After four men, regarded as born into slavery were beaten to death in Mali, UN human rights experts on Tuesday called on authorities to end slavery in the country once and for all.
The attack last week also injured an 80-year-old woman and two other people.
“Nothing can justify the persistence of the practice of slavery,” said Alioune Tine, UN independent expert on the situation of human rights in Mali and Tomoya Obokata, special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences.
“We condemn these barbaric and criminal acts that violate the right to life, physical integrity and human dignity, and too often go unpunished.”
They called for “a prompt, transparent, impartial and thorough investigation” into the 1 September attack in Djandjoumé (Kayes region), and justice for the victims.
One of the dead men, a 69-year-old considered a slave, had won a court ruling against the village imam over farmland.
Some members of the community objected to the judge’s decision, surrounded the houses of the so-called slaves and savagely beat them.
The four dead men ranged in age from 42 to 72; an elderly woman and a married couple, aged 30 and 44, were hospitalised.
Eleven people have been arrested for the attack.
“This system of descent-based slavery persists despite the fact that slavery was officially abolished in Mali in 1905,” the experts said. “Enslavement also constitutes a crime against humanity in the Malian Penal Code.”
People are considered to be born into slavery because their ancestors were captured into slavery and their families have “belonged” to the slave-owning families for generations. People who are considered slaves work without pay, can be inherited, and are deprived of basic human rights.
Last year a member of an anti-slavery organisation was expelled from his village in Kayes region on the orders of the village chief, and some 50 people who contested their status as slaves were forced by local traditional leaders to flee another village.
“These appalling incidents illustrate the failure of the Malian State to implement its international commitments to protect human rights,” said Tine and Obokata. “In some cases, traditional chiefs and State authorities clearly seem to be accomplices of the perpetrators.”
Tine and Obokata called on Mali to adopt as soon as possible a law specifically criminalizing slavery, following the example of other States in the region such as Niger and Mauritania, and to cooperate with human rights organisations to conduct a national campaign aimed at abolishing slavery.
“It is also vital that Mali cease punishing human rights defenders and others who are trying to end descent-based slavery,” they said. “The government must stand up to traditional and religious leaders who condone appalling practices such as slavery.”
In his last report on 15 January 2020, Tine spoke out against attacks on people regarded as slaves, and against the arbitrary arrest and detention of 16 anti-slavery human rights defenders. (Source: OHCHR)