The verdict was delivered on 15 January 2015. Biram Ould Dah Abeid, president of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement in Mauritania (IRA), was sentenced to two years in jail by a court in the city of Rosso, 200 kilometres from the capital of Nouakchott.
The same sentence was also handed down to Brahim Ould Bilal Ramdane, vice president of the IRA, and Djiby Sow, president of the anti-slavery NGO Kawtal, at the close of a trial riddled with irregularities and violations of the defendants’ rights.
Five other people who had also been charged were acquitted. The lawyers of the three men convicted intend to appeal against the verdict.
Their crime? Having taken part, on 11 November 2014, in a demonstration defending the land rights of victims of slavery.
Slavery has never been completely eradicated in Mauritania.
The slaves do not have property rights, given that they themselves are considered to be someone’s property.
With an estimated four per cent of the population living in servitude, it is hardly surprising that Mauritania ranks first in the Global Slavery Index.
It was not until 2007 that Mauritania criminalised this abject form of submission. In spite of these measures and numerous international treaties, little change has, however, been seen on the ground.
There are still approximately 180,000 slaves in the country and there has only been one slavery conviction in almost eight years. The guilty party was, moreover, released pending an appeal that has still not taken place.
It is not like this that Mauritania is going to resolve its slavery problem. What is happening is quite the contrary: rather than putting slave owners behind bars, the country is jailing anti-slavery activists!
By organising and taking part in the anti-slavery demonstration, these activists were exercising individual and collective rights recognised by the Mauritanian constitution.
The relevant authorities had, moreover, been notified in advance.
Such repression is not going to contribute to dissipating the differences of opinion and antagonism surrounding the eradication of slave labour in Mauritania – a just and legitimate cause that concerns all patriots without distinction.
The verdict delivered on Thursday 15 January was unexpected and is a source of great despair for our trade union organisation, the Confédération Générale des Travailleurs de Mauritanie (CGTM).
It is time for us to mobilise within a united national movement rallying all members of civil society to put an end to this archaic practice once and for all.
The trade union movement will continue to fight until Biram and his colleagues have been released from jail and until the very last slave in the country has been freed.
To sign the petition to free Mauritania’s anti-slavery activists, click here