Timeline: UN Watch’s Campaign to End Slavery in Mauritania

GENEVA, May 4, 2022 — UN Watch welcomes today’s visit to Mauritania by the United Nations monitor on slavery is, where an estimated 500,000 people are in slavery.

UN Special Rapporteur Tomoya Obokata’s visit will take place from May 4 to 13, 2022 where he will “examine questions relating to the persistence of descent-based slavery, as well as the social, economic and political situation of formerly enslaved people and those originating from slave castes.”

UN Watch, an independent non-governmental human rights organization based in Geneva,  has been the leading voice at the United Nations in fighting to end slavery in Mauritania, and in opposing the absurd election of the racist and slave-holding regime to top UN human rights posts.

Timeline of UN Watch’s Campaign to End Slavery in Mauritania

  • May 2010: UN Watch issued a joint report with Freedom House opposing Mauritania’s candidacy to the UN Human Rights Council, declaring the country “Not Qualified” to be a member. UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer urged all UN General Assembly members not to vote for unqualified states such as Mauritania on their secret ballots. UN Watch’s report documented Mauritania’s gross abuses of human rights. Mauritania was nonetheless elected on May 13, 2010 to the UNHRC.


  • December 2012: UN Watch was the first to condemn Mauritania’s election as Vice-President of the UNHRC, the second-highest position at the world’s top human rights body. “It is obscene for the UN to use the occasion of Human Rights Day, when we commemorate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to elect the world’s worst enabler of slavery to this prestigious post,” said Hillel Neuer. “The UN is making an arsonist head of the fire department. It defies both morality and common sense.”


  • February 2013: UN Watch called for concrete action against rights abusers sitting on the UNHRC, including Mauritania. “The protection of human rights begins at home. Membership of the Council is a privilege that carries responsibilities, and these countries fail to meet the basic standards. It is revolting that the government of Mauritania, which continues to be complicit in the slavery of hundreds of thousands, is vice-president of the Council. This sends a devastating signal that the UN’s main human rights body does not practice what it preaches.”


  • February 2013: UN Watch brought Mauritanian dissident Abidine Merzough to address its 2013 Geneva Summit for Human Rights. A descendant of former slaves, Merzough devotes his life to the fight against slavery in his native country: “Slaves in Mauritania are their masters’ property, often from birth. Women slaves are allowed to be sexually abused whenever their masters want. The masters can buy or sell slaves, or loan out parts of their bodies for use. The slaves must obey. This is Islamic law as it exists in Mauritania today, ” said Merzough.


  • September 2013: Mauritania was outraged after UN Watch testified before the UNHRC and exposed its crimes, saying: “In the world today, nowhere is slavery so systematically practiced as in Mauritania, a country that is an elected member of this Human Rights Council. As unfathomable as it may sound, some 20 percent of Mauritanians, about 600,000 people belonging to the darker-skinned black African minority, live as slaves.” Mauritania exercised a right of reply, saying it “rejected the allegations” of UN Watch about slavery.  “Our authorities have been conducting a war against those practices,” said the Mauritanian delegate. “It cannot be said that legislation in Mauritania favors slavery. Islam is at the source of our legislation and Islam came to free mankind from slavery. What was said as an allegation by that organization is totally false. We are against attacks on our reputation, that is the reputation of Mauritania.”


  • December 2013: UN Watch featured Abidine Merzough at its 2013 human rights panel event at the Vienna Diplomatic Academy. “The Islamic Republic of Mauritania is number one in slavery,” Merzough said. The country’s Baydhan ethnic group accounts for approximately 25 percent of the population and “exercises a monopoly on power,” he said. “Children are born into slavery.”


  • February 2014: UN Watch brought Biram Dah Abeid, a Mauritanian human rights defender and founder of the anti-slavery NGO, Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement in Mauritania (IRA), to address the 2014 Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy. “Mauritania has the highest number of slaves in the world! They can be castrated, this is the law!” said Biram.


  • October 2014: UN Watch condemned Mauritania’s election to the 54-member Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), a top UN body that regulates human rights groups, shapes the composition of key UN women’s rights bodies, and adopts resolutions on subjects ranging from Internet freedom to female genital mutilation. “Tragically, the UN’s election today of regimes such as Mauritania — where there are hundreds of thousands living in slavery — sends a message that crass politics trumps basic human rights. The UN is letting down millions of victims around the globe who look to the world body for vital protection,” said Hillel Neuer.


  • March 2016: When Mauritania came up for a mandatory human rights review that all UN member states undergo every five years, UN Watch invited Abidine Merzough to address the UNHRC plenary. Speaking in French, Merzough’s testimony spotlighted abuses in in his native Mauritania, the world’s last bastion of slavery. In response to UN Watch, Mauritania took the floor to deny the persistence of slavery in the country. “Slavery has been abolished in Mauritania,” the delegate insisted. “Slavery is essentially a crime against humanity. So I don’t know why there are people who continue to think that the phenomenon persists.”


  • February 2017: UN Watch invited Biram Dah Abeid address the 9th annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights: “I am working for the self-determination of my black brothers and sisters and I am trying to free their desire for a free life.”


  • October  2019: Ahead of UNHRC elections, UN Watch issued a joint report with the Human Rights Foundation and Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights calling on UN member states to oppose the election of Mauritania and other human rights abusers. In detail, UN Watch documented the Mauritanian regime’s gross abuses of human rights, including slavery torture, human trafficking and child labor. “Electing slave-holding Mauritania as a UN judge on human rights is like making an arsonist into the town fire chief,” warned Hillel Neuer in a press release on the day before the election.


  • February 2020: UN Watch and its coalition of 25 human rights NGOs bestowed upon Biram Dah Abeid the prestigious Geneva Summit Courage Award at the 12th annual Geneva Summit. “We can only underline the paradox of the Mauritanian state, which in January 2020 joined the Human Rights Council as it is gleefully blurring human dignity and violating human rights, even the most basic ones,” said Biram.


  • June 2020: UN Watch called on racist and oppressive regimes to recuse themselves from a UN Human Rights Council urgent debate on racism and police brutality. In a statement delivered to the UNHRC, Hillel Neuer said: “We ask Mauritania: Given that you have an estimated 500,000 black slaves, with CNN referring to Mauritania as ‘slavery’s last stronghold,’ will your country recuse itself from this urgent debate on racism against blacks?”


  • January 2021: UN Watch condemned country speakers who took the floor at the UNHRC to shower praise on Mauritania during a mandatory review of its human rights record. “It is shameful that only a very small minority of 15 countries used their allotted 1 minute of speaking time to apply scrutiny to Mauritania’s human rights record,” said Hillel Neuer. “The vast majority of country speakers turned a blind eye to Mauritania’s 500,000 slaves, its arrest of anti-slavery activists like Biram Dah Abeid, use of torture to extract confessions, and its death penalty for homosexuality.”


UN Watch