Biram Dah Abeid is an incredible man you may never have heard of, but need to… the African politician & advocate for the abolition of slavery has even been listed as as one of ‘Top 10 People Who Changed the World… You Might Not Have Heard Of’ by PeaceLinkLive in 2014.
While there are nearly 30 million people living in some form of slavery the world today, there is no country where it is as prevalent or as institutionalized as in Mauritania. While statistics on the number of people living in slavery in the country are hard to come by, numbers cited by the U.S. State Department put it at up to 20 percent of the population.
Slavery was formally abolished in 1981—Mauritania was the last country in the world to do so—and criminalized in 2007, but human rights groups say enforcement of the laws has been rare to nonexistent and full chattel slavery as well as slavelike working conditions persist in many parts of the country, sanctioned by legal codes from the Middle Ages.
It is ludicrous to think that in 2015, there is still a real live slave trade happening, on a continent as beautiful as Africa but Biram is using everything he has to fight against it.
He is currently being held captive by his own government for protesting against the ‘repeal of charges’ against a slave master, who raped a 15-year-old girl, that worked as his slave.
Biram was born in 1965 in a village called Jidrel Mohguen in Rosso, Trarza. Though his father Dah, who ran a small business in Mauritania & Senegal, was granted freedom from slavery as an act of benevolence, his mother remained enslaved her entire life.
Dah was unable to convince his first wife’s master & the Islamic judicial authority in Mauritania, to free her from slavery, due to insufficient finance. Even the French colonial governor of the time refused to interfere with matters that fell under Islamic Law.
Dah, inspired his son Biram to amend the injustice of modern slavery inflicted upon the Haritan ethnic group, to which Dah belonged.
“As I grew up, I became more aware of how the caste system, which separated the black masses from the other tribes, denying the marginalized communities access to education, employment & further impeding their ability to ever gain independence.”
When he was 19 years old, Biram started a movement called ‘National African Movement’ to fight discrimination & slavery & often advocated against the mistreatment of black people by writing open letters to the Secretary of State.
Biram went on to obtain a Masters degree in History & trained as a Lawyer in Mauritania & Senegal.
After his studies, he became an active member of the anti-slavery NGO “SOS Slaves” for which he also conducted research in the year 2002.
It was in 2007 that Zeine Ould Zeïdane, former presidential candidate offered Biram to work on his political program, advocating for the abolition of slavery & against discrimination.
Biram accepted the offer & in the same year, following a hunger strike held by Biram & 3 other activists, the Mauritanian government officials arrested three women, accused of holding children in slavery in the capital Nouakchott.
This was the first time in Mauritania that someone was charged with the crime of slavery since the practice was criminalized by law in 2007.
Later in 2008, he founded the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA-Mauritania), which he defines as “an organization of popular struggle,” & serves as its president. Abeid sees his abolitionist mission is to make slaves—who are isolated by illiteracy, poverty, & geography—aware of the possibility of a life outside servitude.
“I believes that slaves are tied to their masters not only by tradition & economic necessity, but also by “a misinterpretation of Islam”, that teaches that slavery is not illegal but governed by religious law.”
He argues that there is a kind of informal coalition — Beydanes [the slaveowning caste], the state, police, judges, & imams — that prevents slaves from leaving their masters.
“Whenever a slave breaks free & IRA is not aware & not present, police officers and judges help Arab-Berbers to intimidate the slave until he returns in submission.”
In 2010, Biram was discharged from his duties as a Senior Adviser to the President of The National Commission for Human Rights for continuously voicing slavery issues. He was also threatened of prosecution and imprisonment for “illegal activities” if he did not suspend his active role in the fight against slavery.
Abeid was also later arrested, detained and tortured in December 2010 during a dispute between the police & his group, when about 80 of his activists descended on the house of an owner of two slave girls, demanding that the owner be jailed.
Abeid told the police “we would not leave until you free the girls and put these criminals in jail.”
On 6 January 2011 along with two other activists, Biram Abeid was sentenced to 12 months in prison. He was imprisoned in February 2011 and then pardoned by Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.
Later in August 2011, the Mauritanian police violently suppressed a sit-in in front of the police brigade over their ’employment of minors against the law’. Biram and 10 other IRA activists were injured and hospitalized in the Kissi clinic in Nouakchott.
In April 2012, during a demonstration in Nouakchott, his group was accused of burning early Islamic legal texts of the Maliki school of Islamic law that permitted slavery. The burnings caused considerable uproar.
The President called for his death & even promised to administer the death penalty against him.
His phone and Internet service were cut off, & he was imprisoned with other IRA activists. Later the NGO apologized for the incident. After several months of detention and cancellation of their trial, they were released on bail on 3rd September 2012 following pressure from European Union.
Then in May 2013, Biram Dah Abeid received the Front Line Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk of the Irish NGO Front Line Defenders & in December 2013, he received the UN Human Rights’ Prize.
He also stood as an opposition candidate in the Mauritanian presidential election of 2014 but lost to the incumbent Abdel Aziz.
Again on 11th November 2014, Biram & 16 other IRA-Mauritanie anti-slavery activists were arrested for protesting against the ‘repeal of charges against a slave master who raped a 15-year-old girl that worked as his slave.
Biram Dah Abeid is an incredible man fighting for rights that have been afforded to so many… he is an inspiration & a true leader.
His followers have started an international petition to free the man who is fighting so hard to end slavery.