“Despite the considerable efforts of governments, civil society and the international community, we still live in a world blighted by slavery and slavery-like practices. Millions of human beings are subjected to an existence that is almost unfathomable in its degradation and inhumanity.”
These are the words of the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, in his 2011 message marking the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. The government of Mauritania cannot be counted or commended in these efforts. On the contrary, it stands condemned.
Continuing the previous conversation on ‘The burden of being Black — Mauritania’ (link below), by subjecting its Africans to slavery, State-sponsored expulsions to ‘return’ to sub-Saharan Africa (Senegal and Mali) and to racial discrimination, with all the attendant ills that ride on those three evils, Mauritania violates not only her own law but also regional and international conventions and treaties she has signed, and by which she commits to respect, uphold and protect human rights.
Two examples of such regional and international legal instruments which Mauritania is party to will suffice.
According to African Union website (link below), Mauritania has signed, ratified and deposited the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (1981), also known as the Banjul Charter. Article 2 of this Charter states (emphasis mine):
“Every individual shall be entitled to the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms recognised and guaranteed in the present Charter without distinction of any kind such as race, ethnic group, colour, sex, language, religion, political or any other opinion, national and social origin, fortune, birth or other status.”
Article 5 is even more explicit on slavery (emphasis mine):
“Every individual shall have the right to the respect of the dignity inherent in a human being and to the recognition of his legal status. All forms of exploitation and degradation of man particularly slavery, slave trade, torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment shall be prohibited.
By its acceptance, Mauritania is also party to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948, according to the UDHR’s 60th anniversary website (emphasis mine):
The Declaration represents a contract between governments and their peoples, who have a right to demand that this document be respected. Not all governments have become parties to all human rights treaties. All countries, however, have accepted the UDHR. The Declaration continues to affirm the inherent human dignity and worth of every person in the world, without distinction of any kind.
Articles 4 and 5 of the UDHR provide that:
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
In Mauritania, slavery sits safely cocooned in in the ‘cosy comforts’ of a confluence of bad governance and outright misrule, ignorance, indoctrination, poverty and collusion by religious leaders. Activists are constantly harassed by the government.
And yet, Africa is on the rise and moving ahead rapidly, be it in economy, good governance and respect for human rights. An increasing number of countries are holding regular, free and fair elections. The military are largely confined to the barracks where they belong and military coups are no longer the default system of govenment. Maurtiania’s sub-Saharan neighbours have witnessed two monumental developments recently — a keen interest by ECOWAS on the military takeover in Mali resulting in a transition government (thereby sending a very strong message to ‘aspiring’ military coup-plotters) and a fundamental peaceful political transition in Senegal. Mauritania should not be forgotten and left behind as Africa rises.
Meantime, the African Union (AU) is currently busying itself with wrestling cases on crimes against humanity out of the International Criminal Court to bring them to Africa. But what is the AU doing at home on slavery, human trafficking and violation of human rights? Besides Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, Sudan and Somalia are reported to have slaves.
We live in a world where the sense of a global community is unprecedented and increasingly the norm. More than ever before, people are more informed and care about others beyond their borders. There should be a growing realisation that none of us is free as long as one of us is in chains. These new webs of connection-by-information we weave (such as you reading this piece) mean that what happens in faraway places is brought home and close, right onto your screen. It has implications for us, and should affect us as members of the human race, result in calls to action, and move some of us to action: each responds in their own way, and in their own in time and space.
In South Africa, the apartheid State fell in no mean measure due to tremendous and sustained international pressure, in addition to local action, not to mention the media. Can we see the same concerted unity in purpose to free the last of slaves in Africa and elsewhere?
The media are fantastic at agenda-setting: by their selection of news stories, they determine what we shall know about, talk about, preoccupy our minds with, and prick our individual or collective conscience: what will stay front and centre on the agenda as a consistent constant, and not on some obscure backburner somewhere. The media are missing in action.
- Arrest of Mauritanian anti-slavery leader
- Movement for Justice and Equality in Mauritania (MJEM)
- African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Banjul Charter) and Status
- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
- The burden of being Black — Mauritania