Slavery: Ancient and Modern


A new 2013 Global Slavery Index has been published by the Walk Free Foundation, in which we read that Mauritania tops the list of countries where slavery is an issue, when ranked in proportion to population size. Many media outlets were quick to transform this into a headline, which has already blazed its trail through social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

There are some important observations to consider when reading these headlines, which I want to highlight:

  • The index uses a broad definition of “modern slavery” which includes child marriage and human trafficking, including illegal immigration. In the case of Mauritania, what exists there, and is still being witnessed today, is descendant slavery, as found in several countries in the index, and which is anything BUT modern. The number of Mauritanian citizens being trafficked is so tiny it defies measurement, and while child marriage is legal under Sharia law, marriage itself is so popular that once again, the numbers are going to be incredibly difficult to determine with any measure of accuracy. Those cases of child marriage we do hear of are mostly in more remote, rural areas with scant statistical records.
  • The population of Mauritania has not been reported using an official census since 2000, and even then, the numbers were deliberately under-reported, as noted by the World Bank and the UN, the secondary sources used by this new index. All numbers for population for the past 13 years have been estimated and extrapolated from other data sources. These sources are studies which will also determine the scope of aid programs, a major source of income for successive, corrupt, governments of Mauritania. Therefore we must assume the numbers reported for those studies is impacted by the opportunistic greed of the ruling administration.
  • The percentage arrived at by the index is 4%. This is in stark contrast to the figure of 10% to 20% usually reported by NGOs and human rights organisations. No explanation is offered for this apparent discrepancy. Clearly, the government, which remains sternly in denial of the continued existence or practice of slavery in Mauritania, will consider this a major PR coup in its favour.
  • Hillary Clinton has noted that the new index is “not perfect” and therefore, we should expect to see changes to it as it develops over time.
Freed into homelessness and unemployment, former slaves in Mauritania build makeshift villages from found materials. But they are often made homeless again, their shanty-towns bulldozed in land-grabs, as happened in Leimghetty, outside the capital, Nouakchott, in May 2013

Freed into homelessness and unemployment, former slaves in Mauritania build makeshift villages from found materials. But they are often made homeless again, their shanty-towns bulldozed under order of state officials, as happened in Leimghetty, outside the capital, Nouakchott, in May 2013

We must take the issue of slavery seriously, because it is widespread and damaging and goes against everything decent human beings hold dear. But we don’t need glossy reports or “world leaders” (see video below) moralising about the subject as much as we need to see real concrete plans about how this scourge is going to be eradicated, and sensible actions which offer practical help for the victims to regain a dignified independence as well as their liberty.


At the moment, it looks like the main concern about slavery as far as many states are concerned, is that the proceeds are part of the “grey economy,” and therefore those doing the enslaving are also avoiding paying tax. It would seem that governments are more comfortable with the notion of fostering the sprawling mass of aid and development organisations, and collecting income tax from their often very highly-paid executives, while the rest of the agencies’ funds are able to legitimately avoid standard company tax because they are registered charities.

With new, harsher penalties being announced by the UK for anyone found guilty of trafficking, there is a great deal of justifiable public concern for the fate of the victims in all this, which is not clear from the statements being issued. These concerns are echoed in every country where trafficking or slavery is a problem. In Mauritania, for example, “international pressure” has led to a succession of rules, laws and proclamations from the government of the time, paying lip-service to the exhortations of donor organisations and countries willing to invest or otherwise bring revenue into the state coffers, with humanitarian strings attached. Yet each time the regime has banned or outlawed the practice of slavery, it has led to groups of people being “freed” by their former owners out of panic and fear, rather than concern. This has created a group of socially isolated former slaves, cast out of a bad but familiar situation, into an even more extreme state of insecurity, with no food, shelter, or work, and lacking even a basic education.

How extreme? Bad enough that some of them were forced to seek shelter in the refugee camp built to house those displaced from the conflict in neighbouring Mali. What happened when they were supposedly discovered? The UNHCR refused to feed them, and stopped issuing food rations to the entire camp, provoking a riot during which the food stores were broken into and rations seized by angry, humiliated, hungry, people with nowhere else to go and no other choices. That camp has been open since January 2012, and those Mauritanians were there almost from the start, but they were initially useful in boosting numbers for fund-raising appeals and supplying dramatic subtext to help justify the deployment of French and other military forces in Mali. Now, they’re surplus to requirements. Ironically, it is against the law to be homeless in Mauritania, land of the nomad. Expelling these Mauritanians from the refugee camp will subject them to risk of arrest and possible imprisonment, and certainly to harassment.

