Contemporary Abolitionist of the Month: Fatimata M’Baye

By Emily Balan

The fight to end slavery is rooted in history and extends until today. Each month we will profile some of the brave men and women, both contemporary and historical, who have fought to eradicate slavery. Our contemporary abolitionist of the month is Fatimata M’Baye.

Fatimata M’Baye is from Mauritania, where 20 percent of the population—about 600,000 people—is enslaved. For more than three decades, she has worked diligently as a lawyer and human rights activist to eradicate modern day slavery.

M’Baye is the first woman to become a lawyer and try a case in court in Mauritania. Of about three hundred lawyers in the state, only two others are women. M’Baye uses her legal expertise to defend human rights activists and advocate for the effective prosecution of human traffickers. In 2007 she played a key role in drafting precedent-setting legislation that criminalized human trafficking. As a direct result Mauritania issued its first conviction for child exploitation, its first indictment for slavery practices, and its first sentence for human trafficking.

M’Baye is the president and co-founder of the Mauritanian Association for Human Rights, which garners support for anti-slavery legislation, encourages enforcement of existing laws, and protects disenfranchised and vulnerable individuals, including human trafficking victims.

In September 1999, M’Baye received the Nuremberg International Human Rights Award for fighting against slavery and discrimination in Mauritania. Hilary Clinton honored her as part of an awareness campaign in 2012 to fulfill President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation by eradicating modern day slavery.

M’Baye has been arrested several times for her work advocating for the rights of black people, women, children, and victims of slavery. Though fined heavily and tortured in jail, she continued to speak out, believing that bystanders are accomplices.

Combatting trafficking isn’t just for human rights activists. Businesses can scrutinize their supply chains, governments can enact laws to increase the prosecutions of traffickers, and citizens everywhere can report incidents of suspected involuntary servitude. Everyone can help disrupt the business of human trafficking.


Published on April 20, 2015


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