Ius Gentium

University of Baltimore School of Law's Center for International and Comparative Law Fellows discuss international and comparative legal issues


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Understanding and Combatting Slavery in Mauritania

Alison Aminzadeh

Mauritania is a country in West Africa, and has become the fourth country overall and second African country to approve a UN Treaty designed to put “teeth” in its efforts to stop modern day slavery – specifically, forced labor and trafficking[1].  The 2014 Protocol modernizes the Forced Labour Convention of 1930.[2] The states that ratify the new protocol must “change laws to improve victim protection, compensation, and access to justice.”[3] . The protocol includes (1) measures to prevent modern forms of slavery and (2) to compensate victims. The International Labor Organization (ILO) seeks to have at least fifty countries sign the protocol by 2018. The ILO estimates that 21 million people are forced into labor worldwide, which is a $150 billion dollar a year industry (in illegal profits). Common places where slaves are used include: brothels, farms, fisheries, factories, construction and domestic service.[4]

Mauritania Political Map

Mauritania Political Map with capital Nouakchott, national borders, most important cities, rivers and lakes. 

However, one problem that arises when discussing slavery in Mauritania is that Americans do not have a framework for what slavery looks like in other countries.  Slavery in Mauritania looks different than slavery in American history books.[5] The slavery that dominated the southern U.S. states was based on human exploitation. Some argue that in Mauritania, in contrast, is a “rural fiefdom within an agro‑pastoral lifestyle, marked by social stratification and division of labour” rather than “systematic torture and segregation.” Slaves are still subordinate in society, but not marked by shackles and physical abuse in the way it was in the American south.[6] One particular gendered form of slavery is that girls from Mauritania are commonly trafficked to the Middle East, according to U.S. State Department’s Annual Trafficking Report.[7]

Slavery in Mauritania is also determined by a caste system. The slave caste is called the Haratin, descended from Black African ethnical groups along the Senegal River. They are usually Herders and domestic servants.[8] In contrast, the ruling caste – a minority – is the Beydanes (Arab-Berbers), who hold the wealth and political power.[9]

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Slavery is a de jure crime in Mauritania, but it is still practiced.[10] Mauritania criminalized slavery in 2007. In 2015, the government passed a new law that makes the offense a crime against humanity, doubling the prison term to twenty years.[11] However, the Global Slavery Index indicates that Mauritania has the highest prevalence of slavery in the world, with 4% of population is enslaved (Four percent of the population totals about 150,000 people).[12] Although now technically freed according to the law, majority of those not enslaved still live in slums and unemployment.[13]

Even after slavery was criminalized in 2007, those campaigning for its abolition still face many obstacles. Anti-slavery advocates allege that “complaints [that people are still being enslaved] are not properly investigated and that anti‑slavery campaigners have been arrested and jailed [for making those complaints].”[14] The jailing of these advocates is not surprising in the context of Mauritania’s judicial system, as the assertion that the justice system is failing victims of slavery in Mauritania is not unprecedented. The judicial system is heavily influenced by the government and has a reputation for being corrupt. Most of the members of the judicial system are also Beydanes, the ruling caste.[15] Nema Oumar is a journalist who wrote an article that alleged that a defense attorney had bribed three judges with 25 million ouguiyas (68,650 euros) to release a police officer and businessman accused of drug trafficking. Oumar was arrested and held for defamation as a result of his article.[16]

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Shortly before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva was set to review the “Roadmap to Combat Vestiges of Slavery” (a 49-page report published by the Mauritanian government), a group of NGOs released a report of their own. This group consisted of the Society for Threatened Peoples, in cooperation with the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), Anti‑Slavery International, IRA‑Mauritania, SOS‑Esclaves, and Kawtal Ngamyellitaare. Their report, titled “Slavery in Mauritania: The Roadmap to combat the vestiges of slavery is not being implemented convincingly,”  argues that the Roadmap has failed to effectively implement any of its goals. Speaking on behalf of the group, Johanna Green of the UNPO stated that “[t]he lack of implementation of the Roadmap clearly points to the absence of political and judicial will to address the problem of slavery which is exacerbated by the Mauritanian Government’s denial of its very existence.”[17] Her statement summarizes the critical position that many have taken to the Mauritanian government’s efforts, which is that there needs to be more support among government officials, judges, and attorneys in order to effectively enforce the goals involved in ending slavery.

