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Descent-based, or hereditary, slavery continues to be practiced in northern Mali. As part of a two-year U.S. Department of State-funded program, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) is working to combat descent-based slavery through legal aid, community outreach, training for legal professionals and reintegration efforts for former slaves.
ABA ROLI has opened a legal aid clinic in northern Mali to provide legal assistance to enslaved persons seeking their freedom. The clinic also trains lawyers, police, prosecutors and judges on handling slavery cases, drawing upon the experience of regional anti-slavery experts. Finally, in conjunction with Malian partners, the clinic conducts outreach to affected communities to inform victims of the services available to them and to raise awareness of the issue amongst community leaders.
ABA ROLI also recognizes the emotional trauma and lack of economic independence that may inhibit enslaved persons from seeking their freedom. ABA ROLI has partnered with Malian anti-slavery organizations to provide psychological assistance and vocational training to individuals emerging from slavery.
Finally, while Mali’s constitution guarantees equal protection under the law and can be interpreted as prohibiting slavery, there is no specific law criminalizing slavery. ABA ROLI is working with its Malian partners to draft and advocate for a law criminalizing slavery.
Malian women face a number of obstacles in realizing their legal rights, from the high cost of legal services to the stigma attached to bringing legal cases against family or community members. The ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) is working with L’Association des Juristes Maliennes (AJM) to examine the obstacles to women’s access to justice and to recommend reforms to address them. Utilizing ABA ROLI’s Access to Justice Assessment Tool, AJM is compiling an assessment of access to justice for women, focusing on cases of domestic violence, unfair inheritance and divorce. AJM has interviewed a wide range of justice sector actors and community members, and their report will be presented to the Ministry of Justice at an ABA ROLI-organized strategic planning conference in Fall 2011.