Mauritania 'must wipe out persistent slavery'
01 November 2013, 18:46
Geneva - Slavery is still being practised in Mauritania,
even though the West African country made it a crime against humanity last
year, a UN human rights watchdog said on Thursday.
Despite becoming the last country worldwide to abolish
slavery, in 1981, Mauritania has the highest prevalence worldwide of slavery
per head of population, according to the Global Slavery Index 2013.
At least 151 000 people, almost 4% of its population, are
thought to be slaves, according to the index by the anti-slavery charity Walk
Free Foundation. Estimates by other groups put it at up to 20%.
"Mauritania is one of those few countries in which
slavery still exists, in which slavery is still practised. The government seems
to deny it, at the same time there is an Anti-Slavery Act," Cornelis Flinterman,
a Dutch member on UN Human Rights Committee told a news briefing.
"But it's very difficult for those who are held as
slaves to bring complaints. Criminal cases do not seem to take place."
The most common is chattel slavery, meaning that slave
status is passed down through generations, the slavery index said.
The UN committee of 18 independent experts works to uphold
compliance with an international treaty on civil and political rights that bans
slavery, servitude and forced labour. Mauritania is among 167 states to have
ratified the pact.
It called on Mauritania, which straddles black and Arab
Africa, to guarantee the legislation was applied effectively and to give
victims sufficient recourse. Slavery was made a crime in Mauritania in 2007 and
a crime against humanity in 2012.
Mohamed Abdallahi Ould Khattra, Mauritania's human rights
commissioner, who led his country's delegation to the meeting reviewing the
Islamic republic's rights record, said slavery was prohibited, considered as a
crime against humanity and vigorously punished.
The UN experts also voiced concern at torture, racial
discrimination and the country's constitution, which says that Islamic law
takes precedence over other laws.
"We were very pleased that Mauritania has enacted a
moratorium on the death penalty, but still the death penalty is on the books
for such crimes as homosexuality and apostasy," Flinterman said.
The death penalty was also given for adultery, in violation
of the international treaty, he said.
Mauritania's record was reviewed along with those of four
other countries - Bolivia, Djibouti, Mozambique and Uruguay - at the
committee's 3-week session.