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The ILO’s Africa director (Aeneas Chapinga Chuma,) stated that the ratification of the UN Protocol is “a first concrete step in putting in place the legal framework to protect people from the scourge of human exploitation and forced labor.[18] By essentially updating the Forced Labour Convention and improving laws to focus more on victims, states such as Mauritania will have more powerful enforcement mechanisms in place for ending slavery, a practice that is woven into the fabric of its culture.

Alison Aminzadeh is a third year law student at the University of Baltimore. She is currently a Rule 16 attorney working on the Human Trafficking Project as a part of the Civil Advocacy Clinic. She is also a Senior Staff Editor for the Journal of International Law, and the former President of the Students Supporting the Women’s Law Center.

[1] The other three countries are Norway, Niger, and Britain. Jasmine Nelson, Mauritania Joins Fight Against Modern-Day Slavery, Approves U.N. Treaty to End Trafficking, Atlanta Blackstar (Mar. 16, 2016), available at http://atlantablackstar.com/2016/03/16/mauritania-joins-fight-against-modern-day-slavery-approves-u-n-treaty-to-end-trafficking.

[2] International Labour Organization (ILO), Forced Labour Convention, C29, 28 June 1930, C29, available at http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ddb621f2a.html (accessed 21 March 2016).

[3] Atlanta Blackstar, supra note 1.

[4] Id.

[5] Ahmed Meiloud & Mohammed El Mokhtar Sidi Haiba, Slavery in Mauritania: Differentiating Between Fact and Fiction, Middle East Eye (last updated Apr. 21, 2015), available at http://www.middleeasteye.net/essays/slavery-mauritania-differentiating-between-facts-and-fiction-103800371.

[6] Id.

[7]Atlanta Blackstar, supra note 1.

[8]Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Mauritania Fails to Implement Roadmap to Combat Vestiges of Slavery, Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organizations (Feb. 29, 2016), available at http://unpo.org/article/18958.

[11] Atlanta Blackstar, supra note 1.

[12] Id.

[13] Middle East Eye, supra note 5.

[14] Atlanta Blackstar, supra note 1.

[15] Alexis Okeowo, Freedom Fighter, New Yorker (Sept. 8, 2014), available at http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/09/08/freedom‑fighter.

[16] Mauritania: A Journalist and Publisher Arrested for Accusing Judges of Corruption, African Press Organization (Jul. 22, 2008), available at https://appablog.wordpress.com/2008/07/22/mauritania-a-journalist-and-publisher-arrested-for-accusing-judges-of-corruption/.

[17] Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organizations, supra note 12.

[18] Atlanta Blackstar, supra note 1.

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The Ugly Side of International Tournaments

Christian Kim

Brazil, as the hosts of the 2014 World Cup, had the opportunity to show the world that they could host a successful tournament.  Even before Brazil’s shocking 7-1 loss to Germany, many Brazilians were already displeased with the World Cup.[1]  To prepare for the tournament and the eventual 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil tried to pacify their country by tearing down the drug-infested and crowded slums known as the favelas.[2]  Although China, England, and South Africa used similar beautification tactics before their respective tournaments, the Brazilian government did this at an unprecedented rate and often in violation of their domestic law.[3]

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For one, many Brazilians were given very little notice before these evictions and almost little to no compensation for their removals.[4]  Although the World Cup and Olympic officials in Brazil claim that, “no forced evictions have been conducted… independent research by local NGOs…including Amnesty International and WITNESS have proven otherwise.”[5]  An example of these evictions is in the region of Mare, home to over 130,000 working class citizens.  Even though Mare is not as bad as some of Brazil’s notorious favelas, the military police ordered these residents to leave immediately.[6]  Instead of being offered feasible housing alternatives, thousands of families were violently thrown out onto the street to fend for themselves.[7]  As a result, many Brazilians are asking the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to address these human rights issues but the IOC has not done much.[8]  A few NGOs from other countries have pushed to revoke Brazil’s Olympic hosting rights.  With less than six months before the Olympics, even if Brazil were to give up hosting rights, finding a replacement would be logistically impossible.  Bearing the mistakes of Brazil in mind, the international community should turn their focus to future international tournaments, such as the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, to prevent this occurrence from happening again.

