoned with other IRA activists. Later, the NGO apologized for the incident.[clarification needed] After several months of detention and the cancellation of their trial, the group was released on bail on 3 September 2012, following pressure from the European Union.[citation needed]

In May 2013, Biram Dah Abeid received the Front Line Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk from the Irish NGO Front Line Defenders, and in December 2013, he received the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights.[citation needed]

He also stood as an opposition candidate in the 2014 Mauritanian presidential election, but lost to the incumbent, Abdel Aziz.[citation needed]

On 11 November 2014, Abeid and sixteen 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.[17]

Hearings of the case took place on 15 January 2015, when Abeid, along with two other activists, was sentenced to two years in jail.[18][19] An appeal was rejected in August 2015.[20]

On 17 May 2016, the Supreme Court of Mauritania reached the decision to immediately release Abeid, along with fellow activist Brahim Bilal Ramdhane.[21]

In August 2018, Abeid was imprisoned on an "order from above" intended not only to silence him and criminalize his freedom of expression, but to prohibit his participation in the September parliamentary elections, in which he was running as an anti-slavery, opposition candidate.[22] Despite the efforts of the Mauritanian authorities, Abeid was elected to Parliament from his prison cell in September. Following his illegal detention and ascension to Parliament, he proclaimed: "I will do everything possible to demonstrate that slavery, racism and torture are set up as a system of management by a small entity around a very corrupt head of state." Abeid has since declared himself a presidential candidate in the June 2019 elections.[23] On 22 June 2019, he clinched 18.58% electoral votes, behind Mohamed Ould Ghazouani (52.01%) and ahead of Mohamed Ould Boubacar (17.87%).[24]

Awards and recognition[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Biram Dah Abeid: An interview with a modern-day abolitionist". Slate.
  2. ^ "UNPO: IRA President Biram Dah Abeid Wins UN Human Rights Prize".
  3. ^ "U.N. Recognizes Plight of Slaves in Africa; U.S. Must Do More". The Huffington Post.
  4. ^ "Critic: Twenty years since Human Rights Act, work only half done". Frost Illustrated.
  5. ^ "December 19 - Thursday". U.S. Department of State.
  6. ^ "Human rights activist to visit Ohio center". South Florida Times. Associated Press. 17 December 2013. Archived from the original on 20 December 2013.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ "Biram Dah Abeid: The World's 100 Most Influential People". Time. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  9. ^ a b "Mauritania: the thorn in the side of President Aziz digs deeper". Middle East Eye.
  10. ^ Comment, Full (4 September 2018). "Irwin Cotler and Judith Abitan: Mauritania abolished slavery in 1991, so why is it criminalizing slavery opponents? | National Post". Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  11. ^ Norris, Carolyn (21 May 2012). "Challenging Descent-based Slavery In West Africa" (PDF). Final Evaluation of Civil Society Challenge Fund project. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 May 2014. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
  12. ^ "BBC NEWS - Africa - Mauritanian MPs pass slavery law".
  13. ^ a b c d Okeowo, Alexis (8 September 2014). "Freedom Fighter". The New Yorker. Retrieved 16 October 2014.
  14. ^ "Arrest of Mauritanian Anti-Slavery Leader" (PDF). Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization. (several documents compiled by UNPO). Retrieved 21 January 2015.
  15. ^ a b "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.
  16. ^ "Police attack anti-slavery campaigners - IFEX". IFEX.
  17. ^ John D. Sutter, CNN (20 October 2014). "Attorney: Charges against liberated Mauritanian slave dropped -". CNN.
  18. ^ "Mauritanian Anti-slavery Leader Jailed Over November Protest". VoA. Reuters. 15 January 2015. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
  19. ^ Mark, Monica (17 January 2015). "Mauritania activists jailed as police quash resurgent anti-slavery protests". Retrieved 21 January 2015.
  20. ^ Biram Dah Abeid Still Imprisoned: Latest Developments, Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, retrieved 3 March 2016
  21. ^ "Mauritania – Decision to release Biram Ould Dah Abeid and Brahim Bilal Ramdhane (17.05.16)". France Diplomatie :: Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs.
  22. ^ Comment, Full (4 September 2018). "Irwin Cotler and Judith Abitan: Mauritania abolished slavery in 1991, so why is it criminalizing slavery opponents? | National Post". Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  23. ^ Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights (31 December 2018). "Anti-Slavery Leader Biram Dah Abeid Released From Prison". Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.
  24. ^ 'Historic' Mauritanian elections contested by opposition The Arab Weekly, 29 June 2019
  25. ^[permanent dead link]
  26. ^ "Patron Saint's Day 2019: KU Leuven to award six honorary doctorates". Retrieved 23 October 2019.

External links[edit]

Media related to Biram Dah Abeid at Wikimedia Commons