(Oct. 30, 2008) The Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in a landmark decision, recently found Niger guilty of failing to protect a woman from slavery. Hadijatou Mani, who was a slave for ten years following her sale as a child, was awarded a payment of ten million CFA francs (about US$19,750) from Niger's government.
Mani had been forced to work and was beaten and raped. She was released from slavery in 2005 and given a “Liberation Certificate,” but when she attempted to marry another man, her former master claimed they were married. A local court settled that dispute in her favor, and she went ahead with the wedding ceremony, but then the ruling was overturned and she was sentenced to six months in prison for bigamy. The current ruling from the ECOWAS court is based on the claim that Niger should have protected Mani from slavery, since the practice was outlawed in Niger five years ago.
According to Anti-Slavery International, an organization that assisted Mani with her case, slavery is still widespread in the country and in other West African nations. The director of the group praised the decision, stating, “[t]his is very important in terms of the community of nations, and particularly the African community of nations looking at other countries within that region and saying: 'What standard are we expecting each other to be held to in relation to international and national law?'” (Niger Ex-Slave Wins Landmark Case, BBC NEWS, Oct. 27, 2008, available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/7692396.stm.)
Mali is one of the other nations in the region in which the problem persists; furthermore it has not been explicitly outlawed there, according to a local human rights organization (Mali: Thousands Still Live in Slavery in North, UN Integrated Regional Networks, July 14, 2008, available at http://allafrica.com/stories/200807150572.html). Mauritania outlawed slavery in June 2007 (see 7 W.L.B. 2007 at 29, available at //www.loc.gov/law/news/global-monitor/2007_glm_07.pdf).
ECOWAS, which was founded in 1975, is a group of 15 nations in West Africa, including Niger. Its Community Court has seven justices; at present one of them is from Niger. (ECOWAS Community Court of Justice website, http://www.ecowascourt.org/home.html (last visited Oct. 27, 2008).)