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Unaddressed, slavery in all its forms may be
an obstacle to the future of Mauritania

NOUAKCHOTT (4 November 2009) – “The Government and civil society organisations have taken significant steps to fight against slavery in Mauritania, but a more a holistic, collaborative and sustained approach addressing all forms of discrimination together with poverty at all levels of society is required,” said the United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences, Ms. Gulnara Shahinian, at the end of her visit to the country.
“Unaddressed, slavery in all its forms may be an obstacle to the stability, sustainable development and prosperity of Mauritania,” said the UN expert.
Ms. Shahinian met with various Government authorities, international organizations and NGOs, and visited communities in Atar, Rosso and Nouakchott. “In my visits to communities I met with people who told me that they had been victims of slavery practices such as serfdom and domestic servitude. These people had fled slavery and also told the stories of those they had left behind.”
“These victims said that they were utterly deprived of their basic human rights. Having no alternative, they voluntarily stay or after fleeing, return back to slavery. This perpetuates the vicious circle of slavery for men, women and children. The women I met felt that they were the most vulnerable as they suffer triple discrimination firstly as women, secondly, as mothers and thirdly as slaves.”
The Special Rapporteur congratulated Mauritania for openly discussing and addressing all forms of contemporary forms of slavery and its remnants, challenges and consequences, and praised Mauritanians for taking all legal measures to eradicate all forms of slavery. She particularly commended the 2007 passing of the law criminalising slavery.
“This law provides a clear message that slavery can never be tolerated in Mauritania. It has been brought to my attention that the State has some cases under investigation.” The Special Rapporteur recommended that a sustained awareness raising campaign in the urban and rural areas is needed in order to make all Mauritanians aware of the law.
“In order for the judiciary to effectively use this law, I would strongly recommend that the law be amended to contain a clearer definition of slavery and socio-economic programmes which would act as an incentive for victims to bring cases before the law. In order for victims to be encouraged to come forward, I recommend that the 2007 slavery law include provisions that provide for victim assistance and socio-economic programmes for their reintegration into society,” stressed Ms. Shahinian.
“A comprehensive and holistic national strategy specifically addressing slavery that includes awareness raising, access to basic services and income generating activities is required in order to effectively put an end to this phenomenom,” said said the UN expert.
“In addition,” said Ms. Shahinian, “the national strategy to combat slavery should be developed by different stakeholders from the Government, local and international NGOs, political parties, religious leaders, trade unions, UN agencies and the donor community. I encourage these different stakeholders to jointly implement and monitor the national strategy to combat slavery,” the UN expert stressed.
The Special Rapporteur noted that the Mauritanians commitment to fight slavery is shown from what they have been able to achieve despite their limited budget. “The new Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper must also include programmes that specifically target slavery in all its forms.”
Ms. Gulnara Shahinian was appointed as the first Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, its causes and consequences in May 2008. She is a lawyer with extensive experience as an expert consultant for various UN, EU, Council of Europe, OSCE and government bodies on children’s rights, gender, migration and trafficking. Ms Shahinian is also a former trustee of the UN Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary forms of Slavery.