- The government of Niger has announced a ceremony tomorrow, which will see the release of some 7,000 slaves. Anti-slavery activists estimate that there are still "at least 43,000 people" in slavery across Niger, but the Niamey government now proclaims a new era that is to end slavery once and for all.
On 5 March, the Niger government is holding a ceremony that will mark an end to slavery throughout the country. 7,000 people will be released in one region of Niger. At the ceremony, hosted by the National Human Rights Commission, being held near the Mali border in In Atès in Tillaberi, the traditional chief of In Atès will announce that all of the slaves in his area will be free.
Until now, slavery has been the norm in the In Atès region. An estimated 95 percent of the area's population are currently considered slaves, while 5 percent are masters. The area's traditional leader however has agreed that this slave-master segmentation of the population must now cease.
In Atès is however by far not the only area in Niger still practicing slavery. According to the UK-based group Anti-Slavery International, "at least 43,000 people are in slavery across Niger." They are born into an established slave class and are made to do all labour required by their masters without pay, including herding, cleaning, moving their master's tent to ensure he and his family are always in shade.
- Slaves are inherited, given as gifts and their babies are taken away from their mothers once weaned. They are denied all rights and choice, Anti-Slavery explains. "The masters do nothing," the group adds.
The ceremony in In Atès marks a first step in making the nomadic population - slaves and masters - aware of the recent criminalisation of slavery. In May 2004 a new law came into effect making practising slavery punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
The Niamey government's move was in response to the publication of the first national survey of slavery, which was jointly carried out by Niger's pioneering anti-slavery organisation Timidria. The report established the extent and countrywide existence of slavery, having interviewed over 11,000 people, most of whom were found to be in slavery.
Participants of the In Atès ceremony will include the President of Niger's National Commission for Human Rights and Fundamental Liberties Lompo Garba, Ilguilas Weila President of Timidria and members from each of the 19 groups led by the chief of In Atès, including slaves and masters. Further, representatives from government ministries are expected to attend.
- This is an historic step forward for Niger, but many challenges remain, commented today Romana Cacchioli of Anti-Slavery. "The government needs to ensure not only that the law is implemented but that there are the means of support available for former slaves and their children to live their lives in freedom and independence," she added.
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