- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 20, 2001

Slavery has been "abolished" in Mauritania three times, but it is not actually considered a crime in the West African country's court system and therefore still exists, according to anti-slavery activists.
"Owning slaves is just like owning flocks; it's a symbol of prestige," said Nassar Yessa, co-founder of SOS Slaves Mauritania and one of five anti-slavery activists to speak at Georgetown University last week.
Mauritania's courts refuse to hear cases of slavery because it does not officially exist, having been "outlawed" 20 years ago, Mr. Yessa said. SOS's goal is to get its courts to recognize slaves' right to freedom.
As for the slaves, they "accept their position and are content to be slaves" because they have been taught there is "paradise under your master's foot," Mr. Yessa said. "If they understood their numbers, everything would be different."
Khaliva Hamadi, a former slave, spoke of his life in Mauritania, which is bordered by Senegal, Mali, Algeria and Western Sahara.
"I was raised to believe that my duty was to be a slave forever," he said. "All the time when I woke up late, moved too slow … I was abused by my master."
Mr. Hamadi managed to escape without his wife and son, who are being held captive by their master.
An official from the Mauritanian embassy said slavery does not exist in his country, and that Mr. Hamadi is free to return to Mauritania and see his family.
"No one is allowed to own a human being," said the official. "These people are using this to advance their political agenda. Mauritania wants to be a democracy, and people are allowed to say what they want. They don't have to go around spreading lies."
John Eibner of Christian Solidarity International said that North African slavery is "one of the biggest human rights coverups of all times. … We're trying to create an awareness [of slavery] because the State Department will never take into account these issues of suffering."
"How are we going to fight for 'Enduring Freedom' if there are people in enduring bondage?" said Jesse Sage, associate director of the American Anti-Slavery Group.
Jimmy Mulla, president of the Southern Sudanese Voice for Freedom, agreed.
"As a slave … you have no rights. Women are raped and mistreated, and their children are made to serve in the masters' homes," he said. "The practice of slavery is a terrible thing that human beings do to other human beings.
"I really encourage you to speak on our behalf," said Mr. Mulla, addressing the public at large. "Talk to your representatives to let them know this is happening."


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