Such groups are likely to be found in every country where slavery is a current issue, and several where it has supposedly been eliminated, although their situations will vary. They all need support, and it should be delivered with as much publicity and enthusiasm as the speeches and statements and statistics, if not more.


UNPO: UN Special Rapporteur Condemns Contemporary Slavery in #Mauritania


The UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery presides over a round table discussion and alerts to the persistence of slavery in Mauritania Photo :UNPO

A roundtable discussion on Contemporary Slavery in Mauritania was organised by the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) on 10 October 2012 in the European Parliament, Brussels. The roundtable was presided by the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, Ms. Gulnara Shahinian, and the UNPO General Secretary, Marino Busdachin.

Representatives of Amnesty International, the International Labour Organisation, Anti–Slavery International, Society for Threatened Peoples and IRA Europe all participated in a fruitful discussion, during which they could share their perspectives on the phenomenon of Contemporary Slavery in Mauritania and ask questions to the Special Rapporteur, Ms. Shahinian.

During this working session, the slavery practices that are still widespread in Mauritania were discussed. The clandestine nature of this phenomenon, together with the fact that victims of slavery are not only systematically let down by the legal system in Mauritania but are also subjected to unfair trials, discrimination at different levels and even torture, were touched upon with Ms. Shahinian when she recalled her findings from her latest visit to Mauritania. Concern was expressed by all parties, with a poignant speech delivered by Abidine Merzough, President of the European Office of Initiative for the Abolition of Slavery in Mauritania and a Mauritanian himself.

The UN Special Rapporteur reiterated the importance of raising awareness and bringing forward initiatives to help guide the European Union and the international community. Ms. Shahinian drew attention to the Road Map which she is now working on, a project that has specific action points tailored to the eradication of slavery in Mauritania. Not only did the Special Rapporteur invite all present to comment on the blueprint, but a consensus to use this project as a tool to get the international community on board was also reached in the hope that it will be the precursor to a more definite and emphatic fight against Contemporary Slavery.

via UNPO

Slavery in Mauritania is NOT an invitation for US-backed intervention

Modern-day slavery in Mauritania

Modern-day slavery in Mauritania

Excellent to see CNN publish this detailed and in-depth report on modern-day slavery in Mauritania, researched covertly during a visit there in December 2011. But the extract below, from the end of the report invites a dangerous assumption: it could be interpreted as an excuse to intervene in the affairs of a sovereign nation. I believe this is not the right attitude at all. Pay attention, shine a light on injustice, give it airtime or column inches, raise the issues in international discussions, provide funding to appropriate non-government organisations created and staffed by local activists, but please, don’t assume that it is any other country’s responsibility to interfere. It would also help international anti-slavery activists considerably if the headline didn’t give the impression that Mauritania is the last and only place on earth where children and adults are subjected to slavery in its various forms. In fact, it is a pandemic affecting many countries worldwide.


From the CNN post:

“Help us to change our country”

Activists say the international community has done relatively little to pressure Mauritania to address slavery. “The French government and American government have had a lot of opportunities to help Mauritania step up and deal with this — and have pretty much squandered those opportunities,” says Kevin Bales, of Free the Slaves. People tend to focus on topics like child trafficking and sex slavery, says Sarah Mathewson, Africa program coordinator at Anti-Slavery International, rather than the old-world slavery in Mauritania.

The U.S. ambassador to Mauritania, Jo Ellen Powell, called slavery in the country “completely unacceptable and abhorrent” and said America is pressuring Mauritania to change. The nation should invest in the education of its children rather than “keeping them sweeping floors somewhere or herding goats,” she said. “Human capital development is something that’s very important to the Mauritanians and I hope that they get that connection.”

For a few weeks after returning home, I tried to block the most troubling images from my mind: haunting villages where kids eat sand; a slave owner who smiled while he told us about the free labor he gets from people with darker skin; and, most of all, the piercing eyes of a woman whose master left her infant in the sand to die.

Mauritania is a place of agonizing beauty, one that’s hard not to love and curse. Its people have lived with unfulfilled potential and broken promises for decades, since the country first tried to abolish slavery in 1905. But that could change, several activists told us, if Mauritania knew the rest of the world was watching.

The United Nations has proposed a number of changes the Mauritanian government could make to quicken the end of slavery. Among them: Pay lawyers to represent victims; allow international monitors into the country to conduct a full survey of slavery; and fund centers like the one SOS runs to rehabilitate slaves who have claimed their freedom.

It would help if a global public demanded these changes. “It’s a destitute country,” says Kevin Bales. “It needs a few friends in the world.”

Perhaps then women like Moulkheir and Selek’ha could find justice.

