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The New Arab

Hundreds of protesters demand end to slavery in Mauritania

Anti-slavery organisations have faced politically motivated prosecutions from authorities [TNA]

Date of publication: 1 May, 2017

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Hundreds have marched for the rights of former slaves in Mauritania and to denounce injustice against them in the country where slavery persists despite being officially abolished decades ago.

Hundreds of people have marched for the rights of former slaves in Mauritania and to denounce injustice against them in the West African nation where slavery persists despite being officially abolished decades ago.

The march on Saturday in the capital Nouakchott marked the fourth anniversary of the founding of the Haratine Charter – a group calling for the rights of slaves and former slaves.

Despite being officially abolished in 1981, slavery is still deeply entrenched in the vast, largely desert nation where light-skinned Berber-Arab Moors enslaved local black populations after settling in Mauritania centuries ago.

"This has become an annual tradition and it is now attracting more and more participation from the social elite, indicating that there is popular support for our demands," activist Samba Ould Yahya told The New Arab.

"Thousands of former slaves are left in poverty because of our lack of education while slavery persists and those who practice it are left unpunished."

Ould Yahya called on the government to prosecute slave owners and work to integrate former slaves into society.

Thousands of former slaves are left in poverty because of our lack of education while slavery persists and those who practice it are left unpunished

Modern-day slavery under a hereditary system of servitude forces members of the "slave" caste known as the Haratine to work without pay as cattle herders and domestic servants, despite the ban.

"I have come here in order to free us Haratine of oppression. We are marginalised in the workplace and humiliated by those in power," said protester Ahmad Ould Ali.

"ًWe are demanding full rights as Mauritanian citizens. We will no longer accept slavery and exclusion. The times when we were downtrodden has ended," Ali added.

Anti-slavery organisations have faced politically motivated prosecutions from authorities.

Last year, 13 anti-slavery activists were sentenced to between three and 15 years in prison, despite criticism of the case against them by international rights groups.

Ten of the activist were later released and others had their sentences reduced.

"The release of three anti-slavery activists who had been unfairly sentenced to up to 15 years for peacefully expressing their opinions is a huge relief for them, their families and for all those who have been campaigning for an end to the brutal crackdown on human rights defenders in Mauritania," Amnesty International said at the time.

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