Activists Hope Mauritania Court Rulings Signal ‘Beginning of the End’ for Slavery

Photo courtesy of Think Stock.

Photo courtesy of Think Stock.

Dakar — A week in which two slave-owners were jailed and two leading anti-slavery activists were released from prison in Mauritania could mark a turning point in the West African nation’s fight to eliminate the practice, campaigners said on Wednesday.

Two men were last week handed five-year prison sentences — one year to be served, four years suspended — and ordered to pay compensation to two victims in only the country’s second-ever prosecution for slavery since it was criminalized in 2007.

Prominent activists Biram Dah Abeid and Brahim Bilal, who had been in prison for 18 months after taking part in an anti-slavery march, were freed two days later by the Supreme Court.

The court reversed an appeals court judgment made in August which had upheld a two-year sentence for the two Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement leaders.

The two court judgments could signal the beginning of the end of slavery in Mauritania, according to Sarah Mathewson, Africa program coordinator at Anti-Slavery International.

“This should empower people to come forward, access justice and seek compensation,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“It will also send a message to slave masters — that they cannot continue to treat people like objects, trade them and abuse them with impunity,” she said by phone from London.

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