I come here from Mauritania, a country where more than half of the four million inhabitants are held in slavery, (they are known as ‘Abeed’ meaning ‘slave’), or suffer its consequences, such as the Haratin people. In 2013, the Walk Free Foundation gave my country the infamous title of being number one in terms of the prevalence of slavery.
But if this reality, of which I myself am the first to be ashamed, is now known of the world over, this is because we, the Mauritanian people, are numerous in denouncing it, in combating it and refusing to hide it. I am ashamed that my country is labelled as the last bastion of slavery but I am proud to fight against this ignominy and I ask you to join us in denouncing it.
I am here today representing the Initiative pour La Résurgence du Mouvement Abolitionniste (IRA-Mauritania) / The Initiative for the Resurgence for the Abolitionist Movement. Launched in 2008 to combat slavery in its most abject of forms, according to which you are for example born a slave, while elsewhere 'men are born free and equal in rights'. I am referring to descent-based slavery, where people are born into a 'slave class'. The IRA-Mauritania’s aim is to see the application of the law that has just been passed, which criminalises slavery and slave practices. Set up in order to apply this law, the IRA-Mauritania is held outside the law. The IRA-Mauritania has been refused administrative recognition and this is still the case today. The Mauritanian state maintains the illegitimate status of the IRA-Mauritania in order to stop its progress and to stop you, people of good faith, organisations, institutions and groups motivated by peace and justice, from helping us.
But, more alarmingly than the administrative ban, the Mauritanian government under pressure from obscurantist groups, has set itself the aim of wiping out, physically, the IRA-Mauritania and its leaders. In lashing out at the IRA-Mauritania and its leaders, it aims to intimidate all the human rights activists and beyond that, all actions of civil society.
For a year now, the President of the IRA-Mauritania, Biram Dah Abeid, winner of the 2013 UN Human Rights Prize and his Vice President Brahim Bilal Ramdhan have been languishing the Aleg prison, 250km from their home. They are suffering from health problems that everyone is well aware of, and despite doctors having reiterated their medical opinions, the Mauritanian administration refuses to provide them with the necessary care. The administration’s will to see them wither away slowly is manifest.
In Mauritania, religious obscurantism based on an incorrect and self-serving interpretation of Islam assists those who uphold slavery, and who hold in their hands all the mechanisms of the administration. The influence of this adulterated Islam that is instrumentalised by radicals, merges with ignorance and poverty to keep 60% of the Mauritanian population living in slavery whilst the government in power continues to deny the reality.
In Mauritania, religious obscurantism based on an incorrect and self-serving interpretation of Islam assists those who uphold slavery, and who hold in their hands all the mechanisms of the administration.