31st December, 2013
Mauritania is to set up a special tribunal to prosecute suspects accused of involvement in slavery, state media said on Tuesday, in a bid to eradicate the trade in the west African state.
A judicial committee chaired by President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz met on Monday and “decided to create a court to try crimes of slavery”, the Mauritanian Information Agency reported.
Mauritania was the last country in the world to abolish slavery, in 1981, and since 2012 its practice has been officially designated a crime, with those convicted liable to 10 years in prison.
Forced labour is a particularly sensitive issue in Mauritania, where anti-slavery charities are very active, especially SOS Slaves and the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Struggle against Slavery, which support victims in court.
While some slave owners have been jailed by normal criminal courts, campaigners have argued that the government has failed to acknowledge the extent of the trade, with no official data available.
Various social security programmes have helped former slaves in the past but the beneficiaries were never recognised as such, with schemes officially targeting other disadvantaged groups.
But in March Mauritania announced the launch of its first government agency charged explicitly with helping former slaves.
The organisation’s mission is to “eradicate the legacy of slavery” by helping the poor and marginalised through better access to housing and employment, the government said.
Biram Ould Dah, president of the rights charity Initiative for the Resurgence of the Fight Against Slavery, said that while the legal means to try slave-holders already existed, there had been a lack of “political will to enforce existing laws”.