And Boubacar and Abdel could get their wish.

We asked the SOS founders how they will know when their fight against slavery in Mauritania is over — how they’ll know they have won. Both men had the same answer:

When a former slave becomes president.


1 Jan 2012 News…articles…opinions

English: Maikel Nabil Sanad العربية: مايكل نبي...

#AfricanUnion #AFP #ArabLeague #Azerbaijan #Azeri #Bahrain #Brazil #Colombia #earthquake #Egypt #Gaza #internet #Iran #Israel #IzuIslands #Japan #Lebanon #Libya #Mali #Mauritania #media #Morocco #NewYear #Nigeria #Pakistan #Peru #propaganda #Sahrawi  #Saudi #Syria #Tunisia #Twitter #UNSC #WesternSahara #Yemen #ZuccottiPark

Police raided New York’s Zuccotti Park, clearing Occupy Wall St protesters and making several arrests v @AJELive 08:37 AM
A total of 2,645 people were killed last year in Iraq nearly 1,000 fewer than in 2009 still a number that probes the tragic legacy of 2003 v @javierespinosa2 08:41 AM
Clashes across Bahrain as protesters demand reform v @javierespinosa2 08:50 AM
Today Morocco starts a 2-year term as non-permanent member of the UNSC representing the group of African states… Don’t hold your breath. v @__Hisham 09:07 AM
6.8 earthquake 242 km (150 miles) SW of Hachijo-jima, Izu Islands, Japan. 05:27:54 UTC
Sunday, January 01, 2012 at 02:27:54 PM at epicenter, depth +/- 9.7 km (6.0 miles)
v @NewEarthquake 09:53 AM
Big news from jailed blogger Maikel Nabil’s brother Mark: Nabil has ended his 4-month hunger We are all hitting the streets.Jg pt v @Egyptocracy 10:02 AM
Burnt remains after a fire set off by New Year’s fireworks engulfed shanty homes in Manila Philippines burnt remains after a fire set off by New Year's firewor... on Twitpic another pic: burnt remains after a fire set off by New Year&#... on Twitpic v @khalidkhan787 10:12 AM
Muslim Brotherhood not to recognize Israel says the group’s Vice Chairman v @__Hisham 10:18 AM
In 2011: Over 5,800 killed in Syrian revolt v @khalidkhan787 10:24 AM
Armed Libyans hijack Tunisian border patrol v @khalidkhan787 10:27 AM
Pakistan, India exchange lists of nuclear installations, prisonersttp:// v @khalidkhan787 10:46 AM
100 Years in 10 Minutes (1911 – 2011 in 10 Minutes)
v @ Babadeye 11:35 AM
Twitter 2012 wishlist: better spam control, all our tweets reindexed & a functional search engine, rate limits abolished, fix site bugs. RT @teacherdude and add indicator that tells us when sb has DMed u [asteris: Yeah, Twitter, how hard can it be?] v @asteris 12:18 PM
Arab League says its monitors are allowing Damascus to cover up continued violence and abuses, should withdraw immediately – Reuters Syria v @__Hisham 12:27 PM
 – in Daraa Syria
v @AlexanderPageSY 12:55 PM
OmairAndOtaibi 2 Saudis still in jail since they protested against Israeli war on Gaza 3 years ago! v @Dima_Khatib 01:25 PM
Good news- Lebanon and Brazil two allies of Al-Assad are out of UNSC starting today. Syria v @wissamtarif 01:38 PM
Residents of Jamiliye in Aleppo line up their gas canisters to highlight Syria’s energy crisis
v @LeShaque 01:46 PM
Saharawi Coordinator with the MINURSO, Mr. Mhamed Khaddad, shared the contents of a message from the Malian government confirming “the Republic of Mali gives the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic the right to pursue within its national territory the criminal groups” and expressed strong dissatisfaction towards the Mali office of Agence France Press for stories indication that the cross-border operation happened without consent. v @Sahara_Voice 01:47 PM
On the day I relocated away from Twitter, @rupertmurdoch joined. I like the odd symmetry. 02:00 PM
Azerbaijani political prisoners talk about horrors they faced in Iranian prisons v @ Ehatemi 03:06 PM
African Union to Declare Fate of Libya Assets in East Africa. Hotels, telecoms, oil pipeline, agriculture… v @robinenergy 03:09 PM
imagine what happens next when today: 1st January 2012–> Japan earthquake 7.0, Philippines fire, Pakistan bombings, Ohio earthquake 4.0 etc. v @khalidkhan787 03:12 PM
Huge part of the upper floor of the Science Complex in Cairo, Egypt, collapsed. Lots of wreckage. v @Psypherize 03:13 PM
