Thursday, March 6, 2008

Slavery debate continues to haunt Mauritania

Slavery has been officially legal in Mauritania since 1981, and President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdellahi introduced legislation in August mandating prison time for those associated with its practice. argues that international and national human rights organizations are raising concerns about the culture slavery in Mauritania. Others claim that slavery is so embedded in Mauritanian culture that completely bringing an end to it would be akin for Western countries to do away with racial discrimination.

"This is a deeply embedded practice in Mauritania, and it will take time to eradicate it," said [President of SOS Slaves, Mauritania's primary anti-slavery organization, Boubacar] Messaoud. But he said he was concerned about the pace of progress. "There have not been any cases in court, but there should have been."

He noted that the judiciary and police forces are complicit in the practice.

Messaoud added that human rights groups are pushing for affirmative action and non-discrimination laws, and "we are campaigning for the law to be strengthened particularly to enable NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) and individuals to be able to have access and local standing to take cases on behalf of victims of slavery."

"Unfortunately, Mauritania doesn't have the resources to fully implement the legislation," [Mauritanian ambassador to the U.S., Ibrahima] Dia said. He added that [president] Abdellahi has "committed himself during his mandate [to] do all that he can to make sure that our country has made significant steps to the abolition of the [culture] of slavery."

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