Clinton and Obama honour Hadijatou

12 March 2009

Hilary Clinton and Michelle Obama have honoured a former slave in recognition of her courage in combating slavery in her home country of Niger.

The US Secretary of State and First Lady presented 24-year-old Hadijatou Mani with the International Women of Courage Award in Washington DC, yesterday (Wednesday 12 March 2009).

Though the practice was criminalised in 2003 at least 43,000 people remain in slavery across Niger. Hadijatou was born into a slave ‘caste’ and sold to her master at the age of 12 for the equivalent of $500. She was made to work without pay and was used as a sexual slave.

After failing to receive justice from local courts Hadijatou took her case to the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which made the historic decision to condemn the state of Niger for failing to protect her from slavery.

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said: “Hadijatou is such an inspiring person. Enslaved by being sold at a very young age, she never gave up on herself or on her deep reservoir of human dignity. When she finally escaped from slavery, she didn’t forget those who were still enslaved. For her inspiring courage in successfully challenging an entrenched system of caste-based slavery, and securing a legal precedent that will help countless others seek freedom and justice, we honour and salute her.”

Hadijatou was assisted in bringing the case by INTERIGHTS, the International Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights, with support from Anti-Slavery International and Niger NGO Timidria.

Hadijatou was one of the eight recipients selected from across the world to be presented with the Secretary of State’s Award for International Women of Courage. She was nominated by the US Embassy in Niger for her extraordinary work in advancing human rights.

Background to Hadijatou’s historic victory:

  • Hadijatou was born the daughter of a slave and was herself sold into slavery in 1996 at aged 12. She was bought by El Hadj Souleymane Naroua, a friend of her mother’s master, for the equivalent of $500.
  • Hadijatou served her master’s family for almost 10 years, running the house and doing agricultural work in the fields. She was never paid for her work.
  • She was also used as a sexual slave or wahiya by her master, who already had four wives and seven other wahiya. She bore him three children, of whom two survived.
  • Her former master claimed that he had released Hadijatou from slavery in 2005 and that upon release she automatically became his wife under customary law. Hadijatou went to a local court who ruled that they had never married and she decided to marry a man of her own choosing.
  • However, her former master appealed against the decision, which ultimately resulted in Hadijatou serving two months of a six month prison sentence for bigamy.
  • Hadijatou brought her case to the ECOWAS court following futile attempts to seek justice in Niger.
  • On Monday 27 October 2008, Niger was found in breach of failing to protect Hadijatou from slavery by the ECOWAS court and was awarded the equivalent of $19,000 in damages.

NOTES TO EDITORS:

  • For further information please contact Paul Donohoe, Anti-Slavery International’s Press Officer, on 020 7501 8934 or email p.donohoe@antislavery.org

  • Support Anti-Slavery International and join the Campaigns Network

  • Anti-Slavery International is the world’s oldest human rights organisation and campaigns for the eradication of slavery, exposing current cases, supporting local organisations to release the minimum 12.3 million people in slavery, and the implementation of international laws against slavery.

  • INTERIGHTS the International Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights (INTERIGHTS) works to promote respect for human rights through the use of law. We do so principally through human rights litigation, providing legal representation and assistance to lawyers, human rights defenders and other partners on international and comparative human rights law. http://www.interights.org

  • Timidria Association is a national human rights organisation founded in 1991 with the aim of eradicating slavery and all forms of discrimination in Niger.