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Unfortunately, there seems to be a correlation with international tournaments and host nations violating human rights; however, none are as bad as Qatar’s preparations for the 2022 World Cup.  The rights to host the World Cup in Qatar spurred huge infrastructure projects, at an estimated USD $100 billion.[9]  In preparations for the World Cup, Qatar invited millions of migrant workers from mostly poor South and Southeast Asian nations.[10]  Many of these migrant workers were lured into the country under false pretenses and have been paid substantially less than what was promised.[11]  These migrant workers have also been forced to sleep in unsanitary homes and subject to harsh working conditions.[12]  Studies on migrant worker’s conditions have estimated more than 1,000 accidents per year, with 10% of these workers paralyzed from the accident.[13]  A shocking report from the International Trade Union Confederation has estimated that over 4,000 laborers will die during the preparations for the World Cup.[14]  Despite complaints from various international organizations, the Qatari Football Association has denied these issues citing, “prejudice and racism” as reasons why the international community is criticizing Qatar’s preparations.[15]

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Even if migrant workers in Qatar wanted to leave, they cannot under the kafala system.  The kafala system, bars these migrant workers from leaving or changing jobs without their employers’ approval and many employers take away their passports to ensure this.[16]  Without being able to change jobs or unionize for better working conditions, Qatar is essentially trapping these migrant workers into what some NGOs are calling, “modern day slavery.”[17]  Qatar and their migrant worker plight was put under the international spotlight last year during the aftermath of the deveastating earthquakes in Nepal.  A good portion of the migrant workers come from Nepal and many had relatives affected from the earthquake.  Most, if not all Nepali migrant workers, were denied leave by their employers because of the kafala system.[18] With all of these human rights violations occurring in Qatar, many of the migrant workers are looking to FIFA for help.

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Recently, many of FIFA’s top officials, including FIFA President Sepp Blatter, were arrested on corruption charges.[19]  With Sepp Blatter’s resignation, there’s a chance for FIFA to make sure that the incoming officials will enforce better working conditions for the migrant workers in Qatar.  One way to ensure a new generation of competent FIFA officials is to have the UN Human Rights Council observe FIFA and work hand-in-hand with Qatar’s Football Association.  Since all Member States of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) compete in the Olympics and the World Cup, they should have a vested interest in Qatar’s compliance with human rights standards.[20]  The HRC’s goals are to promote and protect human rights for all.[21]  The HRC has the capacity to work with international organizations, like FIFA, and the HRC can work with FIFA to set standards, monitor, and implement better working conditions for these migrant workers.[22]  As one of the members of the HRC, Qatar should be held to a higher standard and ensure better working conditions for the migrant workers.

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Qatar is also a member of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and even ratified the Convention on Forced Labor.[23]  This convention defines forced labor as, “work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.”  The ILO has given examples of involuntary work such as: physical confinement in the work location, deception about types and terms of work, withholding and non-payment of wages, and retention of identity documents.[24]  One of the basic principles of international law is that international agreements ought to be followed in good faith (the principle of pacta sunt servanda).  As a party to the ILO and HRC, Qatar has a duty to follow the goals of these organizations by respecting and promoting these migrant worker’s human rights.  If Qatar does not comply, pressure from the international community to withdraw Qatar’s hosting rights might work.  Unlike the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, there’s an ample amount of time to change the hosts before the 2022 World Cup.  We, as the international community, have a duty to enforce international human rights obligations.  If countries like Qatar play dirty off the pitch, why should the international community allow them to host the “beautiful game”?

Christian Kim is a 2L at the University of Baltimore School of Law and graduated from the University of Maryland with a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice. He currently serves as the President of the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association as well as the 2L Rep for the Student Bar Association. His interests are East Asian politics, international conflicts, and human rights.  Before Law School, Christian has worked for the Korean Ministry of Education as a TaLK (Teach and Learn in Korea) Scholar and Coordinator for two years. He is currently a legal intern at the Hermina Law Group and a law clerk for the Law Office of Hayley Tamburello.