New Year 2012: Dead Blackbirds By The 1000s Fall Again In Arkansas Town v @khalidkhan787 03:20 PM
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia  decided to resume diplomatic relations with Libya v @ Ehatemi 03:21 PM
Egypt to cut energy subsidies for heavy industry | Reuters v @ Hany2m 03:35 PM
Workers storming terminal 1 at Cairo airport to demand better conditions v @ Hany2m 03:38 PM
The trip first by a Western journalist @Raghavanswp since fighting began in May. A rare glimpse inside Zinjibar, Yemen v @ionacraig 03:57 PM
5.1 earthquake, south of the Mariana Islands. Jan 2 1:44am at epicenter (21m ago, 209km SW of HAGATNA, depth 22km) v @NewEarthquake 04:06 PM
Damascus Suburbs: Daraya: Security forces kidnapped martyred Ghiyath Matar’s brother-in-law while he was undergoing an operation Syria v @ZainSyr 04:11 PM
Justice minister said that Egypt has 35,000 registered NGOs. v @moftasa 04:27 PM
The Power of Listening “The Question is, can we afford ineffective listening in the post Arab-awakening Middle East? The answer is undoubtedly no. […] Let’s get out of our bubble, stop the tyrannical voice inside our mind and listen to each other more effectively in 2012.” v @Nervana_1 04:33 PM
Morality police’ in Egypt got beaten up by some women. 2012 needs such news! v @monakareem 04:36 PM
Hourly Wage of Iran’s Soft War Soldiers: 7000 Toman v @dustandtrash 05:11 PM
Gaddafi treasures buried in the desert spark battles: the Libyan authorities find 20 tons of gold and 80 million euros v @ Marebpress 05:15 PM
I don’t understand this constant state of denial: 1st SCAF tells us not to use the phrase ‘protesters were crushed’ Then.. PM Ganzouri tells us not use phrase ‘excessive use of force or even violence against protesters’ And finally Fayza Aboul Naga asks us not to characterize what happened to the NGOs as ‘raids’??? Can’t those in power just own up to their actions for goodness’ sake??? Egypt v @RawyaRageh 05:42 PM
at least 315 martyrs fell in Syria since the arrival of ArabLeague observers on the 23rd Dec 2011, RIP their souls & damn the Arab regime v @ZainSyr 06:06 PM
Libya Gaddafi supporters ‘try to blow up Tripoli power grid’ v @TelegraphNews 06:12 PM
Human Rights Watch has warned Saleh there will be no immunity for him once he leaves Yemen 06:38 PM
Terhran airport chief says Iran government directive has ordered a reciprocal refuelling ban for some European and Arab airlines 07:36 PM
External satellite TV channels have arrived in Mauritania. Wonder how many years until the people get satellite receivers, the few who can afford them. v @Ahmedouldbah 07:47 PM
Colombia: Colombia: Santos signed legislation against wage discrimination against women v @infolatam 08:01 PM
How Iran Spreads Propaganda through the International Press v @dustandtrash 08:03 PM
Anti-slavery activist group leader Biram Ould Dah Ould Obeida demanded a thorough and impartial investigation into ongoing issues of slavery and human rights abuses in Mauritania 08:07 PM
Internet users face spotty service in Iran Iran IranElection v @abu_xales 08:25 PM
Peru: Cajamarca resume protests against mining project v @infolatam 08:46 PM
Tawakul Karman says that she will run for the presidency of Yemen and that she will win. v @Saudiwoman 09:08 PM
Death toll rises to 66 in Nigeria communal clash v @Nervana_1 09:20 PM
Interesting, a group of psychiatrists started a new initiative for helping people with PTSD. Dr Manal Omar was on OnTV now talking about it. v @moftasa 09:34 PM
I’m really sorry, I hope our Tunisian brothers don’t see the kidnapping case as a normal thing. Apologies on behalf of Libya :/ Some ex Gaddafi bastards are trying really hard to ruin Libya Tunisia relations… v @ChangeInLibya 09:49 PM
The number of documented deaths in Syria today is 13, including a child; 4 in each of Homs & Idlib, 3 martyrs in Hama & 2 in Daraya (Damascus suburbs) v @ZainSyr 10:05 PM
9th episode of the unique Syrian Revolution puppet series released today v @MasasitMati 10:54 PM
Call for speakers at Cairo Security Camp Sep 2012, Send your CV with your paper to info (at) by 15 May 2012 11:54 PM

#Mauritania – Anti-slavery activists suffer worse fate than slave-owners