Mauritania to set up slavery tribunal

Men run from tear gas fired by police during an anti-slavery demonstration in 2012 in Nouakchott, Mauritania. (Reuters)

Mauritania is to set up a special tribunal to prosecute suspects accused of involvement in slavery, state media said on Tuesday, in a bid to eradicate the trade in the west African state.

A judicial committee chaired by President Mohammad Ould Abdel Aziz met on Monday and “decided to create a court to try crimes of slavery,” the Mauritanian Information Agency reported.

Mauritania was the last country in the world to abolish slavery, in 1981, and since 2012 its practice has been officially designated a crime, with those convicted liable to 10 years in prison.

Forced labor is a particularly sensitive issue in Mauritania, where anti-slavery charities are very active, especially SOS Slaves and the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Struggle against Slavery (IRSS), which support victims in court.

A Nouakchott court found six people guilty of slavery in November 2011, in the first such convictions in Mauritania, and many other cases have been waiting to go to court, with the suspects often accused by NGOs of “collusion with slave owners.”

But legal action has in the past taken place in normal criminal courts and campaigners have argued that the government has failed to acknowledge the extent of the trade, with no official data available.

IRSS president Biram Ould Dah said that while the legal means to try slave-holders already existed, there had been a lack of “political will to enforce existing laws.”

Various social security programs have helped former slaves in the past but the beneficiaries were never recognized as such, with schemes officially targeting other disadvantaged groups.

But in March Mauritania announced the launch of its first government agency charged explicitly with helping former slaves.

The organization’s mission is to “eradicate the legacy of slavery” by helping the poor and marginalized through better access to housing and employment, the government said.
 

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:41 - GMT 06:41
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