Mauritania to UN Watch: No slavery in the country

This morning, Mauritania’s delegation to the UN Human Rights Council responded to UN Watch and rejected the wide-spread and well-documented persistence of slavery in the country. Below is the speech as well as the country’s response. Mauritania currently serves a 3-year term at the HRC and is the Council’s Vice-President.

UN Watch Statement
UN Human Rights Council, 24th Session
Agenda Item 3: Promotion and protection of all human rights

Delivered by Karoline Ronning
16 September 2013

Thank you, Mr. President.

Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that no one shall be held in slavery, and that slavery is prohibited in all its forms.

Yet an estimated 27 million people worldwide still live in conditions of forced bondage, and every year at least 700,000 people are trafficked across borders and into slavery.

In the world today, nowhere is slavery so systematically practiced as in Mauritania, a country that is an elected member of this Human Rights Council.

As unfathomable as it may sound, some 20 percent of Mauritanians, about 600,000 people belonging to the darker-skinned black African minority, live as slaves.

According to Abidine Merzough, a man born in Mauritania as a slave, and who is now the European coordinator of an anti-slavery NGO, Sharia is used to justify this system.

He testified at this year’s Geneva Summit for Human Rights, saying the following:

The situation is every bit as bad as it was in apartheid South Africa, and in many ways it is worse. Officially, the Mauritanian authorities have abolished slavery on five separate occasions. But in reality, it exists exactly as before, backed up by Imams and other clergy who write laws and issue Fatwas justifying slavery.

Slaves are their masters’ property, often from birth. Women slaves are allowed to be sexually abused whenever their masters want. The masters can buy or sell slaves, or loan out parts of their bodies for use. The slaves must obey. This is Islamic law as it exists in Mauritania today.

From early on, people are taught in religious schools that slaves are the masters’ properties, who are passed along as inheritance and where the condition of slavery is transmitted from parent to child, where women slaves must submit their bodies to their masters.

Mr. President, we ask: how can this country, Mauritania, be a member of this Council?

Thank you, Mr. President.

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Mauritania’s response

Thank you Mr. President,
We are exercising our right to reply with regard to what was said by UN Watch.
UN Watch said a large number of persons in Mauritania live in a state of slavery. We reject those allegations and we would like to say that in Mauritania we have had practices of slavery like other countries, but our authorities have been conducting a war against those practices. We have adopted laws which incriminate that phenomenon, because slavery is a crime against humanity and it has no statute of limitations. It cannot be said that legislation in Mauritania favors slavery. Islam is at the source of our legislation and Islam came to free mankind from slavery. What was said as an allegation by that organization is totally false. We are against attacks on our reputation, that is the reputation of Mauritania. For that reason, we invite the international community to visit Mauritania, to see what the real situation is in our country, so as not to be misled by such information as we heard today.

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