Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thanks to all members of the committee.
I am a descendent of slaves. All around me since I was a child, people have been born as the property of other people. Those persons are not entitled to papers establishing their civil status or to an education. They perform forced labour without rest, pay, or care. They are liable to be pledged, sold, or transferred to others, and they are subjected to corporal punishment.
Women and girl slaves are the property of their masters, who have the right to assault them sexually, regardless of their age, number, or consent. That is why girl slaves, from the ages of 8, 9, or 10, have already been raped several times by their masters and by their masters' sons, male relatives, employees, strangers, and even their masters' friends. Some of the girls whom we have freed from slavery, with considerable difficulty, and who still live in my home at the age of 17 or 18, have already had three or four children and cannot identify the fathers of those children because they have been assaulted by many different men. They cannot refuse because they are brought up to submit.
In Mauritania, there is a black code, a code of slavery, that is still in force. That code is viewed as the sole official interpretation of Islamic sharia, and thus of the Quran and the deeds of the prophet, and it is considered valid. In Mauritania, this black code is called the Malikite rite and Islamic sharia, and it is entrenched in the Mauritanian constitution as the main source of law. This black code, this slave code, is extremely harsh, violent, and atrocious. For example, it permits the castration of slaves. The code provides that, when beautiful boy slaves grow up, they must be castrated to prevent sexual relations between them and the master's wives or daughters, so that the master's pure blood does not mix with the impure blood of slaves.
In Mauritania, 20% of the population is still subject to hereditary slavery. These people have no rights and suffer every type of violence. The Mauritanian state established by colonial France inherited the dominant slave-owning groups and the Arab-Berber minority. As a result, by the time France colonized Mauritania, the Arab-Berbers had already colonized and enslaved the native Africans.
The Haratin community, to which I belong and which currently represents 50% of the population of Mauritania, includes slaves and descendants of slaves. In Mauritania, 20% of the population, and these include some of the Haratin who represent 50% of the population, are still slaves subject to the system of forced labour, sale, secession, rape, mutilation, and castration.
The Arab-Berber community is a minority in Mauritania. It has established a form of apartheid in West Africa, specifically in Mauritania. This minority, which does not even represent 20% of the population, nevertheless controls all the levers of power in the country: the economy, wealth, the banks, the judicial system, the security apparatus, and the government.
This is why our organization, which we established in 2008, is banned in Mauritania. Our organization is a civil rights movement involving hundreds of thousands of Mauritanians who support the cause every day through demonstrations. The organization is banned and violently repressed. As its president, I have been imprisoned three times. I was last released from prison on May 17, 2016 after being incarcerated for a year and a half.
In 2012, I was imprisoned for publicly and wilfully burning the black code, which reduces us to slavery. I was also convicted of apostasy. The justice system and the government found that I had stopped adhering to the Islamic religion. A person who does so in Mauritania is liable to the death penalty. Consequently, I spent four months on death row awaiting my execution, but the international community, through the countries of the European Union, the United Nations, and major international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, in particular, brought pressure to bear on Mauritania to release me.
However, two of my friends are still in prison, serving five-year sentences. Many of us, including my wife and children, were injured because the police attacked my house several times. The police use tear gas grenades, sound bombs, and incendiary bombs. My wife was hit in the face by a tear gas bomb during one of the attacks. She was hospitalized and lost the use of her left eye.
We are not allowed to meet in Mauritania. When I go there, I am escorted by the Mauritanian police, under heavy surveillance, from the airport or the border with Senegal, where I enter from time to time. All population groups are prohibited from visiting me at home. The government does not want those populations to listen to me. The police sometimes intervene when they enter my house and resort to violence by throwing tear gas bombs and sound bombs against the building. They attack and hit people in and around the house.
When I entered Mauritania on January 15 last, my house was violently attacked and several persons were injured. Some of the sympathizers and supporters who had come to my house had to be hospitalized.
This security system has been reinforced in Mauritania to prevent the country's native inhabitants—that is to say, those who are not Arab but rather black, the Fulani, Wolof, Bambara and Haratin—from speaking.
An act was passed two days ago providing for five-year prison sentences for any person who criticizes the slavery code, which these people call Islamic sharia.
This is what is happening in Mauritania. Native inhabitants do not have documents proving their civil status. They are stateless in their own country. The results of elections are falsified because the members of a single community hold documents attesting to their civil status and are able to vote. A single community controls the judicial system and has judges, security forces, and senior armed forces officers at its disposal.
For our part, we are forced to remain silent and follow orders. All our lands have been expropriated. We no longer own land. These people own it now.
In spite of everything, the Mauritanian government has economic, security, and military relations with the European Union and economic relations with the United States of America and certain corporations, including Canadian corporations, which exploit oil deposits and operate gold and iron mines in Mauritania.
In this iron mining system, another form of slavery, a modern slavery, has also struck our community. Workers are not treated well and are underpaid. They have no right to strike and are punished if they attempt to strike in the mines or ports. They are the only community that performs manual labour. The people in the dominant Arab community, who consider themselves white, do not do manual labour. They consider it demeaning and degrading. According to their code of honour, they must not perform household work such as cooking or washing dishes or clothing. That is why they are compelled to keep many people from our population, women and children in particular, in their homes as slaves.
I prefer to stop here so you can ask questions.
Thank you, honourable members.