- The government of Niger only this weekend organised a ceremony to end slavery throughout the country, freeing 7,000 slaves. Today, however human rights groups claim to have evidence of senior government officials "warning slave masters not to release their slaves" and government denial of further slavery in Niger.
According to a recent survey carried out by Timidria - Niger's leading anti-slavery organisation - 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.
Alarmed by the Timidria report, the government of Niger this year has taken bold steps to abolish the age-old institution. On Saturday, government officials participated in a ceremony in In Atès - a small community near the Malian border - were the region's traditional chief announced the freeing of over 7,000 slaves, equal to 95 percent of the area's population.
The In Atès was to mark the historic abolition of slavery in Niger altogether, central authorities had foreseen. It follows up the May 2004 anti-slavery legislation, making practising slavery punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Now, authorities in Niamey, the capital, held that it was time to implement the anti-slavery law.
Several Nigerien human rights groups participated at the In Atès ceremony, having great hopes for the government policy on slavery. On returning to Niamey, however, Timidria and the National Commission for Human Rights said they were alarmed in stead of relieved by the "confused messages" sent out by government officials in It Atès.
The Nigerien groups reported of "government intimidation," which had "prevented slaves in In Atès from attending the 5 March ceremony." Unnamed senior government officials were quoted as saying that masters would be punished for releasing their slaves.
The UK-based group Anti-Slavery International, which works together with Timidria, further reports today that Nigerien government officials now are denying the further existence of slavery in the country. "It is crucial the government of Niger acknowledges the reality of slavery in the country and that elimination requires a long-term approach," the UK group says in a statement.
The Nigerien government has yet to comment on these new claims by national and international human rights groups. Niger's Prime Minister Hama Hamadou on earlier occasions has stated that slavery remains a serious problem in the country and that Niamey authorities are determined to fight this old institution. Niger has recently developed into a model democracy with a large respect of human rights.
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