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Mohamed El Hor Abeidy from the Haratin community in Mauritania

Mohamed El Hor Abeidy, from the Haratin community in the West African nation of Mauritania, was one of nine participants in the UN Human Rights Office Minorities Fellowship Programme in Geneva.

Also known as “Black Moors,” the Haratin are of African origin but are culturally Arab. Traditionally, the Haratin were slaves and although the Government banned slavery in 1981 and criminalized it in 2007, it is thought the practice continues.

Slavery is a subject that weighs heavily on Abeidy’s mind. While there has been a rejection of slavery in Mauritania, Abeidy explains it is still being practiced on a daily basis. “We need programs in the Haratin community to eliminate slavery,” he said.

The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, its causes and consequences, Gulnara Shahinian, in a report to the General Assembly in August 2010, “concluded that de facto slavery continues to exist in Mauritania.”

Shahinian said, “The absence of alternative livelihoods and protection from high levels of illiteracy, limited information, combined with the separation of families, and methods of control used by masters that include the use of religion have resulted in a deep-rooted acceptance of their inherited slavery status… de facto slavery in Mauritania continues to be a slow, invisible process which results in the “social death” of many thousands of women and men.”

Haratin who are thought to make up as many as 40 percent of Mauritania’s population were identified in the report of the Special Rapporteur as the ethnic group most at risk of enslavement and the multiple forms of discrimination resulting from the practice.

Abeidy is involved in the “Resistance Initiative for Emancipation” and has actively campaigned to overcome the social exclusion, discrimination and marginalization suffered by the Haratin. The 28-year-old fellow studied law at the University of Nouakchott in Mauritania and has worked as a journalist writing articles about human rights focusing on child advocacy and slavery.

Through the Fellowship programme, Abeidy said he was hoping to learn more about the UN human rights system so that he can “defend our rights without violating the rights of others.”

In his opening statement to the 2011 participants at the UN Human Rights Office Minorities Fellowship Programme in Geneva, Yury Boychenko, United Nations Human Rights’ Chief of the Anti-Discrimination Section said, “Minority issues are very serious issues for many governments. Many countries do not recognize the existence of minorities.” 

The five-week Minorities Fellowship Programme was launched by the UN Human Rights Office in 2005 as a way to offer persons belonging to ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities an overview of the United Nations system with minority rights as a key component. 

The Programme is designed to familiarize the Fellows with the United Nations system, so they in turn, can educate their respective communities about the United Nations. It accepts both English and Arabic speaking individuals and the 2011 Programme included participants from Canada, Saudi Arabia, Nepal, Iraq, Yemen, Mauritania, Sri Lanka and Serbia.
6 November 2012
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