Mauritania protesters denounce 'injustice' against ex-slaves

Thousands of people have marched for the rights of former slaves in Mauritania and to denounce “injustice”

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Thousands of people have marched for the rights of former slaves in Mauritania and to denounce “injustice” against them in the west African nation where slavery persists despite being officially abolished decades ago.

The march on Friday in the capital Nouakchott was organised by a group calling for the rights of the Haratines which was launched on April 29, 2013.

The protesters, who included opposition leaders, called for “the end of exclusion and injustice built into the system against the Haratine community”, according to a document from the organisers, a call echoed by various speakers at a meeting following the march.

“Without all our struggle, nothing will be done and the manifesto is to continue the battle against the injustice committed against all the wretched of this country, without exception!” said Boubacar Messaoud, the main leader and spokesman of the movement.

Despite being officially abolished in 1981, slavery is still deeply entrenched in the vast, largely desert nation where light-skinned Berber Arab Moors enslaved local black populations after settling in Mauritania centuries ago.

Slave status is also often passed on from generation to generation, according to rights groups.

Messaoud, however, welcomed recent moves by the authorities to fight against slavery.

In August 2015, Mauritania adopted a new law making slavery a “crime against humanity” and doubling the maximum prison term to 20 years.

The country in December also set up three specialist slavery courts and decreed last month that March 6 would be national day for the fight against slavery.

On the sidelines of the protest, Messaoud called for the release of jailed anti-slavery activists, including Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid, the leader of the Abolitionist Movement in Mauritania.

In January last year Ould Abeid was jailed for two years along with two others for “belonging to a non-authorised organisation, protesting, and incitement to rebellion.”

Their sentences were upheld on appeal in August. They took their case to the Supreme Court, which is to rule on May 17, according to a judicial source.