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The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) has again crticised Mauritania for its failures to tackle endemic slavery in the country.

Mauritania is little known internationally, a sparsely populated country with a low level of tourism in north-west Africa. It is not in the forefront of those states most closely associated with Islamism and Sharia law, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia or increasingly even Egypt, but Mauritania nevertheless stands tall in one particular respect: it is per capita the largest slave owning state in the world with 15% of the population held in slavery. The slaves are for the most part black Africans born into and held in slavery by their paler-skinned northern neighbours.

Over recent years the government has promised reform of this medieval system but there has been little evidence of progress on the ground. And rather than treat anti-slavery NGOs like IRA Mauritanie and SOS Esclaves as allies in its program of reform, the Mauritanian authorities continue to harass their supporters with many of them facing arrest and beatings.

Speaking yesterday (11 June 2013) at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, IHEU representative Michel Godicheau spoke out against the continuing scourge of slavery in the country. Michel’s speech is below in English translation, with the original French following.

Slavery in Mauritania

Mr. President,

Nearly 27 million people live in conditions tantamount to slavery in the world, [http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/gesellschaft/us-bericht-zu-menschenhandel-weltweit-leben-27-millionen-in-sklaverei-a-839864.html] and even though the practice is widely forbidden, it persists in numerous countries, anchored in racism, and religious and popular tradition [http://europenews.dk/de/node/58290].

Contemporary slavery is defined as the absence of personal liberty, threats to physical integrity and autonomy, the impossibility of deciding how and where you want to live, and whether you want to work or not.

Last year, on national television, the President of the National Assembly declared: “slavery exists in Mauritania, we must recognize this fact and stop denying it because it would diminish the efforts of all parties trying to eradicate it.” But even though the Mauritanian government announced new steps towards the abolition of discrimination, there is little positive to report on the ground.  [http://haratine.blogspot.ch/2012/05/normal-0-21-false-false-false-fr-x-none.html]

According to IRA-Маuritanie and SOS Esclaves, there are 500,000 slaves in Mauritania, all from the Haratine ethnic group. This is the largest proportion of slaves in any population in the world.

But rather than seeing these anti-slavery groups as allies in the struggle against slavery, they and their supporters are harassed by the Mauritanian authorities and face frequent arrest.

Victims are born slaves and remain the property of their masters. They work without salary and without care, and are frequently subject to sexual abuse – even children. Considered as inferior because they are of another race, they can be sold and bought like market goods. This appalling situation is happening today, Mr. President, just a four-hour flight from where we sit. [http://europenews.dk/de/node/65848]

In Mauritania, slavery is based on the “Black Code” dating from the 9th century. What steps is the government taking to abolish the Black Code?

Are they prepared to withdraw from publication books carrying pseudo-scientific and religious justification for slavery and its practice?

What social and economic programs have they put in place to permit the rehabilitation of slaves and their descendants to enable them to join mainstream Mauritanian society?

Finally, we call upon those states for whom slavery is but a distant memory to remember their past and to become pro-active in the global struggle against this continuing scourge.

Тhank you, Sir.


L’Esclavage en Mauritanie

Monsieur le Président

Environ 27 millions de personnes dans le monde vivent dans des conditions proches de l'esclavage [http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/gesellschaft/us-bericht-zu-menschenhandel-weltweit-leben-27-millionen-in-sklaverei-a-839864.html]. L'esclavage est désormais proscrit et interdit dans le monde entier, mais il perdure néanmoins, car ancré dans  les traditions populaires ou religieuses [http://europenews.dk/de/node/58290].

L'esclavage contemporain est définie comme l'absence de liberté personnelle, la menace sur l'intégrité physique et à l'autonomie, l’impossibilité de décider comment et où vous voulez vivre, si vous voulez travailler ou non.

Il y a un peu plus d’un an, à  la télévision nationale mauritanienne (le 22.05.2012), le président de l'assemblée nationale mauritanienne a déclaré, je cite: "L'esclavage existe bien en Mauritanie, nous devons le reconnaître et éviter de le nier parce que cela nuirait à son éradication qui doit être l’œuvre de tous." L'an dernier, le gouvernement mauritanien a annoncé une nouvelle étape en termes de l'abolition de la discrimination [http://haratine.blogspot.ch/2012/05/normal-0-21-false-false-false-fr-x-none.html]. Mais sur le terrain, rien n’a avancé.

Selon les rapports de l'IRA et SOS Esclaves, plus de 500.000 esclaves noirs en Mauritanie, tous membre du groupe ethnique Haratine, et ceci malgré l’abrogation légale, c’est  le pourcentage le plus élevé du monde. Mais plutôt que de considérer les groupes anti-esclavage  comme des allies dans cette lutte, les autorités mauritaniennes harcèlent leurs promoteurs qui doivent faire face à de fréquentes arrestations.

Les victimes sont né dans l’esclavage et ils sont la propriété de leur Seigneur, souvent déjà dès la naissance. Les esclaves femelles peuvent être abusé sexuellement par leurs propriétaires, les esclaves peuvent être achetés ou vendus. Cette situation n’existe dans un pays que quatre heures par avion depuis ici [http://europenews.dk/de/node/65848].

Nous demandons quelles mesures concrètes le gouvernement entend adopter pour abolir ce "Code Noir" qui date du IXieme siècle, et permettre à tous les Mauritaniens une vie en liberté?

Quand retirera t-on de  la circulation ces livres  présentés comme scientifiques et conformes à la religion où des érudits prônent l’esclavage et sa pratique?

Y aura-t-il  un programme économique et social, permettant l'intégration efficace des descendants d'esclaves et des affranchis dans la société mauritanienne?

Et enfin, les pays pour lesquels l’esclavage est un combat mémoriel, peuvent-ils définir une démarche proactive dans la lutte mondiale contre ce fléau ?

Merci Monsieur.

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