Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Govt. Guilty of Slavery

In Niger, a young woman who has spent the past 12 years as a slave, has been successful in her action to take the country of Niger to court for failing to protect her.

From The Independent:
"A West African regional court of justice convicted the state of Niger today for failing to protect a 12-year-old girl from being sold into slavery in a case anti-slavery campaigners hope will set a precedent.

The regional ECOWAS Court of Justice ruled that Niger had failed in its obligations to protect Hadijatou Mani, who says she was sold into slavery in 1996 for around $500 and regularly beaten and sexually abused.

The Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), based in neighbouring Nigeria, upheld Mani's claim that the state had failed to protect her from slavery.

But the court, which has been sitting in Niger's capital Niamey to hear the case, dismissed a second plank of the case, which accused the government of legitimising slavery through customary laws that campaigners say discriminate against women.

London-based Anti-Slavery International says 43,000 people are enslaved in Niger despite the practice being officially outlawed in 2003. Activists say slavery is also common in other countries in the region, including Mauritania and Sudan. "

From the Times Online:
"Hadijatou Mani was sold into slavery at the age of 12. She was beaten, raped and even imprisoned for bigamy after she married a man other than her “master”.

Astonishingly her story is not that rare in Niger, but now it has a happy ending. In an historic ruling that will resonate across West Africa, where slavery is still rife, Ms Mani won a landmark case yesterday against the Niger Government for failing to protect her.

Ms Mani was sold to a man called Souleymane Naroua when she was 12 for about £300. For the next ten years she was forced to carry out domestic and agricultural work. She was raped at the age of 13 and forced to bear the children of her “master”.

In 2005 Ms Mani's “master” freed her and gave her a “liberation certificate”, but when she left him and tried to marry another man he claimed that they were already married. A local court found in her favour and she went ahead with the wedding.

For generations the children of a slave automatically became the property of their parents' “master”. Ms Mani said that one of the reasons she turned to the international court was to secure the freedom of her two children and ensure that they did not have to suffer the same fate."

From the International Herald Tribune:
"Slavery has long been tolerated in Niger. The Niamey government outlawed the practice in 2003, but it continues in the remote reaches of the vast, arid and impoverished nation that straddles the Sahara.

Antislavery organizations hailed the decision as an important victory against deeply entrenched social customs.

The Community Court of Justice, the entity that found Niger guilty, is a judicial arm of Ecowas, a political and trade group of West African nations. The court, which can sit in any of the member nations, was created in 2000 and has made a number of important rulings."

From BBC News:
"Now the former slave from Niger has won a landmark case against her government, which a regional West African court found had failed to protect her.

The court has ordered the government to pay her 10m CFA francs (£12,430; $19,750) in compensation.

The ruling could have broad implications for countries nearby where slavery is still practised, including Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Mali, according to observers.

Human rights organisations say more than 40,000 people are still in slavery in Niger, though the government says this figure is exaggerated.

Most live in conditions little changed over centuries, forced to look after animals or domestic work such as cooking and cleaning without pay.

Born into an established slave caste, they inherit a status from their mothers that it is almost impossible to shake off.

Romana Cacchioli, Africa Programme Coordinator for Anti-Slavery International, says this form of slavery began centuries ago when North African Berbers and Arabs raided the settlements of black Africans to the south and enslaved them.

Ilguilas Weila, head of the local human rights group Timidria, said the situation in Niger had barely changed since the country announced that it was banning slavery.

Slaves are kept in humiliating and degrading conditions, he said. They can be beaten, sold, or given away as wedding presents."

Let us all hope that this court ruling does have far-reaching consequences.

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