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» 02.03.2010 - New transitional govt for Niger
» 25.02.2010 - Niger’s junta promise transparent election
» 22.12.2009 - Unions call for strike in Niger
» 21.10.2009 - Niger lashes out at ECOWAS decision
» 20.10.2009 - ECOWAS suspends Niger
» 14.10.2009 - ECOWAS holds an extra-ordinary summit to discuss Guinea and Niger

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Fighting slavery pays off in Niger

Assibit is rebuilding her life with help from Timidria after escaping slavery in June 2004.

© Anti-Slavery International / afrol News
afrol News, 13 October
- After establishing that almost 50,000 people still live as slaves in Niger last year, the Nigerien human rights group Timidria has redoubled its efforts to fight the ancient practice and the silence surrounding it, with good results. The growing mass organisation this year is awarded an anti-slavery prize for its work.

Assibit was born a slave, as were her mother, husband and children. The 50-year-old woman always has had to work without pay all day from early in the morning, preparing food for the master and his family, milking camels, collecting water and firewood, and doing all the household chores. She had to move her master's heavy tent four times a day so he and the mistress remained sitting in the shade.

But three months ago, Assibit decided to escape her masters. After walking 30 kilometres to freedom, she was received by activists from Timidria, a Nigerien human rights group that is breaking the national taboo on slavery.

- We were never paid, Assibit told the activist. "I was only given one tenth of the camel milk and leftovers. I have never known happiness until this month of freedom. Now I can go to bed when I want, no one insults me. Now that I am free, I can live as I please," the freed slave added.

Timidria is now helping Assibit adjust to freedom and has also secured the release of her mother and daughter. This however had not been possible without more than a decade of information work and lobbying to secure Niger's tens of thousands slaves increased civil rights. Since its meagre start-up in 1991, Timidria has now grown into a mass movement, with thousands of members across the country, including former slaves, and dozens of local offices in villages throughout Niger.

The human rights group's work has become known throughout Niger and let loose a growing public debate on slavery, which until recently was taboo. Slavery was widespread in the Sahelian kingdoms and emirates of pre-colonial Niger and Nigerien nomads operated one of the trans-Saharan slave trade's major routes. During French colonialism and the first four decades of independence, only the open slave trade was properly addressed.

With the reestablishment of democracy and a new constitution in 1999, a strong legal framework was created to figh

Timidria's President, Weila Ilguilas

© Anti-Slavery International / afrol News
t the remaining traces of slavery in Niger. However, the country's ruling class, according to Timidria, has had an interest in maintaining status quo. Campaigning by the anti-slavery movement has made this impossible.

The true scale of slavery became clear last year, after Timidria carried out extensive research, supported by the UK-based group Anti-Slavery International. In this, the first national survey on slavery, over 11,000 people were interviewed, most of whom were identified as slaves. "The research establishes that a minimum of 43,000 people are in slavery across the country," according to Anti-Slavery.

- Slaves are owned and controlled by their masters, receiving a meagre amount of food and a place to sleep in return for their labour, the study found. "The master decides who a slave marries and whether their children go to school. Many of those interviewed in the survey had also been subjected to violence, rape, degrading treatment and threats."

Following the publication of the joint research report last year, the Nigerien government amended the Penal Code to define, prohibit and punish slavery with sentences of up to 30 years imprisonment. "This is a great achievement after sustained campaigning by Timidria," according to Anti-Slavery.

The UK-based group therefore found that it was time to promote Timidria abroad. It was recently decided that Timidria and its President, Ilguilas Weila, are to receive this year's Anti-Slavery Award, "for their pioneering efforts in the fight against slavery in Niger."

Mr Weila is set to receive the award in London at a major ceremony on 3 November. Internationally renowned Sierra Leonean filmmaker, Sorious Samura, is to present the award, according to Sarah Williams from Anti-Slavery. While the award does not include any cash grant, it is aimed at assisting "the recipient's work and to offer some protection in the carrying out of his/her humanitarian work."

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