Participation in Conference with paper on anti-slavery activists’ use of the courts (September 2021)

Members of the SlaFMig research team – Lotte Pelckmans, Leah Durst-Lee and Nolwenn Marconnet – recently presented at the AFRAB Legal Abolition of Slavery in African History conference on how local and diasporic Malian anti-slavery activists use the legal court system to fight descent-based slavery.

In Mali, as opposed to Mauritania and Niger, there is no law directly criminalizing descent-based slavery. Therefore in Mali, lawyers have to resort to alternative articles in penal law to indirectly address discrimination against people of slave status, while being located within a culture in which legal pluralism recognizes the authority of both religious and constitutional legal provisions that are often contradictory. In ways comparable to Mauritania and Niger, only a relatively small number of lawsuits advanced by victims of descent-based slavery against their former masters have resulted in favorable judgments for the victims.

In their research, Lotte, Leah and Nolwenn analyse how the activists (try to) provide remedy for the victims within and outside of their movement. To do so, they conducted interviews with Malian activists and lawyers, living in Mali and in the diaspora in France. As a team, they were able to use multiple media (emails and WhatsApp) to contact informants and conduct surveys and interviews in French and English.

The idea of the research came from previous research and interviews where anti-slavery activists emphasised their work towards legal solutions for the problem of discrimination and exclusion related to descent-based slavery in (West) Mali. Indeed, even though in their current use of courts, no one is able to use a well -defined law criminalising this specific phenomenon, even there, the practice of resorting to the law is firmly used by the activists, especially those of the anti-slavery social movement RMFP (Rassemblement Malien pour la Fraternité et le Progrès) slogan Gambana.

Their research concluded that anti-slavery activists use legal courts to fight descent-based slavery for four main reasons: 1) sentiment that ‘the strength remains in the law’, 2) the creation of a legal culture, 3) establishing victims’ rights through legal precedent and 4) the international reach of a legal approach. Informants situated their choice and motivation for the strength of legal approaches to some convincing legal precedents and successes gained by other anti-slavery movements in the subregion (precedents with Hadijatou Mani and threats that emanated from the passage of criminal anti-slavery laws in both Niger and Mauritania). Even though the use of the courts may have limitations, activists and victims are not only driven by a cost/benefit mindset, but according to one informant also by hope that they will be heard one day.

Their paper is in the process of being published as a chapter in an upcoming book by Marie Rodet and Bakary Camara.


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