Biram Dah Abeid, who has been called “the Nelson Mandela of Mauritania,” is the founder of that country’s Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA) and an antislavery campaigner. A descendent of former slaves, Abeid is working to strengthen enforcement of Mauritanian laws forbidding slavery, as well as to improve the social integration and livelihood of former slaves and other members of the discriminated majority black-African population.
In Mauritania, with the highest rate of slavery in the world, Abeid’s activism revolves around raising awareness about the possibility of a slavery-free life. Through demonstrations, sit-ins, hunger strikes, marches, and general dissemination of information at home and abroad, IRA attempts to free slaves and pressure the Mauritanian government to hold slave owners accountable for their crimes.
Despite IRA’s mobilization of tens of thousands of Mauritanians to protest slavery and the government’s failure to apply the law prohibiting it, the Mauritanian authorities continue to refuse to recognize the human rights organization. Biram Dah Abeid and his colleagues have faced arrests, harassment and imprisonment after organizing these demonstrations.
Abeid and his organization have been recognized with awards for their human rights work by a number of countries, including Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States.