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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Where Would You Rather Be? Protections of Victims of Human Trafficking

Raiven Taylor

The U.S. State Department keeps track of the annual numbers of trafficking victims in each country throughout the world. The State Department not only keeps track of the victims found, but also the laws of preventing trafficking, protecting victims, and prosecuting traffickers. There are a number of countries that help, in various ways, protect trafficked victims from re-victimization, while other countries do nothing at all The United States is a Tier 1 country, which simply means the government fully complies with the minimum standards to eliminate human trafficking.[i] (The last blog post goes into greater detail on the Tier categories).

The U.S. has standards in place to protect victims of human trafficking. It created the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) to establish methods of not only protecting trafficked survivors, but also to prosecute traffickers and and prevent trafficking.[ii] The Act provides protections involving identifying victims, providing shelter and medical care, and repatriation.[iii] The Act authorizes the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to permit a human trafficking victim to remain in the U.S.[iv] This is done through the T-Visa. This visa allows victims to become temporary residents that may allow them to become eligible for permanent residency after three years. [v]The TPVA also offers protections by making trafficked victims eligible for witness protection programs as well as other federal and state benefits to the same extent as refugees.[vi]

TVPRA

The TPVA also attempts to protect unknown victims of trafficking. The 2008 provisions of the Act require unaccompanied minor children to be screened as possible trafficking victims and to then be transferred within 48 hours to the custody of Health and Human Services.[vii] In other forms of protection, the U.S. has federally funded victim assistance case management. The case management includes referrals to resources such as: dental and medical care, employment and training services, substance abuse treatments, and many more, including advocacy.[viii] The funding for victim assistance was increased by the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). HHS enabled trafficking victims of other countries the same benefits as Refugees.[ix]  In 2013, about $7.9 million dollars went to 19 victim services across the U.S..[x]

Trafficking Blog 2

Even though the U.S. seems to do a lot, especially in funding victim services, there are non-governmental organizations (NGO) that still believe the government could do more. NGOs have concerns that the U.S. does not consistently take the victim-centered approach that it should.[xi] A victim-centered approach is an approach taken that “seeks to minimize re-traumatization associated with the criminal justice process by providing the support of victim advocates and service providers, empowering survivors as engaged participants in the process, and providing survivors an opportunity to play a role in seeing their traffickers.”[xii] There are also concerns that the employees that handle victims do not have proper training and guidance to provide the critical support that some victims need.[xiii]

Although the U.S. has things it could work on to better improve the protections offered to victims, there are other countries that do not do half of what the U.S. does. For instance, Cuba is a Tier 3 country and does not fully comply with the minimum standards of eliminating trafficking. The Cuban government has not officially reported on its protections of trafficked victims nor did it report the procedures it has in place to protect victims or guide officials in identifying victims. However, the government does have shelters for victims, although it does not keep track or verify that the victims actually receive any kind of assistance for treatment.[xiv] Recommendations for Cuba consist of: strengthening its efforts to provide special training for police and social workers to protect trafficked victims, build clear procedures on identifying victims, and continue funding victim-centered practices.[xv]

Human Trafficking BarCode

It is reported that Cuba does not comply with the minimum standards because the government is involved in human trafficking.[xvi] Cuba has offered its opinion in statements stating that this is not happening within its government. However, these statements come from very biased individuals. Cuba has been a Tier 3 country for the last twelve years and continues to not comply with standards. Although Cuba is just one of many countries that are considered a Tier 3 country, it is always difficult to tell if these countries fall in this category by choice or because they do not have the means to be able to rise out its condition. Cuba continues to tell the U.S. government that it will do better year after year, however it is never shown in their reports.

Another example is Cambodia. Cambodia was placed on the Tier 2 Watch List.[xvii] According to the State Department, Cambodia’s government has procedures in place to identify victims and refer them to NGOs. However, Cambodia is on the Tier 2 Watch List because the amount of victims identified continues to decline.[xviii] Cambodia has government operated shelters to take in victims of trafficking, but once the victims arrive, the government has very little to do with further assisting them.[xix] The majority of assistance given to trafficked victims (medical, legal, shelter, and vocational services) in Cambodia is administered by NGOs in Cambodia, instead of the Cambodian government.[xx] However, there have been reports that some NGO shelters subject their victims to even more abuse and that they cannot provide the victims adequate care.[xxi] The Cambodian government has no policy in place that allows trafficked victims to stay in the country. Victims that come from other countries are sent back to their home country without any legal alternatives.[xxii] Recommendations for Cambodia would be to create legal practices that first involve keeping victims from being returned to the county they were originally trafficked from. Another recommendation would be to give employees of shelters a practical training on how to deal with trafficked victims, as well as hire people whom are willing to help instead of re-traumatize victims. A third recommendation would be for the government to be more involved in the protection of trafficked victims instead of identifying them and completely handing them over to NGOs.

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Overall, although human trafficking is a huge issue no matter what country is being discussed, it does not go unseen. Regardless of the Tier, each country has some kind of issue in trafficking. However, the important thing is that something is being done to resolve and prevent the issue from happening. Also, this proves that just because a country is considered a Tier 1 country, does not mean that they cannot improve on ways to protect victims. However, Tier 1 countries such as the U.S., are considered to have the best practices such as shelter, medical care, and other assistance that aims to keep victims safe and free from being re-trafficked, and it should be required that all countries find a way to implement the same kind of practices.

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] http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/226849.pdf

[ii] https://www.polarisproject.org/what-we-do/policy-advocacy/national-policy/current-federal-laws

[iii] http://fightslaverynow.org/why-fight-there-are-27-million-reasons/the-law-and-trafficking/trafficking-victims-protection-act/trafficking-victims-protection-act/

[iv] https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/898

[v] http://www.rescue.org/sites/default/files/resource-file/trafficking%20victims%20protection%20act%20fact%20sheet_0.pdf

[vi] Id.

[vii] Id.

[viii] http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/226849.pdf

[ix] Id.

[x] Id.

[xi] Id.

[xii] https://www.ovcttac.gov/taskforceguide/eguide/1-understanding-human-trafficking/13-victim-centered-approach/

[xiii] http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/226849.pdf

[xiv] http://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/countries/2013/215447.htm

[xv] http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/226845.pdf

[xvi] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/salim-lamrani/cuba-the-united-states-an_b_5604799.html

[xvii] http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/226845.pdf

[xviii] Id.

[xix] Id.

[xx] Id.

[xxi] Id.

[xxii] http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/226845.pdf