Editor's note: Mauritania was the last country in the world to abolish slavery. This story is part of a CNN special report, “Slavery’s Last Stronghold.”
Human rights groups and a United Nations representative estimate 10% to 20% of Mauritanians live in slavery. CNN spoke with the West African country's minister of rural development, Brahim Ould M’Bareck Ould Med El Moctar, about slavery in the country. The following is an excerpt from that interview, in which the official denies slavery's continued existence:
I must tell you that in Mauritania, freedom is total: freedom of thought, equality - of all men and women of Mauritania. Equality for all people. There is a phenomenon to which you are probably alluding, that has existed in Mauritania, that has existed in other countries, which is slavery. And it is abolished in all communities, and criminalized today by our government. Therefore, there is absolutely no more problem of that in Mauritania. In all cases, especially with this government, this is in the past.
There are probably former relationships - slavery relationships and familial relationships from old days and of the older generations, maybe, or descendants who wish to continue to be in relationships with descendants of their old masters, for familial reasons, or out of affinity, and maybe also for economic interests. But (slavery) is something that is totally finished. All people are free in Mauritania and this phenomenon no longer exists. And I believe that I can tell you that no one profits from this commerce.
The interview was translated from French.