 

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/28102403

[2] http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/24248-rio-state-of-mind-favela-pacification-and-the-2014-world-cup

[3] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/05/world-cup-favelas-socially-cleansed-olympics

[4] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2011/11/brazil-forced-evictions-must-not-mar-rio-olympics/

[5] Id.

[6] http://revolution-news.com/brazil-police-evict-5-thousand-poor-people-at-gunpoint/

[7] Id.

[8] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/08/rio-olympics-2016-human-rights-violations-report

[9] http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33019838

[10] http://www.thenation.com/article/qatars-world-cup-preparations-could-kill-as-many-as-4000-migrant-workers/

[11] http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/jun/20/qatar-promises-change-unpaid-migrant-workers

[12] https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2015/country-chapters/qatar

[13] http://humantraffickingcenter.org/posts-by-htc-associates/a-world-cup-built-on-exploitation-and-forced-labor-in-qatar/

[14] Id.

[15] http://sports.yahoo.com/news/no-way-qatar-lose-2022-world-cup-foreign-154654987–finance.html;_ylt=A0LEVizb36pWkU4AoncPxQt.;_ylu=X3oDMTByNXQ0NThjBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwM1BHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzcg–

[16] https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2015/country-chapters/qatar

[17] http://www.businessinsider.com/qatar-slavery-build-a-2022-world-cup-2013-9

[18] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/24/qatar-denies-nepalese-world-cup-workers-leave-after-earthquakes

[19] http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/05/fifa-corruption-arrests/394199/

[20] http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/Pages/HRCIndex.aspx

[21] http://www.ohchr.org/EN/AboutUs/Pages/WhatWeDo.aspx

[22] http://www.ohchr.org/EN/AboutUs/Pages/HowWeDoIt.aspx

[23] https://www.hrw.org/report/2012/06/12/building-better-world-cup/protecting-migrant-workers-qatar-ahead-fifa-2022#_ftn79

[24] Id.

 

 


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Human Trafficking: Not Just an International Problem

Raiven Taylor

Human Trafficking is considered a “modern form of slavery,”[i] carried out by means of transporting, transferring, recruiting, and harboring individuals by means of coercion, abduction, deception, fraud, or abuse of power.[ii] Trafficking is said to generate billions of dollars through an estimated 20.9 million victims, with 1.5 million just from the United States.[iii] It is popular belief that human trafficking is only an international problem, that human trafficking only occurs in third world countries. This is far from the truth. Human trafficking happens all over the United States, even in your own “backyard.” According to the U.S. State Department, the U.S. is “a source, transit and destination country for men, women, transgender individuals, and children…subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor.”[iv]

Did you know that the Super Bowl is the single largest event in the U.S. that hosts the largest populations of trafficked humans?[v] Victims are brought to the city where the event is held and are expected to have sex with a certain number of people. Because of this, Super Bowl cities have attempted to double their training for officers, airport employees, and public service personnel in general, on how to identify and protect a trafficking victim.[vi]

Human Trafficking

The month of September, alone, there have been numerous arrests across the United States for human trafficking. In Ross County, Ohio, police arrested a 36-year-old man as a person of interest in both drug trade and human trafficking in the area.[vii] In Johnson County, Texas, police arrested 16 individuals suspected of human trafficking. The cops entered into a hotel room to find a 44-year old man who was expecting two 16-year old girls. An interview of the man revealed that the man was there to “seize the girls” and to “become their pimp, and prostitute them in Dallas.”[viii]

Earlier this year, a man was arrested in Albuquerque, New Mexico for human trafficking. This man was charged with forcing young girls into prostitution, including a 17-year old girl he found at a bus stop.[ix] After his arrest, the man even continued his trafficking operation while in jail! At trial, the jury found him guilty and the judge sentenced him to 30 years in prison.[x]

The United States is a considered a “Tier 1” country when it comes to human trafficking. This means that the U.S. government fully complies with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA) minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.[xi] The government goes to great lengths to investigate and prosecute traffickers. The U.S. also has very high prosecution rates in trafficking. The U.S. has services that are specialized in helping those who were trafficked return to civilization, including a pathway to citizenship for those trafficked from outside of the country.[xii] However, because trafficking still exists, there is still more that the U.S. can do to prevent it..   Both federal and state governments need to create victim-centered policies to ensure that victims are not punished for crimes committed and to ensure support for their health and safety.[xiii]

