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Thursday, 7 November, 2002, 18:29 GMT
Mauritania 'still practising' slavery
Amadou Toure Mauritanian refugee camp leader in Dagana Senegal
Thousands of Mauritanians are exiled in Senegal
The Mauritanian Government has been accused of doing nothing to stop slavery even though the practice was outlawed there 20 years ago.

The human rights group, Amnesty International, said: "No concrete steps appear to have been taken to make the abolition a reality."


It's not a racial problem, it's not a cultural problem. It's a problem of society

Anti-slavery campaigner
In a new report, Amnesty singled out the governing White Moors for particular criticism, saying they maintained the system of discrimination to protect their own interests.

The Mauritanian authorities say only the last vestiges of slavery exist and that its critics are trying to tarnish its image.

The report also highlighted the difficulties encountered by anti-slavery campaigners, many of whom it said faced constant threats or imprisonment.

There are three main ethnic communities in Mauritania: white Moors, who hold political power; black Moors or Haratins, generally considered to be descendants of slaves, and blacks who come from the south of the country, the report says.

Slavery was only legally abolished in 1981 following public protests against the public sale of a woman.

Case studies

Amnesty suggests the least the authorities can do now is establish an independent enquiry looking at what has happened during the past 20 years and what should be done now.

Speaking at the launch of the report in Dakar in neighbouring Senegal, Boubacar Messaoud, a campaigner against slavery told the BBC's Chris Simpson that slavery was a complex social phenomenon, existing at many different levels in Mauritania.

He said it went well beyond simple stereotypes of White Moors oppressing Black Moors.

"It's not a racial problem, it's not a cultural problem. It's a problem of society, of traditions in our country and in others," he said.

"There are black slaves and they may be more numerous. But blacks too had slaves. In the Moorish milieu you can be black and be a slave-owner and have never been a slave yourself. There is a long history of inter-marriage in that society".

Backdrop

Amnesty's representatives were barred from visiting to carry out research.

In January this year, the Action for Change opposition party, which campaigns for greater rights for blacks and the descendents of slaves, was banned.

Communications Minister Chyakh Ould Ely accused the party of being racist and violent.

In 1989, hundreds were killed and thousands deported to neighbouring Senegal after race riots in both countries followed a border conflict.

See also:

03 Jan 02 | Africa
26 Jul 01 | Country profiles
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