Hadijatou Mani Koraou, a Bouzou, was born into slavery in the Republic of Niger. In 1996, she was sold by her mother’s owner to a tribal chief by the name of El Hadj Souleymane Naroua, a Hausa, at the age of 12 for the equivalent of $500 US. This transaction was part of the local tradtion of Wahiya in which a young girl is sold to man to be his servant and concubine. In the local custom, the girl is known as Sadaka. Mani worked as a slave for about 9 years, performing domestic and agricultural labour. She was first raped by Naroua around the age of 13 and continued to be subject to rape, resulting in the birth of four children, but only two survived.
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 learned that slavery has been abolished I told myself that I will no longer be a slave.
In May of 2004, the government of Niger passed a law criminalizing slavery. Timidria, an anti-slavery and human rights organization founded in Niger’s capital city of Niamey in 1991 by activist Iguilas Weila. Timidria means “solidarity or fraternity” in Tamahaq, the language of the Tuareg Berbers of Niger. It was Timidria’s efforts, with the support of Anti-Slavery International, which led to the government of Niger criminalizing slavery (a practice that the government long denied even existed in their country). After the law as passed, Timidria went to work educating slaves across Niger about their rights as the activists knew that many slaves would have no idea that they were free because most slaves are illiterate and don’t have access to radio or television.
On August 18, 2005, most likely in response to the government of Niger’s moves to enforce the ban on slavery, Naroua freed Mani, granting her a “liberation certificate”; however he did not permit her to leave. Mani did not want to stay with her former master so on the pretext of visiting her sick mother she escaped his household. Mani went to the civil and customary tribunal of Konni to gain her full rights and ensure that she could legally leave Naroua and go live somewhere esle. The tribunal ruled in Mani’s favour. Mani went to live in her paternal home and married Ladan Rabo.
However, Naroua insisted that Mani was his wife. Naroua filed a complaint against Mani at the civil and customary tribunal of Konni. At first his application was denied, as the tribunal ruled that Naroua had never married Mani according to religious rules. However, this decision was overturned and eventually led to Mani’s imprisonment as is explained below in the case summary:
On appeal, the Court of First Instance of Konni set aside the decision of the tribunal. Instead, it was held that under customary law a female slave automatically became a master’s wife after he liberated her, so the Applicant had to remain in Mr. Naroua’s household. The Applicant appealed the decision of the Court of the First Instance of Konni to the Judicial Chamber of the Supreme Court of Niamey, requesting “the application of law against slavery and slavery-like practices.” While the case was pending, the Applicant returned to her own father’s home and, with the help of her brother, married another man of her choice.
The Supreme Court of Niamey quashed the decision of the Court of the First Instance on procedural grounds without addressing the issue of slavery. The case was then sent back to the Court of the First Instance for review. On April 6, 2007, the Court of First Instance of Konni ruled that the Applicant be divorced from Mr. Naroua on the condition that she wait three months before marrying another man. Challenging the ruling, Mr. Naroua filed an appeal with the Final Court of Appeal. Aware of the Applicant’s marriage, Mr. Naroua filed a criminal complaint against her with the Court of the First Instance of Konni. The Court convicted the Applicant, her new husband and her brother of bigamy, issued an arrest warrant, and sentenced each of them to six months in prison and a fine of 50,000 francs. The Applicant and her brother were detained.
While in detention, the Applicant appealed the conviction to the Criminal Division of the Final Court of Appeal. The Final Court of Appeal entered an interim order in July 2007, releasing the Applicant and her brother from prison pending the final decision on the divorce issue by the Divorce Judge of the same Court.
Mani came to international attend when she, with the support of Anti-Slavery International and Interights, brought forward the first test case to ECOWAS on African government’s responsiblity to protect their citizens from enslavement, charging that the government of Niger violated her rights by not protecting her from being sold into slavery. As is explained in the case summary:
On December 14, 2007, the Applicant lodged a complaint with the Court of Justice of The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) under Articles 9.4 and 10.d of its Supplementary Protocol A/SP.1/02/05 of 19 January 2005 amended Protocol A/P.1/7/91 of 6 July 1991 relating to the Court of Justice. She sought a declaration that Niger had violated Articles 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 18(3) of the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights for failing to take appropriate measures in abolishing slavery and discrimination against women based on their social origin. She also sought fair reparation for the damage she suffered during the nine years of slavery with Mr. Naroua. The Defendant, Niger, objected to the complaint on two grounds: one, at the time when the Complaint was filed, the Applicant was no longer a slave, leaving her without standing on the issue of slavery, and two, the Complaint should not survive, as all domestic remedies had not been exhausted, specifically the Applicant had never challenged her status as a slave or “fifth wife” in the domestic courts.
One of the most important reasons why Mani took this step was to ensure the freedom of her two children, as it has been customary in Niger for the children of slaves to automatically become the property of the slave’ s master.
In 2008, Mani won her case. The government of Niger has been ordered to play Mani $19, 750 US in compensation. This is what Mani says she will do with the money:
With the compensation I will be able to build a house, raise animals and farm land to support my family. I will also be able to send my children to school so they can have the education I was never allowed.
Immediately following the ECOWAS Court’s judgment, the government of Niger committed to respecting the judgment, which it acknowledged was binding on it. On 17 March 2009, the government paid the compensation due to Hadijatou in full. As a result Hadijatou has rebuilt her modest home, which she shares with her mother and her young child, and bought several cows and goats that enable her to be economically self sufficient. She has invested some of the monetary award in savings for her family for the future. The criminal case against her for bigamy, which had been pending throughout the ECOWAS proceedings, has been lifted and she is now a free woman living as part of a family and a community.
Hadijatou has been honoured for her courage in various contexts, including being awarded the US State Department’s ‘International Woman of Courage award 2009′. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said of Hadijatou and her case:
“Hadijatou is such an inspiring person. Enslaved by being sold at a very young age, she never gave up on herself or on her deep reservoir of human dignity. When she finally escaped from slavery, she didn’t forget those who were still enslaved. For her inspiring courage in successfully challenging an entrenched system of caste-based slavery, and securing a legal precedent that will help countless others seek freedom and justice, we honour and salute her.”
As a result of the case, Hadijatou was named in Time Magazine as one of the top 100 most influential people in 2009.
Hadijatou Mani Koraou vs The Republic of Niger (case summary available online)
Brief Case Summary available from the African Human Rights Case Law Database available online
Profile of Hadijatou Mani Korau in Time Magazine available online
Niger ex-slave wins landmark case (2008 BBC News article available online)
Niger begins enforcement of ban on slavery (2005 BBC News article available online)
Niger Anti-Slave Activist Charged (2005 BBC News article available online)
L’esclavagisme dans l’espace nigérien by Abdel Kader Gady (essay in French avaiable online)
Fighting Slavery in Niger Pays Off (afrol News article available online)
Born into Bondage: About Slavery in Niger by P. Raffaele (2005 Smithsonian Magazine article available online)
Niger: Slavery an Unbroken Chain (2005 IRIN article available online)
Gender Equality in Niger (report available online)
Anti-Slavery International’s Website