Mauritania: Where escaping slavery can be a crime
October 20th, 2014
04:34 PM ET

Mauritania: Where escaping slavery can be a crime

By John D. Sutter

Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime.

That's the apparent reality in Mauritania, the country with the world's highest incidence of modern slavery. Located in West Africa, on the edge of the Sahara Desert, an estimated 4% to 20% of people there remain enslaved. It was the last country in the world to abolish the practice - in 1981. And it only criminalized owning humans in 2007.

So perhaps this latest news should come as no surprise.

Mbeirika Mint M'bareck, a 15-year-old girl, was rescued from slavery only to be subsequently charged with having sex outside of marriage, according to a letter activists drafted on her behalf. (It is unclear who fathered the child). That crime is potentially punishable by death by stoning, according to an expert I spoke with. The activists planned to send the letter to the country's ministry of justice on Monday.

January 14th, 2014
08:59 PM ET

Watch in full: 'Slavery in West Africa'

In parts of Africa, still haunted by the 19th Century trans-Atlantic slave trade, new forms of slavery are thriving. According to the 2013 Global Slavery Index, four of the world's worst 10 countries are in west Africa. In this film, CNN reporters examine why slavery still exists, including among children. They talk to victims, activists and politicians accountable for stamping it out.

This Freedom Project film aired on CNN International TV in January. Now you can see it here in its entirety without commercial breaks.

CNN Correspondent Vlad Duthiers starts in Ghana, where many of the trans-Atlantic slaves were captured and where slavery now has its roots in different forms. The film also includes reports from Ivory Coast, The Gambia and Mauritania, the last country in the world to make slavery illegal, but where many people remain in servitude.

May 3rd, 2013
04:00 AM ET

Mauritanian anti-slavery activist wins human rights award

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - A Mauritanian anti-slavery activist, Biram Dah Abeid, will be honored on Friday by the human rights group Front Line Defenders. Abeid, who is the head of a group called IRA Mauritania, was featured last year in the CNN documentary "Slavery's last stronghold." Mauritania, a desert country in West Africa, was the last country to abolish slavery; and an estimated 10% to 20% of its population lives in some form of slavery, according to Gulnara Shahinian, the UN's special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery.

The Mauritanian government has denied slavery's existence in the country but does operate a program for formerly enslaved people.

Abeid was selected from 100 nominees in 40 countries, according to Front Line Defenders. The award, given to "human right defenders at risk," will be presented at a ceremony in Dublin, Ireland, and will be given by Irish President Michael Higgins. FULL POST

April 10th, 2013
05:46 PM ET

Mauritania slavery reporting honored

CNN has won two honors at the 2012 Investigative Reporters and Editors Awards - one for an online-led Freedom Project special report on modern-day slavery in Mauritania and one for its coverage of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

For Mauritania, the judges said 'Slavery's Last Stronghold' upholds "the highest ideals of journalism" and recognized the covert reporting of CNN Digital reporters John D. Sutter and Edythe McNamee.

The judges noted: “They had to do their reporting on slavery covertly, often in the presence of a government-assigned minder. Their project was published online, accompanied by haunting photos and video.”

Senior international correspondent Arwa Damon and photojournalist Sarmad Qaseera won in the breaking news category. The reporting shed light on the attack which killed U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

Judges said: “Damon’s courageous reporting showed it appeared to be a planned attack that came after U.S. diplomats had been warned days before by Libyan officials about the deteriorating security there. The network stood firm in the face of harsh criticism from the State Department. The U.S. government’s investigation later proved CNN’s reporting to be accurate.”

The full list of winners is here.

November 22nd, 2012
10:13 AM ET

Mauritania story scoops award

CNN Digital and CNN International have triumphed at the Foreign Press Association Media Awards, winning three categories.

The Print & Web Feature award was clinched by "Mauritania: Slavery's Last Stand" - a CNN Digital feature that revealed the shocking extent of slavery in modern Mauritania. The judges remarked that the piece was "in some ways the most convincing and best edited of all the categories."

The CNN documentary "World's Untold Stories: Secrets of the Belfast Project" won News Story of the Year by a full FPA member.

The Arts & Culture award was given to "Leonardo - The Lost Painting," a documentary that explored the story behind the recent discovery of a Leonardo da Vinci painting.

Full Story

September 27th, 2012
03:00 PM ET

Mauritania reporting wins online award

A CNN investigation into modern day slavery in Mauritania has won Best Feature at the annual Online Journalism Awards.

