Sunday, August 05, 2007

Fighting slavery in Mauritania

A friend of my family's recently went to Mauritania as a Peace Corps Volunteer. It will be interesting to see how the ardent young feminist handles it. She spent time in the very macho country of El Salvador, so she's probably more ready than most. But Mauritania is one of the most closed societies in the world.

Mauritania banned slavery only in 1980. But it's still believed to be practiced despite the legal abolition.

The new government in the country is proposing a law that would toughen penalties for slavery. The act would be punishable by up to 10 years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines.

However, the domestic anti-slavery NGO SOS Esclaves says the current proposal does not specify contemporary aspects of slavery, such as forced marriage, indentured labor or debt bondage and that 10 years of prison is inadequate.

Observers warn that the new law will be pointless if it remains largely unenforced, like the previous law.

Bernard Freamon, an Islamic legal researcher at Yale University, says slavery will continue even with the new law if there is no strict enforcement.

"The legitimacy of a law like that is going to be undermined, if the people charged with enforcing the law perceive it as something just designed to make people in the human rights community feel better," he noted.

Freamon says some Muslims wrongly interpret the Koran to justify slavery. He says slavery will end only when religious leaders publicly denounce slavery.

"It will disappear because each of the scholars will go back to their mosques, their local imams [local religious leaders]," he added. "They will issue an edict that will be very persuasive and authoritative in terms of the local Muslims in that community."

Freamon adds modern day slavery will also exist as long as there are people desperate for food, health care and housing.

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At 11:36 PM, Blogger dairyflat said...

Will be really interesting to see how this progresses. The slave metality is so ingrained. A regular term of abuse is abid (meaning slave).


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