Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Co-Chairman Jim McGovern's Statement on Conviction of Mauritanian Anti-Slavery Activist Biram Dah Abeid
Washington, DC -- "I am deeply saddened to learn that on Thursday January 15th a court in Mauritania convicted Biram Dah Abeid, along with two fellow activists, of “membership in an unrecognized organization” and “taking part in an unauthorized assembly” and sentenced each of the men to two years in prison. At the time of their arrest, Mr. Abeid and his colleagues were participating in a protest against ongoing slavery in Mauritania, which persists in spite of an official ban on the practice. Mr. Abeid’s work earned him the UN Human Rights’ Prize in December of 2013.
In July of last year, Mr. Abeid came to Washington to testify before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on the continuing plight of his people. He described how as many as half of all ethnic Haratines living in Mauritania continue to live as slaves, and how even those who are free face significant barriers that force them to accept jobs with poor conditions. Those who have escaped slavery have been provided with neither justice nor protection by the government, which instead has consistently imprisoned activists who have spoken out against its permissive attitude towards slavery.
This case is particularly distressing to me because it highlights that fundamental injustice. While Biram Dah Abeid and his colleagues will languish in prison for the next two years, known slave owners in Mauritania continue to live comfortably.
The people of Mauritania are not served by this verdict. The government of Mauritania should grant Mr. Abeid and his colleagues an immediate and unconditional release and begin to make good on their promises to end slavery for once and for all."
Congressman McGovern and two of his colleagues, Representative Suzanne Bonamici and Representative Alan Lowenthal, also wrote a letter to the Mauritanian government earlier this week expressing their concerns about this case. The full letter can be found here.