- - Thursday, November 30, 2017


The United Nations sets aside Dec. 2 as its International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. From sweatshops and prison labor, to trafficked women and men forced into unpaid work or prostitution, some 40 million people around the world are held in horrific conditions. But if there’s an open sore, it’s Mauritania in West Africa.

Just 10 years ago, Mauritania became the last country in the world to criminalize slavery. Since then, few prosecutions have taken place and thousands of people are still held in bondage. Slavery is not the only issue to raise concerns in Mauritania. Transparency International rates corruption there worse than in Nigeria or Pakistan. President Mohamed Aziz came to power in a 2008 coup and at elections in 2014, he won an implausible 82 percent of the vote. Opponents to his rule, including a large number of human-rights campaigners, are largely in prison or exile.

Foreign embassies in Nouakchott, including those of Germany, Japan, China, former colonial power France, and especially the United States, given its own history, should favor members of oppressed communities — notably the Haratin tribe, whose members make up the majority of slaves — for service contracts and as local staff.

Under Mauritania’s constitution, President Aziz must stand down in 2019 at the end of his second term. There should be no change of the rules allowing him a third term. There must also be free and fair parliamentary elections in 2018 and a free and fair presidential election in 2019.

It has been 32 years since the first International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, which started in 1986. Since then the number of slaves worldwide has grown. Let us commit by this time next year to see Mauritania improved on this and on every human-rights index, while at the same time working toward political freedom for all the people of this long-suffering land.


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