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On the other end of the spectrum, many developing countries such as Cambodia, Cuba, and Kenya are considered “Tier 2 Watch List” or “Tier 3” countries. When countries are considered to be either of these Tiers,  countries are not fully complying with the TPVA’s minimum standards. Tier 2 Watch List countries are known to make some effort into complying with the TPVA’s standards, however the number of victims are significantly increasing. Tier 3 countries are simply those with governments who are not complying with the TPVA’s minimum standards and who are not making efforts to do so.[xiv]

In countries such as Cambodia, Cuba and Kenya, it is important to draft and finalize guidelines on how to prevent trafficking. One of the reasons trafficking is so high in these countries is because these countries are still developing and many areas are poverty stricken. Countries with a higher percentage of poverty lead people to migrate to other countries for a chance of better life, making it a lot easier for traffickers to find victims. Traffickers prey on people who are in search for a “better” life and deceive them with such lies that their dreams will come true, only for them to end up in brothels and forced to have sex or in fields or workshops for forced labor. It is important for countries like these to implement more services to help prevent forced labor and to implement protocols to prevent and protect victims of human trafficking.

In many ways, it may be easier for the U.S. to both implement and carry out such plans. Due to the government structure, which consists of the Department of Justice (DOJ), the State Department, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of Labor (DOL), among others, the U.S. can divide and focus on one aspect of trafficking, whether its reporting, investigating, or prosecuting, and implement plans and share reported data with the other divisions of the government. The U.S. has a system that other countries do not, which may be why the U.S. is considered a Tier 1 country. Although the U.S. is not the only Tier 1 country, the large majority of other Tier 1 countries are developed, with the infrastructure in place to combat and prevent human trafficking. Developing countries often find themselves classified as either Tier 2 or Tier 3 due to the lack of infrastructure, financial resources, and human support and expertise.  With such countries, it is necessary to focus on the root of the problem, namely poverty, to truly combat human trafficking.

Human Trafficking 2

Overall, it is important to know and understand human trafficking so that one may protect themselves and their loved ones from becoming victimized. There is a lot of information on trafficking, and while it may not be necessary to know all of the ins and outs, it is necessary for one to know how trafficking can be prevented and what steps to take. Although the U.S. government has implemented plans on preventing human trafficking, trafficking still happens and has not yet been eliminated.

Everyone can do something to prevent human trafficking. Are you? Find where your state ranks and ways to work with organizations in your area on how to stop human trafficking. http://sharedhope.org/what-we-do/bring-justice/reportcards/

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Raiven Taylor is third year law student at the University of Baltimiore School of Law and is completing her concentration in International Law. She has an undergraduate degree in Political Science from Bowie State University. She has studied abroad in London, England and Clermond-Ferrand, France. She is an Senior Staff Editor for the Journal for International Law as well as Secretary for the International Law Society. Additionally, Raiven is a Rule 16 student attorney in the Immigrant Rights Clinic. Her passion and interest in international law is human trafficking and international human rights law.

[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_trafficking_in_the_United_States

[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_trafficking_in_the_United_States

[iii] http://www.traffickingresourcecenter.org/type-trafficking/human-trafficking

[iv] http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/243562.pdf

[v] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/15/human-trafficking-month_n_4590587.html

[vi] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/15/human-trafficking-month_n_4590587.html

[vii] http://nbc4i.com/2015/09/10/ross-co-investigators-searching-for-human-trafficking-suspect/

[viii] http://www.wfaa.com/story/news/crime/2015/09/09/johnson-co-human-trafficking-sting-nets-16-arrests–4-days/71968108/

[ix] http://www.koat.com/news/man-sentenced-in-albuquerque-human-trafficking-case/35234566

[x] http://www.koat.com/news/man-sentenced-in-albuquerque-human-trafficking-case/35234566

[xi] http://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/2013/210548.htm

[xii] http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/243562.pdf

[xiii] http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/243562.pdf

[xiv] http://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/2013/210548.htm