Mauritania: appeal court decision “another setback”

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Press release

Boys who grew up in slavery in Mauritania
Said and Yarg

25 November 2016

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) and Anti-Slavery International (ASI) are disappointed at outcome of the appeal in the Said and Yarg slavery case yesterday in Mauritania. Although the Court of Appeal in its decision increased the level of compensation awarded to the boys, their former slave owner’s sentence has remained unchanged, requiring him to serve only two years, when the law requires 5-10 years for the crime of slavery.

‘The Court of Appeal decision is yet another setback for the anti-slavery movement. ‘ says Ruth Barry, Legal Officer at MRG. ‘I am thankful that the appeal finally took place but had hoped it would mark a turning point in the judiciary’s treatment of the issue of slavery in Mauritania; rather it highlights once again the lack of political or judicial will to enforce the anti-slavery laws in Mauritania and will maintain a system of impunity for slave owners.’

“The appeal sends a clear signal that not much has changed in Mauritanian authorities’ approach to tackle slavery practices in the country” said Sarah Mathewson, Africa Programme Manager at Anti-Slavery International, which brought the original case into the Mauritanian courts in 2011. “The verdict tells the slave owners there is little threat of action from the authorities, and to people in slavery that the state will not be on their side.”

In Mauritania slave status is passed down from mother to child, and the brothers, Said Ould Salem (born 2000) and Yarg Ould Salem (born 2003), automatically became slaves to the El Hassine family at birth.

The boys managed to escape their enslavement in April 2011, and in November that same year, their master, Ahmed Ould El Hassine, was found guilty in the Criminal Court of Nouakchott of holding the brothers in slavery, and depriving them of schooling. In the first and only successful prosecution under Mauritania’s 2007 anti-slavery legislation, he was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and ordered to pay compensation of MRO 1.35 million (USD 4,700).

The sentence and the amount of damages awarded were far below the tariff of five to ten years’ imprisonment provided for in the 2007 anti-slavery law and were appealed by the State Prosecutor in 2010. The appeal has been pending for 5 years.  With the support of MRG and their lawyer, the boys intend to request that the state prosecutor seek an appeal to the Supreme Court regarding the amount of damages, since it still fails to apply the law.

“We hope that the boys and all the people currently enslaved in Mauritania won’t have to wait another five years for the case to be concluded.” said Sarah Mathewson of Anti-Slavery International.

Acting on behalf of the Salem brothers, MRG and SOS Esclaves took the case before the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (‘ACERWC’) a body of the African Union whose role is to urge States to comply with their obligations under the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. The case was heard by the ACERWC on 27 October 2016.

“As the case is still pending before the ACERWC, the outcome of the appeal will be brought to their attention and will no doubt have a bearing on their final decision” says Ruth Barry at MRG. “This is not the end of the matter”.

Notes to the Editors:

•    Minority Rights Group International is the leading international human rights organization working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples. We work with more than 150 partners in over 50 countries.
•    Anti-Slavery International works to eliminate all forms of slavery and slavery like practices throughout the world. Founded in 1839 by British abolitionists, it is the world’s oldest international human rights organisation.

Interview opportunities:

Jakub Sobik, Communications Manager, Anti-Slavery International
T: +44(0) 7789 936 383

Ruth Barry, MRG Legal Officer
T: (+44) (0) 7581 342497