Report on the Abolition of Slavery in Mauritania

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Slavery as an institution protected by law had been genuinely abolished in Mauritania, according to Marc Bossuyt, an expert of the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities of the Commission on Human Rights.

He added that the legal abolition of slavery in Mauritania on 5 July 1980 was an "important" fact. The Government of Mauritania recognized the need for "complementary measures" to eradicate situations of de facto slavery that might still persist in certain remote corners of the country over which the administration had little control, and was implementing them. The measures included the 1983 land reform and "other measures to change attitudes and mentalities".

Mr. Bossuyt made the observations in two separate documents--a written presentation (E/CN.4/1985/50) of the report of the mission he had undertaken "to study the situation prevailing in Mauritania with regard to slavery and the slave trade with a view to assessing that country's needs in its struggle to end such practices" (E/CN.4/Sub.2/1984/23). The documents were reviewed by the Commission during its 1985 annual session held at Geneva from 4 February to 15 March.

Mr. Bossuyt said the Government of Mauritania should be encouraged to "pursue and intensify" its efforts, and an appeal should be addressed to the international community to provide assistance to it in its struggle to eliminate the consequences of slavery. He pointed out that slavery as practised in Mauritania, usually took the form of servitude which, "as such," was contrary to human dignity, but was "not attended by inhuman treatment." The essence of the notion of slavery, he observed, was the particular legal status of dependency upon another person, and the legal status of slavery must not be confused with inferior social status. Thus, the Proclamation of 5 July 1980 by the Military Committee for National Salvation and the order of 9 November 1981 abolishing slavery--which implied at the time recognition of the fact that a certain form of slavery existed in Mauritania--were of particular importance.

Origins: In a statement at the 1983 session of the Sub-Commission, included as an annex to the report, a representative of the Mauritanian Government had said there was no "fundamental difference" between the origins and the form of slavery in Mauritania and those encountered in the history of other African societies, especially in the Sudano-Sahelian region. With one of Africa's longest coastlines and situated on what had always been a highly active trade route between the countries of the Mediterranean and Europe and Sub-Sahara Africa, Mauritania, as it was now delimited, had long been a transit zone for trade, including trade in slaves. The practices of slavery had been known in the ancient population centres of Mauritania long before the country turned to Islan, and had never taken the form of racial domination. …