Slavery's Last Stronghold” followed the stories of slaves and slave owners in Mauritania, the last country in the world to abolish slavery but where it is thought between 10% and 20% of the population still live in servitude.

Spending nearly a year to gain entry into the country and conducting many of their interviews at night and in covert locations, CNN writer John Sutter and digital content producer Edythe McNamee went to great lengths to uncover the tragedy of slavery across generations. The project was published as CNN's first digital magazine, combining  video, text, photography and interactive components.

The 2012 Online Journalism Awards were presented in San Francisco on September 22. The awards, which began in 2000, celebrate innovation in digital journalism around the world.

June 1st, 2012
01:05 PM ET

CNN iReporters send message to Mauritanian slaves: 'We're with you'

By John D. Sutter and Edythe McNamee, CNN

(CNN) - Dozens of CNN iReporters recently uploaded videos of themselves telling escaped slaves in Mauritania that "we are with you" in the struggle for freedom. The videos follow a CNN project called "Slavery's Last Stronghold," which documented slavery in the West African country.

Mauritania was the last nation in the world to abolish the practice, and a UN representative estimates 10% to 20% of Mauritanians still live in a form of slavery.

The iReport videos came in from all over the world - and each began with the phrase "we are with you" in Hassaniya, the language spoken by a group of women who attend classes at a center for escaped slaves in Nouakchott, the capital. In the iReport videos, an African-American woman shared a few lines from a slave song her ancestors sang. School children in South Korea chanted "we are with you" in unison. A family gathered in a living room to record a video. Messages also came from Sri Lanka and Germany.

Watch a highlight reel of the clips at the top of this post, and please let us know what you think in the comments.

CNN plans to find a way to show the messages of hope to these women who escaped slavery. By including a phrase in the local language, iReporters ensured that the women who escaped slavery will understand their messages.

Here are two other updates on slavery in Mauritania, following the project:


March 22nd, 2012
10:08 AM ET
Slavery's last stronghold
March 17th, 2012
10:52 PM ET

Slavery's last stronghold

Moulkheir Mint Yarba returned from a day of tending her master’s goats out on the Sahara Desert to find something unimaginable: Her baby girl, barely old enough to crawl, had been left outdoors to die.

The usually stoic mother wept when she saw her child’s lifeless face, eyes open and covered in ants, resting in the orange sands of the Mauritanian desert. FULL POST

How to help end slavery in Mauritania
March 17th, 2012
10:15 PM ET

How to help end slavery in Mauritania

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - After reading CNN’s special report on Mauritania, “Slavery’s Last Stronghold,” it may seem like little can be done to end slavery in this West African country, where an estimated 10% to 20% of people are enslaved.

That’s far from true, however. You can be part of the solution. Here’s how:

Donate to a worthy cause

Anti-Slavery International has set up a special donations page for a training center for escaped slaves in Mauritania’s capital, which is run by SOS Slaves. The school, which is featured in the CNN project, teaches about 30 women to sew, cook, braid hair and dye fabric. The hope is that these escaped slaves and their children one day will open their own businesses. FULL POST

March 17th, 2012
10:03 PM ET

Send your messages of hope to a school for escaped slaves in Mauritania

In December, CNN visited a school for escaped slaves and their children in Mauritania, a West African country that was the last in the world to abolish slavery, and where an estimated 10% to 20% of people are still enslaved.

There, in a small, concrete building surrounded by dusty streets, 30 women who escaped slavery are learning new skills - sewing, cooking, hair braiding - that they plan to use to start small businesses.

iReport wants to show these women that the world supports them in their fight for freedom. What can you do? It's simple:

Share your message of hope and include the phrase "Nahana maakum," which means "We are with you" in Hassaniya, the language these women speak.

A selection of your video messages of hope will be shown in the school, and they may also appear on CNN. (Check out some of the submissions we've received so far in the compilation video above.)

Get started on your iReport!

[Update] Here are some of the submissions so far, coming from all around the world:

Hossain Riazati and his wife hold a Baha'i devotional gathering once a month at their home in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, for friends and neighbors of different races, religions and backgrounds. On Sunday, the group recorded a message of hope for the former slaves in Mauritania (“Nahana maakum, we are with you.”) He read the CNN piece about slavery in Mauritania on Sunday and was happy to see the Monday piece on “how you can help.” He says, “We all can take a part according to our capacity and resources in making a difference toward betterment of the world.”


Mauritanian minister responds to accusations that slavery is rampant
March 17th, 2012
09:38 PM ET

Mauritanian minister responds to accusations that slavery is rampant

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.

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