IHEU replies to Benin on Slavery

  • Date / 18 February 2009

IHEU has responded to the attack on IHEU by the Benin Mission to the UN in Geneva. The response is in the form of a letter to the Mission and a paper made available at the informal meeting to discuss the upcoming conference on Racism in Geneva.

(A fuller explanation of the facts contained in a separate handout for delegates, in English, is available below)

Réponse de l’IHEU à la mission permanente du Bénin auprès de l’Office des Nations Unies à Genève

Genève, le 12 février 2009
Madame, Monsieur,

Nous vous remercions pour les commentaires soumis à l’International Humanist and Ethical Union par votre délégation durant la session intergouvernementale sur la Conférence de suivi de Durban, le 22 janvier dernier.

Nous souhaiterions cependant corriger quelques erreurs factuelles contenues dans le document que vous avez diffusé.

Tout d’abord, l’IHEU (l’Union Internationale Humaniste et Éthique) est une organisation internationale, et non britannique. Bien que son siège soit situé à Londres, elle compte plus de cinq millions de membres dans plus que quarante pays, y compris nombre d’états africains.

Ensuite, nos observations sur la traite d’esclaves dans la République du Bénin reposent en partie sur un rapport conjointement publié par votre Ministère de la Famille et par les Nations Unies en 2006. Veuillez trouver ci-joint un document qui contient les évidences sur lesquels nous avons basé nos observations, et que nous proposons faire disponible.

Enfin, nous estimons que nous honorons la mémoire des victimes de la traite d’esclaves transatlantique en défendant les victimes actuelles du trafic humain dans la République du Bénin et dans le centre de l’Afrique.

En espérant avoir clarifié ces quelques points, et dans l’optique d’une future collaboration entre la République du Bénin et l’IHEU pour combattre l’esclavage moderne,

Veuillez agréer, Madame, Monsieur, nos sentiments les plus distingués,

David Cornut pour l’IHEU

Response to the Mission of Benin on Slavery in Benin

“The woman who bought Marie had a son, who at the time was close to 20 years old. He tried to rape Marie when she was nine years old. Marie cried and ran toward her owner, hoping for protection. Antoinette says the woman told Marie: I bought you for $330. You let my son do what he wants with you or you pay me back my $330. Then she beat her”. [1]

On January 20, 2009, the International Humanist and Ethical Union drew the attention of the Durban Review Conference Working Group to the importance of modern-day slavery in Africa and the Arab World, [2] prompting a response by the Permanent Mission of Benin to the UN, Geneva. [3]

IHEU’s concerns regarding Benin are based on the following facts: on March 5, 2008, a study released jointly by the Ministry of Family and Children of Benin and the United Nations showed that in the year 2006, more than 40’000 children aged between six and seventeen were trafficked in Benin. [4] According to the study, 93% of the slaves were from Benin while 7% were foreign, the study said. 92% of the children were trafficked within Benin while the rest were moved to other countries in the sub-region as well as Europe and elsewhere. [5]

The number of trafficked children being intercepted between the Benin and Gabon borders rose from 117 in 1995 to 413 in 1996 and reached 802 in 1997. [6] On October 15, 2003, UNICEF reported that a group of 74 trafficked children, between the ages of four and seventeen years old, was repatriated to Benin. Like an earlier group of 116 children who had been repatriated on 26 September, these children worked in Nigerian quarries in Abeokuta. [7]

In order to counter the dramatic number of trafficked children in Benin [8], Anti-Slavery International, commissioned a non-governmental organization in Benin, Enfants Solidaires d’Afrique et du Monde (ESAM), to carry out research into the trafficking of children between Benin and Gabon and to propose programs to stop the phenomenon. [9]

Despite this undeniable reality, the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Benin to Geneva accused IHEU of lacking “formal evidence”, and to “mind its own business”. The Embassy also referred to child trafficking in Benin as a “marginal phenomenon” that was under control through bilateral laws and effective controls. [10]

With 40’000 Beninoise children reportedly held in slavery as recently as 2006, IHEU is far from convinced that slavery and the slave trade in Benin remains a “marginal phenomenon”.

Rather than “insulting the memory” of the many thousands of slaves trafficked across the Atlantic during the infamous trans-Atlantic slave trade, it is IHEU’s desire to honour their memory by working with national delegations, the UN and the wider international community to bring an end to contemporary slavery in Africa.

We would therefore respectfully request the help of the Distinguished Representatives of the Republic of Benin and of other African States to bring greater international attention to the problem during the Durban Review Conference by supporting the inclusion of an appropriate paragraph in the DRC outcome document.

We firmly believe that increasing the awareness of the wider international community to this problem is an important step in enlisting international support towards its elimination. It would be a noble and recognized effort by all African States to cooperate with international organizations in working to eliminate modern-day slavery in Africa.

David Cornut, for IHEU, UN Geneva
Roy W. Brown, IHEU Main Representative, UN Geneva

1. Lane Hartill, “Child Escapes Slavery in Benin”, Catholic Relief Services, http://crs.org/benin/escaping-trafficking.
2. IHEU, Briefing Note on Slavery and Slave Trade, Durban Review Conference Working Group, Geneva, 20 January 2009
3. Permanent Mission of Benin to UN Geneva, Déclaration de la République du Bénin, Durban Review Conference Working Group, Geneva, 22 January 2009.
4. IRIN, humanitarian news and analysis, Cotonou, 5 March 2006
5. Idem
6. UNICEF, “Report to the sub-regional workshop on the trafficking of child domestic workers, with particular emphasis on the girl-child”, Cotonou, Benin, July 1998
7. UNICEF, news note, Benin, 16 October 2003
8. Report by Anti-Slavery International to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, 25th Session, Geneva, 14-23 June 2000
9. Anti-Slavery International, synopsis of a 1999 report on the trafficking of children between Benin and Gabon, http://www.antislavery.org/archive/other/trafficking-benin-synopsis.htm
10. Permanent Mission of Benin to UN Geneva, Déclaration de la République du Bénin, Durban Review Conference Working Group, Geneva, 22 January 2009

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