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Mauritania - Walk Free Foundation - Global Slavery Index 2014

Prevalence

There are an estimated 155,600 people in modern slavery in Mauritania – this is equivalent to 4% of the entire population

Mauritania has the highest prevalence of modern slavery in the world; an estimated four percent of the population are enslaved. Slavery is entrenched in Mauritanian society, and its prevalence is perpetuated by tradition.1  Also known as hereditary or chattel slavery, slave status is inherited generation to generation and is deeply rooted in social castes and the wider social system.

White Moors are descendants of Berber Arab settlers who came to Mauritania in the 11th century, and for centuries have held the majority of political and economic power despite being the minority group in the country.2  Black Moors are descended from sedentary black ethnic groups along the Senegal River who were historically raided, enslaved and assimilated by the Berber Arabs.3  While many Black Moors have long since left slavery, many remain under the direct or indirect control of their traditional masters.4  Those owned by masters often have no freedom to own land, cannot claim dowries from their own marriages, nor inherit property or possessions from their families.5  Slavery is practised on a lesser scale by the other ethnic groups in the country (including the Peulh and the Soninke), who are collectively known as Black Mauritanians.6  However, the majority of those still enslaved in Mauritania are Black Moors.

The majority of Mauritanians rely on agriculture and pastoral activities. Enslaved men and children typically herd camels, cows, and goats, or are forced to work in the fields.7  Enslaved women perform domestic chores, such as fetching water, gathering firewood, preparing food and caring for their master’s children.8

Women and girls are highly vulnerable to early marriage, with this form of slavery comprising an estimated 35 percent of marriages in the country.9  To a lesser extent, women and girls from neighbouring countries including the Gambia and Mali are exploited for labour and sex in the homes of wealthier Mauritanians.10

Religion and slavery are closely interrelated in Mauritania. Religion is often used by masters as justification for ownership over another person.11  Activists say some Imams (Islamic religious leaders) continue to speak in favour of slavery in mosques, particularly in rural areas.12  There have been cases of Talibes, boys who attend Koranic school, being forced to beg on the streets. Forced begging is practiced primarily by Black Mauritanians.13

Government response

ScoreSurvivors are supportedCriminal justiceCoordination and accountabilityAttitudes, social systems and institutionsBusiness and government
CC27.838.133.337.50

While the Government of Mauritania has some legislation to address modern slavery, exploitation of citizens continues due to a ‘deliberate and systematic failure’ of the government to enforce laws.14  In March 2013 the President of Mauritania established the National Agency to Fight against the Vestiges of Slavery, Integration, and Fight against Poverty (Tadamoun) which outlined a National Plan of Action.15  In March 2014, the Plan was formally adopted, and a special Tribunal to prosecute crimes of slavery established.16  Since its formation, the Tribunal has not prosecuted any cases of slavery and field sources suggest there is no evidence that such a Tribunal exists.17  The National Action Plan also has a budget of $US3.3 million,18 although there is evidence that Tadamoun had not yet conducted any activities by June 2014.19

The Ministry of Social Affairs operates five shelters, exclusively for children20 and adult victims are referred to other government run shelters. In 2012, the government for the first time allocated $15,000 to an NGO to assist victims of slavery.21

Limited victim assistance, a lack of awareness of anti-slavery laws, and the institutionalised acceptance of slavery by police and judges makes it very hard for victims to seek justice. Under the existing law, victims must file complaints themselves. However, many victims are uneducated and illiterate, and legal complaints are almost never pursued.22  These and other difficulties are reflected in low levels of investigations and prosecutions under the relevant laws.23  In 2011, the first and only person convicted for slavery was imprisoned, however the sentence was only for six months.24  Despite this unprecedented conviction, the Government has not pursued prosecutions for slavery crimes since.25

Advocacy and awareness to address hereditary slavery is slowly building momentum in Mauritania. Prominent anti-slavery activist Biram Dah Abeid drew attention to the issue through his candidacy in the June 2014 Presidential elections.26

Vulnerability

Slavery policyHuman rightsState stabilityDiscriminationDevelopment
92.975.362.767.676.8

Although slavery is outlawed, it remains strongly embedded in Mauritania’s social structure.27  Due to its hereditary nature people born into families as slaves become caught in an isolating system perpetuated by a lack of education and knowledge of life outside of servitude.28

The ancestral and psychological nature of slavery in Mauritania means it is not uncommon for masters and slaves to form bonds29 which can hinder efforts to shift the traditional cultural mindset that slavery is acceptable.

Recommendations

Government

  •  Amend Article 15 of the 2007 Slavery Act to enable national human rights organisations to act as the legal agent in slavery cases.
  • Conduct a nation-wide awareness campaign on the 2007 anti-slavery law and forms of modern slavery that persist in Mauritania today.
  • Focus on removing and addressing barriers to access to justice for victims, including through allowing NGOs to assist victims to file complaints.
  • Clearly mandate and task one central unit of law enforcement with responsibility for investigating, and reporting quarterly on progress of investigations of slavery.
  •  Increase support for victims by establishing a victim-support mechanism, with emergency shelter and assistance, legal assistance and reintegration programmes for both adults and children.

Business

  •  International businesses should not engage in trade with Mauritania until there is evidence that the government is actively making progress against the National Action Plan.
  •  Any business trading in Mauritania must ensure they have complete transparency and control over all their activities including support activities and services.
  •  Draft a clause to include in contracts of major cattle and goat exporters, prohibiting the purchasing of livestock that has been sourced from farmers using forced labour in their herding practices.
"I grew up working for a family. I was born into the family – my mother worked for them before me. It was hard work. I had to go out and look after the goats in the day and then come back and do all the housework. I didn’t always get enough to eat. I was hit and beaten regularly. I had children and they all grew up working for the family too. Two of my girls are the daughters of the master’s eldest son. He said he would behead me if I ever told anyone it was him..."
Moulkheir’s story, told to Anti-Slavery International
In “Slavery in Mauritania”, Anti-slavery, accessed 11/09/14: http://www.antislavery.org/english/slavery_today/descent_based_slavery/slavery_in_mauritania.aspx

See where Mauritania ranks in Sub-Saharan Africa

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Footnotes

  1. Personal communication
  2. Gill Harvey, “Mauritania: Where less is Moorish”, The Independent, June 28, 2008, accessed 04/09/14: http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/mauritania-where-less-is-moorish-855790.html
  3. “Anti-Slavery International thematic report on slavery in Mauritania for the UN Human Rights Committee, 107th session, 11 – 28 March 2013. Adoption of the List of Issues on the initial report of Mauritania,” Anti-Slavery International, December 12, 2012: http://bit.ly/Za4MyV
  4. As above
  5. As above
  6. Personal communication
  7. Personal communication
  8. Anti-Slavery International thematic report on slavery in Mauritania for the UN Human Rights Committee, 107th session, 11 – 28 March 2013. Adoption of the List of Issues on the initial report of Mauritania,” Anti-Slavery International, December 12, 2012: http://bit.ly/Za4MyV
  9. Marrying Too Young – End Child Marriage, (United Nations Population Fund, 2012), p. 23, accessed 05/09/14: http://www.unfpa.org/webdav/site/global/shared/documents/publications/2012/MarryingTooYoung.pdf
  10. Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Trafficking in Persons Report: Mauritania Country Narrative, (United States Department of State, 2014), p. 268, accessed 22/07/14: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/226847.pdf
  11. Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences, Gulnara Shahinian, (United Nations General Assembly, 2010) accessed 10/09/14: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/slavery/rapporteur/docs/A.HRC.15.20.Add.2_en.pdf
  12. John D Sutter, “Slavery’s last stronghold”, The CNN Freedom Project, March 17, 2012: http://edition.cnn.com/interactive/2012/03/world/mauritania.slaverys.last.stronghold/index.html
  13. Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Trafficking in Persons Report: Mauritania Country Narrative, (United States Department of State, 2014), p. 268, accessed 22/07/14: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/226847.pdf
  14. Personal communication
  15. “Mauritania Urged To Turn Pledges Into Deeds In Fight Against Slavery”, United Nations Office at Geneva, February 27, 2014, accessed 05/09/14:  http://www.unog.ch/unog/website/news_media.nsf/%28httpNewsByYear_en%29/A5CFC3D86D56E100C1257C8D0031BD5A?OpenDocument
  16. Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Trafficking in Persons Report: Mauritania Country Narrative, (United States Department of State, 2014), p. 268, accessed 22/07/14: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/226847.pdf
  17. Personal communication
  18. “Observation (CEACR) – adopted 2012, published 102nd ILC session (2013)” International Labour Organization, 2013: http://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:13100:0::NO::P13100_COMMENT_ID:3080704
  19. Personal communication
  20. Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Trafficking in Persons Report: Mauritania Country Narrative, (United States Department of State, 2014), p. 268, accessed 22/07/14: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/226847.pdf
  21. As above, p. 258
  22. As above
  23. “MAURITANIA: Anti-slavery law still tough to enforce,” IRIN Humanitarian News and Analysis, December 11, 2012, accessed 28/04/14: http://www.irinnews.org/report/97016/mauritania-anti-slavery-law-still-tough-to-enforce
  24. John D Sutter, “Slavery’s last stronghold”, The CNN Freedom Project, March 17, 2012: http://edition.cnn.com/interactive/2012/03/world/mauritania.slaverys.last.stronghold/index.html
  25. Personal communication
  26. “Mauritanians head to polls amid dissent,” Al Jazeera, June 19, 2014, accessed 05/09/14: http://m.aljazeera.com/story/201461874846807471
  27. “MAURITANIA: Anti-slavery law still tough to enforce,” IRIN Humanitarian News and Analysis, December 11, 2012, accessed 28/04/14: http://www.irinnews.org/report/97016/ mauritania-anti-slavery-law-still-tough-to-enforce
  28. Alexis Okeowo, “Freedom Fighter” The New Yorker, September 8, 2014, accessed 05/09/14: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/09/08/freedom-fighter
  29. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013 – Mauritania, (United States Department of State), accessed 10/09/14: http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanrightsreport/#wrapper

Other reports

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Survivors are identified, supported to exit and remain out of modern slavery
Criminal justice mechanisms address modern slavery
Coordination and accountability mechanisms for the central government are in place
Attitudes, social systems and institutions that enable modern slavery are addressed
Businesses and governments through their public procurement stop sourcing goods and services that use modern slavery

Government response rating: AAA

Numerical range: 59 to 64

The general characteristics of a country that has received a rating of AAA are as follows:
The government has an implemented an effective and comprehensive response to all forms of modern slavery, with effective emergency and long-term reintegration victim support services, a strong criminal justice framework, high levels of coordination and collaboration, measures to address all forms of vulnerability, and strong government procurement policies and legislation to ensure that slavery is not present in business supply chains. There is no evidence of criminalisation or deportation of victims.

Government response rating: AA

Numerical range: 53 to 58

The general characteristics of a country that has received a rating of AA are as follows:
The government has implemented a comprehensive response to most forms of modern slavery, with strong victim support services, a robust criminal justice framework, demonstrated coordination and collaboration, measures to address vulnerability, and government procurement guidelines and/or supply chain policies or legislation to ensure that slavery is not present in business supply chains.

Government response rating: A

Numerical range: 47 to 52

The general characteristics of a country that has received a rating of A are as follows:
The government has implemented key components of a holistic response to some forms of modern slavery, with strong victim support services, a strong criminal justice framework, demonstrated coordination and collaboration, measures to address vulnerability, and may have taken action to ensure that government procurement policies do not encourage slavery.

Government response rating: BBB

Numerical range: 41 to 46

The general characteristics of a country that has received a rating of BBB are as follows:
The government has implemented key components of a holistic response to modern slavery, with victim support services, a strong criminal justice response, evidence of coordination and collaboration, and protections in place for vulnerable populations. Governments may be beginning to address slavery in supply chains of government procurement, or of businesses operating within their territory. There may be evidence that some government policies and practices may criminalise and/or cause victims to be deported.

Government response rating: BB

Numerical range: 35 to 40

The general characteristics of a country that has received a rating of BB are as follows:
The government has introduced a response to modern slavery, which includes short term victim support services, a criminal justice framework that criminalises some forms of modern slavery, a body to coordinate the response, and protections for those vulnerable to modern slavery.There may be evidence that some government policies and practices may criminalise and/or cause victims to be deported, and/or facilitate slavery.

Government response rating: B

Numerical range: 29 to 34

The general characteristics of a country that has received a rating of B are as follows:
The government has introduced a response to modern slavery, with limited victim support services, a criminal justice framework that criminalises some forms of modern slavery, (or has recently amended inadequate legislation and policies), a body or mechanisms that coordinate the response, and has policies that provide some protection for those vulnerable to modern slavery. There is evidence that some government policies and practices may criminalise and/or deport victims, and/or facilitate slavery. Services may be provided by International Organisations (IOs)/ NGOs with international funding, sometimes with government monetary or in-kind support.

Government response rating: CCC

Numerical range: 23 to 28

The general characteristics of a country that has received a rating of CCC are as follows:
The government has a response to modern slavery, with limited victim support services, a criminal justice framework that criminalises some forms of modern slavery, has a national action plan and/or national coordination body, and has policies that provide some protections for those vulnerable to modern slavery. There is evidence that some government policies and practices may criminalise and/or deport victims, and/ or facilitate slavery. Services may be largely provided by IOs/NGOs with international funding, with limited government funding or in-kind support.

Government response rating: CC

Numerical range: 17 to 22

The general characteristics of a country that has received a rating of CC are as follows:
The government has a limited response to modern slavery, with largely basic victim support services, a limited criminal justice framework, limited coordination or collaboration mechanism, and few protections for those vulnerable to modern slavery.There may be evidence that some government policies and practices facilitate slavery. Services are largely provided by IOs/NGOs with limited government funding or in-kind support.

Government response rating: C

Numerical range: 11 to 16

The general characteristics of a country that has received a rating of C are as follows:
The government response to modern slavery is inadequate, with limited and/or few victim support services, a weak criminal justice framework, weak coordination or collaboration, while little is being done to address vulnerability.There are government practices and policies that facilitate slavery. Services, where available, are largely provided by IOs/NGOs with little government funding or in-kind support.

Government response rating: D

Numerical range: <0 to 10

The general characteristics of a country that has received a rating of D are as follows:
The government has a wholly inadequate response to modern slavery, and/ or there is evidence of government sanctioned modern slavery. However, countries in this category may be experiencing high levels of poverty and internal conflict that may prevent, or hinder a response to modern slavery.