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Slave wins court case against state -

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Slave wins court case against state

The World Today - Tuesday, 28 October , 2008 12:30:00

ELEANOR HALL: Slavery may be against the law but it is still far too common in parts of Africa.

Now a young Niger woman who was sold into slavery as a 12-year-old has won a key test case in a
regional court in West Africa. The court found the state of Niger guilty of failing to protect her
from slavery.

And the ruling has set a precedent for Niger and for neighbouring countries where it's estimated
that tens of thousands of people are still forced into slavery.

Jennifer Macey has our report.

JENNIFER MACEY: Hadijatou Mani was 12-years-old when she was sold for the equivalent of $AU800.

The man who bought her made her work in the home and on the farm for 10 years and forced her to
bear his children.

HADIJATOU MANI (translated): My master has four wives, we the slaves were doing all the housework,
like cooking, fetching water, and firewood and working on farms. I was beaten so many times, I
would run to my family then after a day or two I would be brought back. At the time I didn't know
what to do, but since I learnt that slavery has been abolished I told myself that I would no longer
be a slave to a woman like myself who thinks I was bought like a goat.

JENNIFER MACEY: But in 2005, Ms Mani was freed and given a "liberation certificate".

When she tried to marry another man, her previous master claimed they were married and she was
later sentenced to six months in prison for bigamy.

So Ms Mani took the case to the Court of Justice of the West African regional body ECOWAS (Economic
Community Of West African States) earlier this year.

The court has found in her favour and has ordered the government of Niger to pay her $32,000.

But Ms Mani's lawyer, Ibrahim Kane, says the ruling will encourage others.

IBRAHIM KANE: There are thousands and thousands of slaves in Niger who will be today relieved to
hear that you know the practice of slavery in this country is not allowed. And the state of Niger
has an obligation, legal obligation to stop that practice. For us that's the best message that can
be sent to all the Nigerians today.

JENNIFER MACEY: Slavery was abolished in Niger in 1960 but only criminalised five years ago.

The human rights group, Anti-slavery International, estimates there more than 40,000 slaves in

But the government says this figure is exaggerated.

Anti-slavery International's Romana Cacchioli told the BBC that Hadijatou Mani is a role model for
other women.

ROMANA CACCHIOLI: It's hard to imagine somebody who's been told that she's nothing but a slave and
who's considered as such in Niger to actually challenge her master but also to challenge the state
of Niger like this, it shows great strength of character and I think she's a real heroine for women
in Niger.

JENNIFER MACEY: She says the practice is still widespread in West Africa. Anti-slavery
International estimates that in neighbouring Mauritania 18 per cent of the population are slaves.

In Mauritania, Boubacar Ould Messaoud heads an NGO called SOS Slave.

BOUBACAR OULD MESSAOUD (translated): It shows to a lot of people that slavery can be fought,
because until now, what was missing was the assurance that the state and the concerned
organisations are ready to deal with this issue. This will encourage the victims to claim their

When our states are showing their deficiency, at least we have regional organisations that can
help. I think we can say that ECOWAS has reached people's expectations.

JENNIFER MACEY: Legal experts say the judgment will set an important precedent.

Dr Ben Saul is the director of the Sydney Centre for International Law at the University of Sydney.

BEN SAUL: I think a ruling by a senior regional court like this sends a really positive message
that slavery won't be tolerated by the African courts and it puts real pressure on all African
countries I think to modify their practices and do more to prohibit and stamp out slavery.

JENNIFER MACEY: The ECOWAS ruling will also be binding on all member states and will set a
precedent for those people kept as slaves in other African countries.

But Dr Saul says not all people will have the means to take legal action.

BEN SAUL: The problem is that it's very difficult for those who have been enslaved to bring legal
action to vindicate their rights because they are often held in conditions of complete confinement.
They have little access to NGOs or lawyers or civil society groups to help them. And this is you
know a very old cultural practice and one which is quite lucrative. So those who are in the
business of slavery do their best to prevent people being freed from it.

ELEANOR HALL: That's the International law expert Dr Ben Saul from the University of Sydney ending
that report by Jennifer Macey.