Haratin, the mask of modern slavery

According to the Global Slavery Index 2013 which provides a ranking of 162 countries around the world, Mauritania has the highest proportion of enslave people: 161.000 on 3.796.000.
Slavery in Mauritania primarily takes the form of chattel slavery, meaning that adults and children are the full property of their masters who exercise total ownership over them and their descendants.
Slave status have been passed on to generations from people originally captured during historical raids by the slave-owning groups. Mauritanian society is made up of three main ethnic groups: Black Moors or Haratins, Afro-Mauritinians and White Moors. Haratins whose name literally means “those who have been freed” are descendants of the Black Moors, the historical slave population “owned” by the White Moors.
The White Moors are a minority in the country but wield a huge political and economic power. Despite the existence of national laws it is very difficult for victims to seek justice. If a victim doesn’t file a complaint, investigations cannot be pursued. In fact the burden of proof lies with the victim and national human rights organizations  for example cannot file a case on behalf of a victim. Most of them are illiterate; unable to manage the paperwork involved and unaware of their own rights .These pictures have been taken 50 years after Richard Avedon shot the portrait of the enslaved William Casby, entitled “Born in Slavery”. They are women and men who still live in slavery, treated by everyone else as ‘property’: something only worth buying, selling, trading or destroying. They are deprived of freedom and find themselves hopeless.
Indoctrination aimed at ensuring that enslaved people accept their situation, is a key feature of persistent slavery in Mauritania: justified and fuelled by manipulative concepts of race, class and distorted religious teachings, it successfully leads the enslaved into believing that “God wishes for us to be slaves”.


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Witness Image is a non profit organization founded by Luca Catalano Gonzaga, which combines photography and journalism.

Its’ purpose is to narrate the great transformations of our time through a number of projects.


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