WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today made a statement on the detention of anti-slavery activists in Mauritania:
“I was deeply concerned to hear that earlier this week, 13 members of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA) were detained on unfounded charges of inciting violence, aggression against state security forces, and membership in a banned organization. After being held for over a week without charge or contact with the outside world, these activists appeared in court showing signs of physical abuse.
“According to the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons report, Mauritania is Tier 3—meaning it is considered among the worst offenders in human trafficking. In fact, last month, IRA’s President and Vice President, Biram Abeid and Brahim Ramdhane, were awarded the Trafficking in Persons Heroes Award by Secretary Kerry for their work. In this context, the actions of anti-slavery organizations, and human right defenders writ large, should be lauded, not punished. And the government of Mauritania has a responsibility to do a much better job at eliminating the heinous practice of slavery, including the enforcement of laws already on the books that allow slaveholders to be prosecuted.
“I urge Mauritanian authorities to immediately release these activists, who were detained only for working to defend human rights and combat slavery. Human rights organizations such as IRA and SOS-Esclaves must be allowed to continue documenting cases of slavery until this heinous practice is eradicated in Mauritania.”