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

Ukraine President Appeals for More US Support

Speaking before Congress ahead of meeting with President Obama, Petro Poroshenko urges lawmakers to back Ukraine in its quest for freedom and democracy More

Photogallery Global Audience Watches as Scots Go to the Polls

People were almost equally divided over a vote for independence, watched closely by Britain's allies, investors and restive regions at home and abroad More

China to Invest $20B in India Amid Border Dispute

Border spat between armies of two countries in Himalayas underlines mutual tensions despite growing commercial ties highlighted by Xi Jinping's high-profile visit 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.
A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Wateri
X
September 17, 2014 8:44 PM
Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid