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On 13 September 2013, in collaboration with the anti-slavery association IRA-Mauritanie and Center for Inquiry USA, IHEU hosted a seminar at the 24th session of the UN Human Rights Council at the Palais des Nations, Geneva: “Human Rights in Mauritania: Slavery, Forced Marriage and Death for Apostasy“.

Mauritania has a higher proportion of its people living in slavery (estimated 18%) than any other country on Earth. As an Islamic country it is an interesting example of the way that religion and traditional values are used to oppress women and ethnic and racial minorities, and as a country with a very small population (under 4 million), a huge land area and considerable but under-exploited natural resources it has the potential, given good governance, to make rapid social and economic progress.

The speakers were M. Khali Maouloud, Geneva Representative for IRA-Mauritanie; Dr. Elizabeth O’Casey, Vice-President of the UK National Secular Society and CfI Main Representative
to the UN, Geneva; Ms. Raheel Raza, President of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow, Toronto, Canada; Ms. Hannah Bock, International Representative for IHEU, and was moderated by Roy W. Brown, IHEU Main Representative, UN Geneva.

In his remarks, M. Khali Maouloud said:

The IRA (Initiative de Résurgence pour le mouvement Abolitionniste, created in 2006) fights against all forms of discrimination, in particular slavery in Mauritania… Every sector of Mauritanian society is concerned by slavery, including both the Arab-Berbers and the black Mauritanians (Haall-pulaar, Soninké, Wolof and Bambara). Slavery is viewed as a moral dilemma for these different groups. The current existence of a caste system in this community imposes statutory inequalities between individuals who are usually accepted [in to society]. Every debate leads to weighing the practice and immorality of slavery against economic, political and legal interests, whichever the community in question.

… Despite these small advances, we must maintain pressure on the government and support all of the initiatives intended to improve the condition of 80% of the population (the black-African) with the view of achieving equality and access to human rights. This must begin with the ruling classes respecting their obligations to  effectively implement the laws that have been adopted and ratified. Despite all of the riches of our country (one of the most fish-rich coasts of the world, and with copper, phosphor, iron, gold and petroleum) in addition to the international grants that we have received, our country remains one of the poorest in the world. The vast majority of this wealth is in the hands of 20% of our population – the Arabic-Berbers.

A full report from the seminar including transcripts of all the speakers’ contributions can be found below.

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