Enslaved women in a village in Mauritania. Slavery remains widespread in the country but convictions rare, activists say. The sentences of 10 and 20 years are said to be the toughest-ever for the crime in the West African country / Screenshot of CNN report

Mauritania jails slave owners for up to 20 years

A court in Mauritania has sentenced two slave owners to between 10 and 20 years in jail. Human rights activists have celebrated the ruling, which they say is the harshest anti-slavery decision in the country’s history.

The two cases were brought by former slaves in the northwestern town of Nouadhibou, activists said Friday.

A special court delivered its verdict on Wednesday, jailing a man for 20 years and a woman for 10 years, a judicial source said.

The man was found guilty of enslaving a family, including two children, while the woman was accused of holding three sisters as slaves.

“This is a big victory,” Jakub Sobik of Anti-Slavery International told news agency Reuters. “The sentences are quite high and in line with the law, which is by no means a given.”

Slavery still common

Mauritania has one of the highest rates of slavery in the world, even though the practice was officially abolished there in 1981. According to the 2016 Global Slavery Index, 1 in 100 people still live as slaves in the conservative West African country.

Despite the law, descendants of certain ethnic groups are often born into slavery, working without pay as cattle herders and domestic servants. 

In 2015, Mauritania adopted a new law declaring slavery a “crime against humanity” punishable by up to 20 years in jail. It also set up specialized anti-slavery tribunals in Nouadhibou, the capital Noukachott and in Nema in the southeast.

Few slave owners have been prosecuted, however, and activists complain the laws are rarely enforced. In 2016, the court in Nema jailed two men for five years over slavery charges.

The head of anti-slavery association SOS Esclavage, Boubacar Ould Messaoud, praised the latest rulings, but noted that there were a number of similar cases “pending for several years” at the three courts.

At the same time, rights groups say they face growing repression and harassment, with more anti-slavery activists than slave-owners facing prosecution. 

nm/bw (Reuters, AFP) / DW

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