Mauritanian slaves. Credit: Anti-Slavery International
Mauritania Country Report 2023
by Brooklyn Quallen
In 1960, Mauritania achieved independence from France, beginning nationhood as an authoritarian, oneparty
state. After several coups and two constitutions, Mauritania saw its first peaceful transfer of power after the
2019 presidential election. Political conflict and socioeconomic problems plague the country. Over half of the
population lives in extreme poverty. The most serious human rights problem is the persistence of slavery.
The people of Mauritania are divided into three groups:
the Bidhans, of mixed Arab-Berber descent, who hold all the power in Mauritania;
the Haratins, descendants of freed black slaves once owned by Bidhans, who still face slave-like conditions; and
black ethnic groups – the Halpulaar, Soninké, Wolof, and Bambara – who, like the Haratins, are subject to racial discrimination.
Although ethnic conflict in Mauritania is complex, broadly, the Bidhans subordinate Haratins and black ethnic groups. The Bidhans still enslave black Mauritanians.
Mauritania is among the last countries that tolerates slavery.
Black Mauritanians suffered genocidal massacres in the 1980s and 1990s, when tens of thousands of
black Mauritanians were forcibly deported from the country. Hundreds were detained, tortured, and killed in a
state-sponsored effort to eradicate black culture in the country.
A border dispute between Senegal and Mauritania in the Senegal River Valley led to armed conflict.
While there was no “grand plan” to eliminate all black Mauritanians, the government used the border war to commit genocidal massacres in an attempt to Arabize the country.
Mauritania claimed that black Mauritanians are actually Senegalese who fraudulently obtained
Mauritanian documentation. Blacks were deported by the Mauritanian government on the pretext of national
security. Over 500 black Africans were executed. Their land was confiscated and given to Bidhans.
Although mass deportations of black Mauritanians ended in the 1990s, they still face persecution today.
Over 90,000 are still enslaved, despite the legal abolition of slavery in 1981. Slavery was not officially
criminalized in Mauritania until 2007.
The government denies the continued existence of slavery. Very few people have been prosecuted under
Mauritania’s anti-slavery laws. Even free Haratins are subordinated by slave-owning Bidhans.
In the 2023 parliamentary elections, the People’s Progressive Alliance, which represents Haratin freed slave interests, lost all its seats in the National Assembly.
Lacking legal remedies for human rights violations, black Mauritanians represent a permanent underclass
in Mauritanian society. They are consistently dehumanized and denied their human rights.
Due to its subordination of black Mauritanians, Genocide Watch considers Mauritania as being at Stage
3: Discrimination, Stage 4: Dehumanization, Stage 6: Polarization, and Stage 8: Persecution.
Genocide Watch recommends:
• The Mauritanian government must prosecute slaveowners and enforce anti-slavery laws.
• Mauritania should promote genuine emancipation of former slaves and equalize access to education and
• Mauritania should invest in state and religious initiatives to promote ethnic reconciliation.