Biram Dah Abeid in court today denied assaulting Islam and national unity. Biram was the only defendant to testify in the session that started at three in the afternoon and lasted until six. Mr. Abeid rejected all the charges against himself and his fellow members of IRA – Mauritanie, including charges of belonging to an illegal organization, unauthorized assembly, disturbing public order, and assault on Islam and on national unity.
These charges carry penalties ranging from six months to five years in prison.
The courtroom was crowded with about a dozen lawyers for the defense of the IRA members, and observers from civil society.
Crowds outside chanted “free them, free them”.
In his testimony Mr. Abeid pointed out the the IRA members had been targeted for arrest, and he explained this arose from the government’s fear of the growing movement among the Haratine for their own empowerment.
The political maneuverings surrounding these hearings is intense. After the very strong denunciation by the European Union Parliament of Mr. Abeid’s arrest, the Mauritanian parliament responded with a declaration that Europe should stay out of Mauritanian internal affairs. This categorical rejection of the EU defense of human rights and anti-slavery activists was seconded by a youth organization’s call for non-interference in Mauritanian affairs.
The U.S. embassy declared that it was following the trial closely and expects a just, transparent, and truthful verdict. Unfortunately, recent events in the United States regarding police violence are reflected in the published responses to this call for the rule of law.
As the trial of anti-slavery activists proceeds, we need to keep in mind that human rights and the rule of law are the property of no individual nation. Human rights law is above nationalism, it is above sectarianism, and it is above particular historical contingencies or aberrations. The failure to respect human rights in any particular situation does not weaken the existence of these legal principles. The failure to respect human rights — whether by unjust imprisonment, by extra-judicial killings, by massive disenfranchisement, by enslavement, or by torture — does not invalidate the law of human rights . Rather such failures remind us of the vital importance of this law.
Human rights law represent the ideal of governance that serves the people, all the people, and not just the enrichment of the ruling class.
Bad governments will come and go, but human rights will endure.
We look forward to the vindication fo the rights of the anti-slavery activists, and to the eventual trial and imprisonment of Mauritanian slave owners, as well as other human rights offenders around the globe.