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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Black Moors in Mauritania

View Group Chronology

Mauritania Facts
Area:    1,030,700 sq. km.
Capital:    Nouakchott
Total Population:    2,511,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References



Risk Assessment

Despite the recent bloodless military coup in August 2005 that overthrew Taya and instated a Military Council for Justice and Democracy and a subsequent 2008 coup, little seems to have changed for the Black Moors in Mauritania. Although the 2006 elections were deemed free and fair with some Black Moors elected to Parliament and there was a seemingly smooth transition to democracy in August 2007, a new military coup usurped power in August 2008.The Black Moors have three risk factors for rebellion: persistent protest over the last decade, regime instability and government repression. However, geographic dispersion and scant economic or political resources make rebellion in the near future unlikely.

On the other hand, Black Moor protest is likely to continue so long as Black Moors remain politically and economically disadvantaged, with few options to redress their grievances. Black Moors, especially those engaged in promoting Black Moor causes, suffer from significant political restrictions. Leaders of anti-slavery organizations have been arrested in Mauritania in recent years, and those who oppose the practice, whether White Moors, Black Moors or Black Africans, are at risk of arrest from the regime. The arrest and alleged torture of Haratines protesting land confiscation is among the most recent acts of repression against the group. The boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable protest remain vague in Mauritania, as in most partial democracies. Some Black Moors are therefore likely to push the boundaries as far as possible.

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Analytic Summary

The Black Moors, who are Muslim and speak Arabic, are mainly the former slaves of the White Moors, although some families were never enslaved. Also known as the Haratine, the Black Moors have always been a disadvantaged group because of their slave status and are generally looked down on by both the White Moors and the Black African Kewri. They are dispersed throughout the country (GROUPCON = 0), although Haratine villages (where only Haratines live) exist mainly in the southern regions of the country.

Slavery was officially abolished in 1980 (for the third time in Mauritanian history), although it still exists in practice and its effects are still strongly felt (ECDIS06 = 4). Slavery was again outlawed in March 2007. Those who are reduced to servitude are in the worst position in Mauritanian society and will continue to be in the near future. If not actual slaves, these Black Moors are certainly mistreated, both verbally and often physically, by others within Mauritania's status-conscious society. Black Moors continue to be born into White Moor families, living with their "employers" throughout their lives. They are rarely paid for this work and receive only the basics of survival (food and shelter) in exchange for their labor. Other Black Moors are independent, running boutiques which sell staple supplies (bread, sugar, tea), working as labor in the capital, or working their own land (there are some villages which are inhabited only by Black Moors). Those who work for a White Moor family do all the physical labor, including gardening, hauling water, cooking and cleaning. Although, they rarely obtain jobs in the civil service and are underrepresented in parliament, military, security and police forces, they are not outright barred from these positions. Many Black Moors are also systematically denied access to education because of their servant status. Black Moors, who often encounter difficulties in obtaining legal documents and identification papers, are also underrepresented in the Mauritanian parliament (one member is a Black Moor) and in cabinet positions (POLDIS06 = 3).

In 1974, Black Moors founded the El Hor (Freedom) pressure group to advance the interests of their community (PROT70X = 2). It called for land reform and encouraged Haratines to set up agricultural cooperatives as a means of gaining economic independence. Its emphasis on social issues and justice brought El Hor into conflict with the government, and many of its leaders were arrested, tortured and exiled in 1979-80. El Hor was at it strongest between 1978-1982 and still exists today. Another anti-slavery organization, SOS Esclaves (Slaves) was established in the 1990s.

Black Moor political parties include Action for Change (headed by a former slave who also leads SOS Esclaves) and the Alliance for Justice and Democracy, which split from Action for Change in 2000 (GOJPA06 = 2). Action for Change has forged alliances with other (White Moor-dominated) opposition groups through the Forum of Opposition Parties, which it chaired in 2000. In 2006 elections, the Black Moor political party the Popular Progressive Alliance (APP) won seats in Parliament. However, the geographic dispersion of Black Moors and lack of group cohesion continue to make mobilization difficult. Black Moor activism continues to rest on the shoulders of a very small number of committed activists, while most Black Moors are consumed with the difficulties of day-to-day survival.

Black Moor grievances continue to center on an effective end of slavery in Mauritania that goes beyond legal abolition. While courts have generally found in favor of former slaves in legal suits against their "masters," many Haratine remain uninformed of their legal rights. Women, especially those with children claimed by their former masters, find it impossible to capitalize on their legal emancipation. Land grievances have intensified in the late 1990s, with accusations that the government's land redistribution program was being abused to transfer Haratine lands to White Moors. Mass protests broke out in Brakna in the summer 1999 when the White Moor governor confiscated Haratine land and gave it to his relatives. However, in recent years, protest has not exceeded low levels (PROT01-03 = 2; PROT04-06 = 0). No instances of rebellion have been reported in recent years (REB01-06 = 0).

Black Moors do enjoy the support of anti-slavery groups in the United States and Europe. While the issue does not have the exposure of slavery in the Sudan, leaders of Mauritanian anti-slavery groups and former slaves have gone on speaking tours of the United States and Europe, generating pressure on those governments to raise the issue with the Mauritanian government. However, the United States' official position is that slavery no longer exists in Mauritania, although Black Moors still suffer from the vestiges and effects of slavery.

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References

Amnesty International. 11/7/2002. "Mauritania: A future free from slavery." http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AFR38/003/2002/en/dom-AFR380032002en.pdf, accessed 4/29/08.

Flynn, Daniel. 12/1/2006. "Poverty, tradition shackle Mauritania's slaves." Reuters Foundation. ReliefWeb. http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900sid/LZEG-6W3MDR?OpenDocument&query=haratin, accessed 4/30/08.

Handloff, Robert E., ed. 1988. Mauritania: A Country Study. Washington, DC: GPO for the Library of Congress.

IRIN. 8/23/00. "Mauritania: Rights groups report abuses by Mauritanian authorities."

IRIN. 8/7/2008. "Mauritania: Military ousts president, seizes power." http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=79676, accessed 01/26/09.

Lexis-Nexis. Various news reports. 1990-2006.

Minority Rights Group. 2005. "Mauritania Overview: Haratin." World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. http://www.minorityrights.org/5179/mauritania/haratin.html, accessed 1/25/09.

U.S. Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Mauritania. 1998-2006.

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Information current as of December 31, 2006