Hadijatou Mani Koraou v.The Republic of Niger

Hadijatou Mani Koraou v. The Republic of Niger, (2008) AHRLR 182, ECOWAS.
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In 1996, the plaintiff, Mrs. Hadijatou Mani Koraou, was sold at the age of 12 to 46-year-old Mr. El Hadj Souleymane Naroua, for the sum of two hundred and forty-thousand francs. This transaction occurred as a “Wahiya,” a common practice in the Republic of Niger, which consists in acquiring a young girl, generally of servile status, to serve as both a domestic servant and a concubine.  She had the first forced sexual act when she was under thirteen. For around nine years, she served in the “master’s” household, doing all kinds of household jobs and serving as his concubine.  Four children were born of these relations with her master and two survived.

On August 18, 2005, the “master” gave the plaintiff a certificate of emancipation (from slavery), which was signed by the beneficiary and the master, and countersigned by the village chief with his seal.  Later, the plaintiff decided to leave the former “master’s” house.  He refused on the grounds that she was still his wife. Nonetheless, the plaintiff left the house and never came back.

On February 14, 2006, she went to the civil and tribal court in Kolmi to express her desire to receive total freedom and to live elsewhere. On September 14, 2007, she sued the Republic of Niger for violating Articles 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 18 (3) of the African Human Rights Charter in the Court of Justice of Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and requested the Nigerian authorities to introduce new legislation to protect women from discriminatory marriage and divorce customs. Her other claims include: to ask the Nigerien authorities to revise the legislation on the Courts and Tribunals so that justice can fully protect the human rights of slavery victims; to require Niger to abolish harmful customs and practices based on the idea of the inferiority of women and to award her just reparation for the damage she suffered during her 9 years of captivity.

The Court confirmed that the case's facts describe the plaintiff's servile situation and are evidence for all the indicators of the definition of slavery contained in Article 1 of the 1926 Geneva Convention. The court rejected the Nigerien judge's argument that the marriage of a free man and a slave woman was legal. The Argument shows expressive recognition of Niger's tolerance of slavery. Slavery can exist without torture even when tempered by humane treatment; involuntary servitude is still slavery.

The Court held that Niger was responsible under both international and national law for any form of human rights violation against the plaintiff based on slavery due to tolerance, passivity, inaction or abstention by those same authorities in the face of this practice.

"78. La défenderesse, tout en reconnaissant la survivance de l'esclavage, a fait observer que cette pratique est devenue plus discrète, et confinée dans des cercles sociaux très restreints. Elle a soutenu que la requérante était plutôt l'épouse de El Hadj Souleymane Naroua avec qui elle a vécu dans le lien du mariage avec plus ou moins de bonheur comme dans tous les ménages jusqu'en 2005, et que de leur union sont nés des enfants." Page 12.

"79. La Cour ne saurait admettre un tel argumentaire, car il est aujourd'hui bien établi que : «l'esclavage peut exister sans qu'il y ait torture ; même bien nourri, bien vêtu et confortablement logé, un esclave reste un esclave s'il est illégalement privé de sa liberté par la force ou par la contrainte. On pourrait éliminer toute preuve de mauvais traitement, oublier la faim, les coups et autres actes de cruauté, le fait reconnu de l'esclavage c'est-à-dire du travail obligatoire sans contrepartie demeurerait. II n'y a pas d'esclavage bienveillant. Même tempérée par un traitement humain la servitude involontaire reste de l'esclavage. Et la question de savoir la nature du lien entre l'accusé et la victime est essentielle». cf. jugement du 3 novembre 1947, in Trials of Major War Criminals Before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals under Control Council Law N° 10, vol. 5, 1997, page 958 cité par le Tribunal Pénal International pour l'ex-Yougoslavie dans l'Aff. États-Unis c/ Oswald Pohl et consorts." Page 12.

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