News / Africa

Malians Call for Criminalization of Slavery

Women wrapped in shawls walk through a sandstorm in Timbuktu, July 29, 2013.
Women wrapped in shawls walk through a sandstorm in Timbuktu, July 29, 2013.
TEXT SIZE - +
Ivan Broadhead
— Slavery is still practiced among some groups in Mali. Activists had made some gains in their fight to outlaw the custom until early 2012, when a Tuareg rebellion and subsequent military coup plunged the country into chaos. Now, as Mali prepares to elect its next president, activists say the time is right to push for a law banning the centuries-old practice.
                                          
Although slavery was prohibited by the Malian constitution of 1960, it was never formally criminalized in law. Soumaguel Oyahit, secretary-general of the human rights association, Temedt, and himself a member of Mali’s slave caste, said the practice continues in conservative religious communities and among ethnic groups, including the Tuareg.  
 
“We are trying to prioritize the eradication of a tradition that we call descent-based slavery,” said Oyahit. “What this means is that across northern Mali and the Sahel, a child born to a woman who is a member of the slave caste, living in a family that has traditionally kept slaves, is itself condemned to being a slave. There is no law criminalizing this practice.”

Pursuing freedom, redress

Jim Wormington is a senior legal analyst with the American Bar Association's Rule of Law Initiative. He described how, in 2012, the ABA opened a legal clinic in the northern city of Gao providing advocacy support to subjugated Malians seeking freedom and redress.
 
“Certainly they described themselves as ‘slaves.’ They will say they have a 'master' whom they work for, often without pay, whether watching cattle or performing household tasks," he said. "People also described the violations they suffered... like, being beaten if they made a mistake. We’ve heard a number accounts of women who are raped, by their ‘masters’".
 
The clinic prepared cases against 18 slaveholders for crimes including assault and sexual offenses. Wormington said that while the coup occurred before the first case went to trial, the ABA continues to document slavery among internally displaced Malians.
 
“We’ve actually supported Temedt’s effort to draft that law for slavery itself to be clearly criminalized at the beginning of 2012. Advocating for the adoption of that law would be most appropriate after Mali’s elections, when there is again a government we can advocate to,” said Wormington.
 
Mali’s recent turmoil has concentrated the will of activists to eradicate slavery. Oyahit said Temedt has been lobbying the country's presidential candidates. “We wrote to all the candidates about our draft law,” he explained. “They know our 45,000 members are prepared to vote for any presidential candidate who will back our proposal.”

Exposing problem
 
Sarah Mathewson, Africa program coordinator for Anti-Slavery International, believes 250,000 Malians may be living in slavery. She said persuading national leaders about the extent of the problem has always been a challenge.
 
“Even if it were a few thousand people, even if it were one person, it should be an urgent priority to emancipate people. How can Mali move forward to re-establish democratic systems, with all its citizens equal, engaged and participating in the progress of society if a significant number remain enslaved to others? I think that’s critical to address,” said Mathewson.
 
The fight is unlikely to end, however, even if a law is passed. Niger criminalized slavery in 2003 and Mauritania in 2007. In Mauritania, only one slave owner has since been prosecuted. Mathewson said the process is complicated by other factors too.
 
“There are strong economic interests in the slavery system, and strong interests in not upsetting the slave-owning classes who are often quite privileged elites with connections to government,” she said.
 
In Mauritania, the anti-slavery group, IRA Mauritanie, formed its own political party ahead of legislative elections expected in October. Temedt members look forward to achieving the same political acceptance. Mali’s recent conflict set their cause back years, they say, and now is the time to redouble the effort to end slavery, not just in Mali, but across the Sahel.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid