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December 01, 2011

Malian Program to Combat Descent-Based Slavery Gains Momentum

December 2011     

Ouleymatou*, a Malian woman who lived the majority of her life as a slave, describes how she was inherited by her master when his mother died. She lived in her master’s camp, herding his camels and doing other menial chores without compensation. When she had children, they were viewed as being born into servitude, and were eventually taken from her and given to members of her master’s family. Eventually she managed to flee her master with two of her children; however, her other children remain in slavery.

After some time, Ouleymatou found her way to a legal clinic supported by the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) as part of a broader program to combat descent-based slavery in Mali. In November 2011, the clinic filed its first cases against perpetrators of slavery, including against Ouleymatou’s former master. Ouleymatou is seeking freedom for her children and compensation for her years of hard labor.  

A result of unequal social, cultural and economic relationships between ethnic groups, descent-based, or hereditary, slavery persists in northern Mali. While similar practices elsewhere in the Sahel region, particularly in Mauritania and Niger, have received considerable attention, too little light has been shed on the problem in northern Mali.

In addition to supporting legal services, ABA ROLI has partnered with Malian anti-slavery organization Temedt to provide social and economic care to victims like Ouleymatou, facilitating their reintregration into society. Temedt and ABA ROLI are working to change the social and cultural attitudes that allow the practice to continue.  ABA ROLI has worked with the High Islamic Council in northern Mali to produce a radio public service announcement that declares slavery incompatible with Islamic principles. The announcement has been widely broadcast in a range of local languages.

ABA ROLI is supporting government and civil society efforts to work together to combat slavery. More than 100 judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officials gathered to discuss the social and cultural context of slavery and the Malian laws and international human rights standards that prohibit it. ABA ROLI has also convened an anti-slavery working group—which includes the Ministry of Justice’s advisor on trafficking in persons and the president of Mali’s Human Rights Commission—to provide a forum for civil society and government partners to develop a coherent, coordinated strategy to combat slavery. The working group has received guidance from anti-slavery activists from Niger and Mauritania, who shared their perspectives on key strategies for nascent anti-slavery movements.

* Name has been changed.

To learn more about the ABA Rule of Law Initiative’s work in Mali, contact us at [email protected]