UN Watch’s Campaign to End Slavery in Mauritania

UN Watch welcomes the fact that the UN expert on contemporary forms of slavery is finally set to visit Mauritania, the last country in the world to abolish slavery but where 500,000 slaves still exist.

UN Special Rapporteur Tomoya Obokata’s official visit will take place from May 4 to 13, 2022 where he will “examine questions relating to the persistence of descent-based slavery, as well as the social, economic and political situation of formerly enslaved people and those originating from slave castes.”

Timeline of UN Watch’s Campaign to End Slavery in Mauritania

  • May 2010: UN Watch issued a joint report with Freedom House opposing Mauritania’s candidacy to the UN Human Rights Council, declaring the country “Not Qualified” to be a member. UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer urged all UN General Assembly members not to vote for unqualified states such as Mauritania on their secret ballots. Mauritania was nonetheless elected on May 13 to the UNHRC.
  • December 2012: UN Watch condemned Mauritania’s election as Vice-President of the UNHRC, the second-highest position at the world’s top human rights body. “It is obscene for the UN to use the occasion of Human Rights Day, when we commemorate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to elect the world’s worst enabler of slavery to this prestigious post,” said Hillel Neuer. “The UN is making an arsonist head of the fire department. It defies both morality and common sense.”
  • February 2013: UN Watch called for concrete action against rights abusers sitting on the UNHRC, including Mauritania. “The protection of human rights begins at home. Membership of the Council is a privilege that carries responsibilities, and these countries fail to meet the basic standards. It is, moreover, revolting that the government of Mauritania, which continues to be complicit in the slavery of hundreds of thousands, is the vice-president of the Council. This sends a devastating signal that the UN’s main human rights body does not practice what it preaches.”
  • February 2013: UN Watch invited Mauritanian dissident Abidine Merzough to address its 2013 Geneva Summit for Human Rights. A descendant of former slaves, Merzough devotes his life to the fight against slavery in his native country: “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, ” said Merzough.
  • September 2013: UN Watch’s Karoline Ronning testified before the UNHRC on slavery in Mauritania: “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.” Mauritania responded to UN Watch and rejected the widespread and well-documented persistence of slavery in the country.
  • December 2013: UN Watch featured Abidine Merzough at its 2013 human rights panel event at the Vienna Diplomatic Academy. “The Islamic Republic of Mauritania is number one in slavery,” Merzough said. The country’s Baydhan ethnic group accounts for approximately 25 percent of the population and “exercises a monopoly on power,” he said. “Children are born into slavery.”
  • February 2014: Biram Dah Abeid, a Mauritanian human rights defender and the President and founder of the anti-slavery NGO, Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement in Mauritania (IRA), deounced the Mauritanian government’s ‘slave code’ at the 2014 Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy. “Mauritania has the highest number of slaves in the world!” They can be castrated; this is the law!” Biram said.
  • October 2014: UN Watch condemned Mauritania’s election to the 54-member Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), a top UN body that regulates human rights groups, shapes the composition of key UN women’s rights bodies, and adopts resolutions on subjects ranging from Internet freedom to female genital mutilation. “Tragically, the UN’s election today of regimes such as Mauritania — where there are hundreds of thousands living in slavery — sends a message that crass politics trumps basic human rights. The UN is letting down millions of victims around the globe who look to the world body for vital protection,” said Hillel Neuer.
  • March 2016: Abidine Merzough was invited by UN Watch to address the UNHRC plenary. He shone a much-needed spotlight on the human rights situation in his native Mauritania, the world’s last bastion of slavery, as the Council decided on the adoption of that country’s UPR report, a mandatory human rights review that all UN member states undergo every five years. After hearing the remarks made by Mr. Merzough, Mauritania responded to UN Watch by issuing a statement denying the persistence of slavery in the country.
  • February 2017: Biram Dah Abeid addressed the 9th annual Geneva Summit: “I am working for the self-determination of my black brothers and sisters and I am trying to free their desire for a free life.”
  • October 2019: Ahead of UNHRC elections, UN Watch issued a joint report with the Human Rights Foundation and Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights calling on UN member states to oppose the election of Mauritania and other states, which were deemed “unqualified” due to their human rights records as well as their voting records on UN resolutions concerning human rights.

“Electing slave-holding Mauritania as an UN judge on human rights is like making an arsonist into the town fire chief,” warned Hillel Neuer.

  • February 2020: Biram Dah Abeid awarded the Courage Award at the 12th annual Geneva Summit: “We can only underline the paradox of the Mauritanian State, which in January 2020 joined the Human Rights Council as it is gleefully blurring human dignity and violating human rights, even the most basic ones.”
  • June 2020: UN Watch called on racist and oppressive regimes to recuse themselves from a UN Human Rights Council urgent debate on racism and police brutality. In a statement delivered to the UNHRC, Hillel Neuer said: “We ask Mauritania: given that you have an estimated 500,000 black slaves, with CNN referring to Mauritania as ‘slavery’s last stronghold,’ will your country recuse itself from this urgent debate on racism against blacks?”
  • January 2021: UN Watch condemned country speakers who took the floor at the UNHRC to shower praise on Mauritania during its five-yearly UPR. “It is shameful that only a very small minority of 15 countries used their allotted 1 minute of speaking time to apply scrutiny to Mauritania’s human rights record,” said Hillel Neuer. “Shamefully, the vast majority of speakers turned a blind eye to Mauritania’s 500,000 slaves, its arrest of anti-slavery like Biram Dah Abeid, use of torture to extract confessions, and its death penalty for homosexuality.”

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