It was a double victory for Mauritanian civil society after two slave-owners were convicted by Nema Court (a special court established to try slavery related cases) last week.
On May 16 and 17, the special court sentenced two slave-owners, 75-year-old Sidi Mohammed Ould Hanana and 31-year-old Hlehana Ould Hmeyada to five years in prison for owning slaves. The two will serve one year in prison and four years suspended.
The court also ordered the two convicts to compensate two female victims, Fatimetou Mint Hamdi and Fatimetou Mint Zaydih.
Anti-slavery crusaders have applauded the convictions, saying they will help in the ongoing fight against slavery in the Mauritania. These are the first ever convictions by the special anti-slavery court since its establishment last year under a new anti-slavery law.
This is the first time that a trial has gone from start to finish and it really gives us hope in the months to come that we can make progress on other cases,” Mauritania’s national Coordinator for local NGO SOS Esclaves, Salimata Lam was quoted by the Guardian.
The US has also welcomed the victory saying it will serve as an example to other slave-owners in the country. Speaking to CNN, US Ambassador to Mauritania Larry Andre was quoted as saying:
This is a significant development. It sends a clear message to people who deny freedom to others risk losing their own.
The landmark ruling was accompanied by the release of two members of Mauritanian Civil Society, Biram Dah Abeid and Brahim Bilal, who had been jailed for over 20 months for protesting against slavery in the country.
The Mauritanian Supreme Court said the two had no case to answer.
Slavery in Mauritania
Last week’s convictions have put to rest doubts about the existence of slavery in Mauritania and serves as an indication that some government officials are finally admitting to the furtherance of slavery in Mauritania, according to Sarah Mathewson, Africa Program Coordinator for Anti-Slavery International, who spoke to CNN.
For a long time, Mauritanian officials have denied presence of modern slavery in the West African country. But according to Anti-Slavery International, members of the Haratine community in Mauritania, commonly referred to as Oasis-Dwellers and who hail from black African ethnic groups in the Sahara region, are still in slavery.
The organization also claims that majority of those still in slavery are born into slavery and belonging to White Moors, who form the ethnic elite in Mauritania and control the economy.
Even with the degrading treatment and hard work, these slaves are not paid a single dime; their only reward is food and shelter, Anti-Slavery International claims.
BY FREDRICK NGUGI