Mali: UN experts condemn increased attacks on ‘descent-based slaves’, deplore government’s failure to act

Geneva, July 19, 2021.- UN human rights experts* today called on Mali to prevent attacks against so-called slaves, saying such incidents are on the rise, with twice as many people injured this year as in 2020.

“The constant and systematic attacks on people who are considered ‘slaves’ are unacceptable and must stop immediately,” said Alioune Tine, UN independent expert on the situation of human rights in Mali, said. Tomoya Obokata, UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, said “such vicious attacks are incompatible with an inclusive society and we condemn them in the strongest terms.”

They were reacting an incident on 4 July when people from Makhadougou village in the eastern Kayes region tried to prevent people they considered slaves from working their fields. Using machetes and rifles, they injured 12 people, including three women uninvolved in the clash who were hit by stray bullets inside their homes.

Already this year, 62 people – 57 men and five women – have been injured in violent clashes in the Kayes region, and 80 have had to flee their homes. Twice as many people – mostly so-called “descent-based slaves” – have been injured this year as in 2020.

Mali outlawed slavery in 1905, but a system of “descent-based slavery” persists, where slave status is ascribed to some people because their ancestors were allegedly enslaved by the families of the so-called masters.

People who are were born into slavery work without pay and are deprived of basic human rights and dignity. Those who reject the “slave” designation and try to stand up for their rights, as well as anti-slavery organisations, are regularly violently attacked by traditional or religious leaders and their allies, including, in some cases, State authorities.

“The dramatic increase in attacks this year shows the Government’s gross failure to protect its people, particularly those who already suffer most from discrimination and violence,” the experts said.

In a statement issued in September 2020, Obokata and Tine condemned similar “barbaric and criminal acts” and called on Mali to end slavery once and for all. They called for “a prompt, transparent, impartial and thorough investigation” into attacks in the Kayes region.

“It is deeply worrying that no one has been prosecuted in connection with attacks last year,” the experts said. “The Government’s failure to hold pro-slavery perpetrators accountable sends a shockingly disturbing signal. Traditional and religious leaders who condone these violent attacks must also be held accountable.”

The experts renewed their call for Mali to urgently adopt a law specifically criminalising slavery.

Just as important, they said, “a change of attitude is needed throughout Malian society. It is indispensable to leave the heritage of descent-based slavery behind and to recognize that all Malians are entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights”.

“For Mali to move forward, there must be a recognition that all Malians – like everyone else on this planet – can expect and demand certain rights simply because they are human beings. There should be no discrimination based on race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property or birth.”

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