A series of “barbaric” attacks this year against hundreds of people born into slavery in Mali beggars belief, UN human rights experts* said today, demanding that the West African country ensure justice for victims and finally outlaw slavery.
“These unspeakable abhorrent acts have gone on far too long, committed by some Malian nationals who openly defend descent-based slavery,” the experts said. “The whole world is watching and losing patience. We have condemned this heinous practice many times before – now the Malian Government must take action, starting with ending impunity for attacks on ‘slaves’.”
The latest attacks happened at the end of September in the Kayes region, some 500 km northwest of the Mali capital Bamako. The area has been the site of seven previous attacks since January, in which one person was killed, at least 77 injured and more than 3,000 “slaves” displaced.
“The fact that these attacks occur so often in this area shows that descent-based slavery is still socially accepted by some influential politicians, traditional leaders, law enforcement officials and judicial authorities they said.
In the latest incident, people considered slaves were attacked by fellow Malians who objected to their celebrating Independence Day, even though the “slaves” had delayed their celebrations for a week to avoid trouble. The attackers reportedly used guns, axes, machetes, and sticks and they tied up some of the so-called “slaves” with ropes before severely beating them.
The attacks went on for two days, leaving one man dead and at least 12 “slaves” injured. At least 30 people from both sides have been arrested and the Gendarmerie have launched an investigation.
“We call for an impartial and transparent investigation and justice for the victims,” the experts said. “Pro-slavery perpetrators must be held accountable for their crimes. Police and gendarmerie officers as well as judges could do much to end impunity if they enforced existing laws that make attacks against so-called slaves punishable offences.”
Some people are born into slavery in Mali because their ancestors were captured into slavery and their families have “belonged” to the slave-owning families – called “nobles” – for generations. “Slaves” are compelled to work without pay, can be inherited, and are deprived of basic human rights.
Noting that Mali does not have a specific law against slavery, the experts said “outlawing the practice is long overdue. Mali must criminalize slavery without further delay and take all necessary measures to protect all Malians from violence, including those who historically have had ‘slave’ status”.
“Slavery can no longer be tolerated,” the experts said. “Those who continue to support it must understand they cannot attack with impunity people who claim their legitimate rights.”