The courts refuse to hear cases of slavery because it does not officially exist, having been "outlawed" 20 years ago, they told a meeting held last week at Georgetown University, the IRIN agency reported.
While government officials say slavery does not exist in the country, the activists told the meeting "owning slaves is just like owning flocks, a symbol of prestige."
Nassar Yessa, co-founder of SOS Slaves Mauritania, was quoted as saying "the slaves accept their position and are content to be slaves because they have been taught there is paradise under your master´s foot." Yessa´s organization is working to make the courts recognize the right of slaves to freedom.
Speakers included Khaliva Hamadi, a former slave who talked about life as a slave in Mauritania; Jimmy Mulla, president of the Southern Sudanese Voice of Freedom; and John Eibner of Christian Solidarity International.
An official of the Mauritanian government denied the allegations, including Hamadi´s testimony. "No one is allowed to own a human being," he said.
Mauritania, a northern African country of 2.75 million inhabitants, is almost 100% Muslim.