ITUC calls for the immediate release of anti-slavery activists in Mauritania

The ITUC has called for the immediate release of Mauritanian anti-slavery activists Biram Ould Abeid and Brahim Bilal Ramdane on the first anniversary of their arrest for taking part in a peaceful rally which had been authorised by the authorities.

The rally, in Rosso, in the south of Mauritania, took place to raise awareness about slavery in the country and to urge the government to take effective measures to achieve its eradication.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said “These two people, committed to stopping the abomination of slavery, remain in prison in what is nothing less than a travesty of justice. We call on the government to ensure their immediate release.”
The ITUC, along with its Mauritanian affiliates, Amnesty International, Anti-Slavery International and others are part of a global call for the two to be set free.

Following decades of international condemnation, the Mauritanian government in 2007 adopted a law to criminalise slavery and a national roadmap to combat the ‘vestiges of slavery’ in March 2014. Nevertheless the national trade union organisations CGTM, CLTM, CNTM and UNTM have not seen a change in the government’s attitude, and are determined to raise pressure by building a strong alliance of trade unions and other anti-slavery organisations and activists.

In June this year, Mauritania was discussed at the International Labour Conference’s Committee on the Application of the ILO’s standards as the persistence of slavery was considered one of the world’s most egregious violations of labour rights. Exceptionally, the government was asked to report on progress made by mid-2016.
Since the new law criminalising slavery in 2007, there has only been a single conviction of a slave owner, in November 2011. The man was released on bail in April 2012 pending his own appeal, which never took place. This is a stark illustration of how the issue of slavery is entangled in the ethnic divide in Mauritania. While the slave owner was convicted for the crime of slave ownership following due process is free, the three black anti-slavery activists, following a questionable trial in the remote town of Aleg, far from the capital, have been effectively imprisoned in a remote jail and silenced ever since.

“It is simply unacceptable that Mauritania imprisons those who oppose slavery, while the perpetrators of this crime go free,” said Burrow.

The ITUC and national trade unions are calling on the Mauritanian government to ratify the 2014 ILO protocol providing a comprehensive policy framework to end both traditional and modern forms of slavery.