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Mauritanian new anti-slavery law: Effective enforcement is the key – UN rights expert

GENEVA (21 August 2015) – United Nations Special Rapporteur Urmila Bhoola applauded the adoption of a new anti-slavery law in Mauritania that doubles the maximum prison sentence for the crime of slavery from 10 to 20 years and creates special tribunals for prosecution of slavery and slavery-like practices. However, she cautioned, “this welcome development needs to be followed by its full implementation.”

“Slavery and slavery-like practices can be eradicated only if the existing laws, policies and programmes are implemented fully and effectively,” said the independent expert designated by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor and report on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences.

The Special Rapporteur commended the Government for taking this important step towards replacing the 2007 anti-slavery law, which had proven to be ineffective in terms of prosecution.

Commenting on the new anti-slavery legislation adopted by the Mauritanian National Assembly last week, Ms. Bhoola hailed the fact that it gives the right to civil society organisations to lodge complaints in courts on behalf of the victims as civil party but noted that the requirements set in the law might impede some of them to do so. The Law also foresees free legal assistance for victims and refers to their right to reparation, however without elaborating on its modalities.

She noted that the new legislation, despite some shortcomings, was an indication of the Government’s commitment to implement the road map on the eradication of contemporary forms of slavery, adopted by the Council of Ministers in March 2014.

“It is necessary that the implementing legislation regarding special tribunals adopts a rights-based approach, including by ensuring the right to an effective access to justice for all victims,” the Special Rapporteur emphasised.

Ms. Bhoola highlighted the need for “a holistic approach to eradicating slavery, combining the criminal law approach with measures aimed at addressing root causes of contemporary forms of slavery and programmes for victim protection, assistance and socio-economic integration with a view of providing them with alternative livelihoods.”

In this regard, the expert called on Mauritania to step up its efforts to implement the road map drawing on the recommendations made by the previous Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery following her official country visit to Mauritania in 2009, and the national action plan stemming from the road map.

The Special Rapporteur offered to provide Mauritania with technical assistance and called for resources to be made available for tackling slavery and slavery-like practices, including by the international community.

Ms. Urmila Bhoola (South Africa) assumed her mandate as Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences on 2 June 2014. Ms. Bhoola is an international human rights lawyer specialised in gender equality and labour law. She has 20 years of experience as a labour and human rights lawyer in South Africa and served as a Judge of the South African Labour Court for five years. She is a former Executive Director of International Women’s Rights Action Watch for the Asia Pacific (IWRAW AP). Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Slavery/SRSlavery/Pages/SRSlaveryIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Mauritania: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/MRIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests please contact Ms.Janja Sinkovič (+41 22 928 9356 /jsinkovic@ohchr.org) or write to srslavery@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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