Ex-slave wins landmark case against Niger government

The Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) found the government of Niger liable Oct. 27 for failing to aid a young woman who was held in slavery for ten years. The West African court ruled under a 2003 Niger law that made the ownership of slaves a criminal offense, and a provision of Niger’s 1999 constitution which bans slavery. Niger’s government will be required to pay $19,750 in restitution to Hadijatou Mani. Observers say the ECOWAS court’s binding ruling will affect every ECOWAS member state may force a number of nations to consider the legality of slavery within their borders, as well as act to protect whose who may be illegally enslaved.

Mani was sold into slavery in 1996 and released in 2005. She brought a suit against the Niger government in April alleging that it failed to protect her as she was sold into and remained in slavery. The suit also challenged the Niger customary law which states that a freed slave remains the wife of her master. The human rights group Anti-Slavery International estimates that as many as 43,000 people are still held in slavery within Niger. Slavery remains a common practice in many West African nations, particularly affecting women and children. (Jurist, Oct. 27)

“I am very thankful for this decision. It was very difficult to challenge my former master and to speak out when people see you as nothing more than a slave,” Mani after the ruling. “With the compensation I will be able to build a house, raise animals and farm land to support my family. I will also be able to send my children to school so they can have the education I was never allowed.” (BBC, Oct. 27)

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