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

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:


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

U.S. ambassador to Mauritania: Slavery is 'completely unacceptable and abhorrent'
March 17th, 2012
09:36 PM ET

U.S. ambassador to Mauritania: Slavery is 'completely unacceptable and abhorrent'

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.”

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - Slavery in Mauritania has persisted for centuries - and it wasn't until 2007 that the West African country actually made the act of owning another human being and forcing him or her to work without pay a crime.

To date, only one person has been convicted on slavery charges in Mauritania - and some activists say little is being done to pressure the government to end slavery. In part, they say, that's because the United States has interests in working with the Mauritanian government to fight a branch of al Qaeda in the region. It might upset the balance of that agreement if the U.S. also urged Mauritania to tackle slavery. Two Mauritanian government ministers denied slavery exists in CNN interviews.

But CNN spoke recently with the U.S. Ambassador to Mauritania, who painted a different picture of the situation. FULL POST

UN: There is hope for Mauritania's slaves
March 17th, 2012
09:28 PM ET

UN: There is hope for Mauritania's slaves

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - A quick glance at slavery stats makes the situation in Mauritania seem fairly hopeless: The West African nation was last in the world to abolish slavery; an estimated 10% to 20% of people live in some form of slavery today; and, while the government made slavery a crime in 2007, only one slave owner has been successfully prosecuted.

But ask Gulnara Shahinian, the United Nations' special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, about her recent visits to the country and you see a picture that's hidden beneath those shocking statistics.

Shahinian says Mauritania could be nearing a turning point. It's clear what needs to be done to eradicate slavery in Mauritania, and government leaders finally are considering making some of the right decisions, she said.

"This country has opened its door" to discuss slavery with the UN, she said. "Why don’t we try to support them?" FULL POST