Leading Mauritanian anti-slavery activist, MP Biram Dah Abeid, is calling on Europe to stop doing business with and cut aid to the current Mauritanian government over its failure to address slavery.
Abeid says Europe should take a cue from the United States, which cut trade benefits for Mauritania last November over insufficient progress in eradicating forced labor and slavery.
“The most urgent thing is to get British and French governments to go back on their decisions and to withdraw, to block, the financial assistance (they are) sending to the Mauritanian government,” said Abeid.
“The British, French, the EU – they shut their eyes to the practice of slavery … They continue to support the Mauritanian government with money and diplomacy.”
Thomson Reuters Foundation reports:
Slavery is a historical practice in Mauritania, which became the last country worldwide to abolish it in 1981. Today more than two in every 100 people – 90,000 in total – live as slaves, according to the 2018 Global Slavery Index.
The Mauritanian government – regarded as a key ally against Islamic militancy in the region – could not be reached for comment but has previously denied that slavery is widespread and says cases are rare and swiftly dealt with by authorities.
Britain appointed its first ambassador to the mineral-rich desert country last year and London-based BP is developing a large offshore gas project straddling Mauritania and Senegal.
As the former colonial power, France has strong trade relations with Mauritania, and French energy company Total is also exploring offshore blocks.
The EU is one of Mauritania’s largest donors, funding millions of dollars of projects aimed at reducing irregular migration, hunger and unemployment.
“Mauritanian slavery is based on a very ancient and very chauvinist slavery code, which authorises the rape of women, which authorises the sale of enslaved women (and) child labour,” explained Abeid.
Abeid, who is the son of freed slaves, was arrested last August but went on to be elected to the national assembly from prison. He plans to run for president in this year’s elections despite the risk of being rearrested.
His party, the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA), is an opposition party that aims to expose cases of slavery to the authorities, who are then legally obliged to intervene.
Despite criminalizing slavery in 2007, only four slave-owners have been prosecuted to date.