“Slave-Like” Conditions of Black Mauritanians
According to a UN human rights expert, black Mauritanians are constantly subject to slavery-like practices including sexual harassment and violence. Mutuma Ruteere, the UN special rapporteur on racism claims that many black Mauritanians, mainly women and children, are still living with families in the conditions that remind of slavery. He adds that it is still common that black Mauritanians live with and work for families in which many women are even forced to sex with their family relatives including their own fathers. The UN representatives say that this type of “family-structure” has been a common practice for many generations.
The “slavery-like” conditions have been recently condemned and brought to the international attention by Kenyan human rights activists. The miserable situation in Mauritania is particularly absurd given the fact that the country is the West’s official ally in the fight against international terrorism, mainly al-Qaida. Observers say that it is the geopolitical importance of Mauritania that makes its Western allies blind to the concerns of human rights violations. Moreover, the situation in not being helped by the fact that the country’s population is fragmented and divided between two main groups – Arab-Berber and African ethnic groups – many of which have been traditionally enslaved. Interestingly, slavery or enslavement had been denied to have existed only before 2007 when it was officially outlawed.
Yet, human rights activists claim that the Mauritanian government often prevents them from raising awareness about the issues connected to sexual slavery and related practices. Activists say that these practices are deeply rooted in the Mauritanian cultural system and hierarchy and accuse the government of refuting their existence.