By the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, international conventions denounce and prohibit the enslavement of human beings. They have been ratified by every state in the world. However, despite these treaties, some states continue to practice slavery. The Islamic Republic of Mauritania is regularly singled out for this. Pressenza spoke to Diko Hanoune, President of the Association of Mauritanian Haratines in Europe.

1- You are the President of the Association of Mauritanian Haratines, could you tell us about your organization?

I would like to thank Pressenza for allowing me to express myself in its columns. My name is Diko Hanoune and I am the Secretary General of the Association des Haratines de Mauritanie in Europe (A.H.M.E.). I have a degree in energy and climate systems. The president of our association is Dr Mohamed Yahya Ould Ciré and we founded it on 13 July 2001. The President has written two books on the subject of slavery in Mauritania. The first is called “L’abolition de l’esclavage en Mauritanie et les difficultés de son application” (“The abolition of slavery in Mauritania and the difficulties of its application”) and the second “La Mauritanie entre l’esclavage et le racisme” (“Mauritania between slavery and racism”). It is a human rights association, neither ethnic nor racial.

Our objectives are

  • To abolish slavery in Mauritania,
  • To eradicate the phenomenon in all its forms,
  • To denounce the slave traders and the complicity of the Mauritanian state,
  • To raise European, African, and international awareness of this problem.

You can visit our website at

2-Slavery has a long history in West Africa, how long have slavery practices existed in Mauritania?

The practice of slavery dates back to ancient times and continues to this day. Unfortunately, it has never stopped. It preceded the slave trade and colonization. The Arab-Muslim slave trade took place long before the Atlantic slave trade, and few people talk about it. In present-day Mauritania, the Arabs, Berbers, and black feudal lords have always had the means to keep their slaves, even during colonization, with the complicity of the French colonists. That is why it is difficult to speak about slavery in Mauritania on French soil and to be listened to in high places.

3-Between 1903 and 1960, this country was a French colony. Did the issue of slavery evolve during this period?

I said earlier that slavery did not end during colonization, despite the famous 1905 decree abolishing slavery in the colonies. The Arab-Berber tribes had negotiated with the French colonists to be allowed to keep their slaves in exchange for their collaboration with the occupying forces. This is one of the reasons why the 1905 decree was applied in southern Mauritania and not in the Arab-Berber north.

4-Slavery has been abolished in Mauritania, but it still exists. Is it possible to estimate the number of enslaved people in your country today?

Officially, there have been several announcements about the abolition of slavery in Mauritania, but there is no political will. The first decree to abolish the phenomenon dates back to 1981 and gave the right to compensation to the masters instead of the victims of slavery. Then, in 2007, the law began to punish slavery with prison sentences. In 2015, slavery was criminalized in the constitution. All this was achieved thanks to the UN Roadmap. The problem is that the law is not being implemented. The government’s policy is to deny the existence of slavery. Like the UN, we have asked for a census of victims of slavery in Haratine. But the government refuses to do so, to maintain confusion by equating Haratines with Arabs, to demographically inflate the Arab population, and allow slave masters to occupy all lucrative positions in the administration in the name of a fictitious Arab majority. The slave masters, who were the chiefs of the tribes, were seen as voters for the ruling party.

5- Your organization is very active both inside and outside your country. What is Haratines de Mauritanie doing at the moment?

Our actions inside and outside the country are limited to denouncing the slave traders and the Mauritanian state’s complicity with them. We play a pioneering role in protecting abolitionists as best we can. They are beaten, arrested, tortured, and imprisoned during demonstrations in support of the victims of slavery. We act as denouncers in the case of arrests, threats, or violence against abolitionists in the country.

6-Because of the obstacles that the Mauritanian authorities place in the way of your work, outside help is not too much to ask for. How can we help your association?

We have no subsidies; we have to finance very expensive legal proceedings. We have to support the freed slaves whom the Mauritanian state does not want to take care of. When our colleagues are arrested inside the country, we need the means to support them. Any help is welcome. You can contribute directly by clicking on this link to A.H.M.E.’s FACT SHEET:

I would like to thank the many readers of the Pressenza website.