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.
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

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign jihadists More

Pakistan's Political Turmoil Again Shines Spotlight on Military

Thousands of protesters calling for PM Sharif to step down continue protests in front of parliament, as critics fear political impasse could spur another military coup More

Photogallery Ebola Quarantines Spark Anxiety in Liberian Capital

Food prices rise sharply as residents attempting purchases clash with security forces, leaving one person dead 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.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid