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

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed 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.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs