The United Nations envoy on modern-day slavery said on Thursday that Mauritania had agreed to adopt a road map for eradicating the trade, which campaigners say remains widespread in the West African nation.
The country was the last in the world to abolish slavery, in 1981, and since 2012 its practice has been officially designated a crime, but campaigners say the government has failed in the past to acknowledge the extent of the trade, with no official data available.
Gulnara Shahinian, the UN's Special Rapporteur on contemporary slavery, announced as she ended a four-day visit that Mauritania would adopt a road map on March 6 which had been prepared with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
She said the plan was “an important step in eradicating slavery in the country” and would include “a number of economic projects” to help victims out of the trade.
Shahinian added she was “satisfied with the action of the government, which has taken important steps towards the eradication of slavery” since her last visit in 2009.
Forced labour is a particularly sensitive issue in Mauritania, where anti-slavery charities are very active, especially SOS Slaves and the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Struggle against Slavery (IRSS), which supports victims in court.
Shahinian told reporters she had obtained a commitment from the government to appoint lawyers specifically trained to represent slaves in the courts, however, rather than leaving the work to charities.
She praised the “political will displayed by the authorities” in introducing anti-slavery legislation but called for better enforcement of the law.
President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz is in the process of setting up a special tribunal to prosecute suspects accused of involvement in slavery and various social security programmes have helped former slaves in the past.
But the beneficiaries were never recognised as such, with schemes officially targeting other disadvantaged groups.
In March last year Mauritania announced the launch of its first government agency charged explicitly with helping former slaves.
“While the train is certainly in motion, much needs to be improved, but as long as the will is there, the rest will follow in time,” Shahinian said.
The envoy, a lawyer with extensive experience as an expert consultant on children's rights, migration and trafficking, was appointed as the first Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery in 2008.
Her findings and recommendations will be presented at a session of the UN Human Rights Council in September. - Sapa-AFP