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UN human rights experts urge Mali to end slavery once and for all

GENEVA (8 September 2020) – UN human rights experts* today called on authorities in Mali to end slavery once and for all after four men regarded as born into slavery were beaten to death and an 80-year-old woman and two other people were seriously injured last week.

"Nothing can justify the persistence of the practice of slavery," said Alioune Tine, UN independent expert on the situation of human rights in Mali and Tomoya Obokata, special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences. “We condemn these barbaric and criminal acts that violate the right to life, physical integrity and human dignity, and too often go unpunished.”

They called for “a prompt, transparent, impartial and thorough investigation” into the 1 September attack in Djandjoumé (Kayes region), and justice for the victims.

One of the dead men, a 69-year-old considered a slave, had won a court ruling against the village imam over farmland. Some members of the community objected to the judge’s decision, surrounded the houses of the so-called slaves and savagely beat them. The four dead men ranged in age from 42 to 72; an elderly woman and a married couple, aged 30 and 44, were hospitalised. Eleven people have been arrested.

“This system of descent-based slavery persists despite the fact that slavery was officially abolished in Mali in 1905,” the experts said. “Enslavement also constitutes a crime against humanity in the Malian Penal Code.” People are considered to be born into slavery because their ancestors were captured into slavery and their families have “belonged” to the slave-owning families for generations. People who are considered slaves work without pay, can be inherited, and are deprived of basic human rights.
Last year a member of an anti-slavery organisation was expelled from his village in Kayes region on the orders of the village chief, and some 50 people who contested their status as slaves were forced by local traditional leaders to flee another village.
“These appalling incidents illustrate the failure of the Malian State to implement its international commitments to protect human rights,” said Tine and Obokata. “In some cases, traditional chiefs and State authorities clearly seem to be accomplices of the perpetrators.”

Tine and Obokata called on Mali to adopt as soon as possible a law specifically criminalizing slavery, following the example of other States in the region such as Niger and Mauritania, and to cooperate with human rights organisations to conduct a national campaign aimed at abolishing slavery.

“It is also vital that Mali cease punishing human rights defenders and others who are trying to end descent-based slavery,” they said. “The government must stand up to traditional and religious leaders who condone appalling practices such as slavery.”

In his last report on 15 January 2020, Tine spoke out against attacks on people regarded as slaves, and against the arbitrary arrest and detention of 16 anti-slavery human rights defenders.

The experts: Mr. Alioune Tine (Senegal) took office as independent expert on the human rights situation in Mali on 1 May 2018. The mandate of independent expert was renewed by the Human Rights Council on 22 June 2020 for a period of one year to assist the Government of Mali in its actions to promote and protect human rights and in the implementation of the recommendations made in Council resolutions. Mr. Tine was a founding member and President of the African Meeting for the Defense of Human Rights (RADDHO) and Coordinator of the Forum of African NGOs at the World Conference against Racism in 2000. Between 2014 and 2018 Mr. Tine was Amnesty International's Regional Director for West and Central Africa. He has published many articles and studies on literature and human rights.
Mr. Tomoya Obokata (Japan) is a scholar of international law and human rights, specialising in transnational organised crime, human trafficking and modern slavery. He initiated his term as the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences in May 2020. He currently serves as Professor of International Law and Human Rights at Keele University, and previously taught at Queen's University Belfast and Dundee University (all in the United Kingdom Great Britain and Northern Ireland). He has extensive experience of working on the issues of transnational crime, human trafficking and modern slavery with relevant stakeholders, He has also published widely on the topics mentioned.
The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups 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 - Mali
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