Thursday, January 08, 2015

Mauritania and the Abolition of Slavery Movement

Activists persecuted for opposing land-grab-driven slavery in Mauritania

Many Mauritanian citizens cannot wait for the year 2014 year to end. Unfortunately, 2015 does not look promising either.
First, blogger Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed faces a death penalty sentence imposed on December 26 for blasphemy, though he denies insulting the prophet, saying his blog commentary was a reflection on an unjust social order based on a caste system that marginalizes underprivileged communities.
This caste system is also what has driven many activists in Mauritania to protest the ongoing land grabs by corporations against local farmers who are then forced to work the land they previously owned. One such activist is Biram Dah Abeid, head of the Initiative pour la Résurgence du Mouvement Abolitionniste en Mauritanie IRA (the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolition Movement in Mauritania). He and other Mauritanian human rights activists were arrested on November 11, 2014.

In 2013, Dah Abeid received the
United Nations Human Rights Award and the Front Line Defenders At Risk. He organized a nationwide rally to raise awareness about land-grab slavery—a practice that has proven especially harmful for the Haratin people, a community made of mostly farmers. Some of the rally's participants were arrested in November.
Front Line Defenders, an international human rights organization, posted the following notice on their website :
On 11 November 2014, Biram Dah Abeid and eight of his colleagues from IRA were charged and held in pre-trial detention in the prison in Rosso, because they took part in an illegal caravan of protest calling for the final abolition of slavery in Mauritania. Biram and his colleagues were held in isolation, beaten and had their mobile phones taken. Then, on 17 December, Biram and his colleagues were informed that their trial would be held the following day, even though his lawyers had not been given advance notice so they could prepare his defence. In Mauritania the practice of slavery persists in a more traditional way [..] continuing to live as chattel slaves to their masters. In practice, this means they can be bought and sold, hired out, or given away as gifts 
 In a press release on November 12, Amnesty International demanded that the activists be set free: 
These arrests are part of a growing crackdown on anti-slavery activists in Mauritania. In October, four IRA members were arrested in the largest mosque of the capital city Nouakchott, when they were simply responding to criticisms of their organization. They were accused of disrupting prayers and inciting unrest, among other charges. They are also currently held in detention without trial.
From his jail cell, Dah Abeid called on all human rights activists in Mauritania to get involved in the civil rights movement in a peaceful manner. He also added a message to the authorities: 
I am sending this message to the authorities: [...] We are driven by the spirit of sacrifice that gives us the moral drive to resist any sentencing because we dedicate our lives to the oppressed, to the humble, to democracy. 
They day following the arrest, Mauritanian diaspora in Europe and North America published a statement condemning the arrests: 
The success of the anti-slavery rally and the mobilization of the local population threatened the government. They decided to repress these activists in the final lap of their rally. In fact, when they reached the town of Rosso, the activists were apprehended by police forces right away. No one was allowed to reach out to a lawyer or relatives.  
Anti-slavery organizations have tried on several occasions to alert international media to a potential civil war in Mauritania because of what they call “a systemic pro-slavery position of the state that always sides with the slave-owners.” They have urged the international community to support the eradication of land-grab-driven slavery, to preserve the social cohesion of the nation.

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