slavery: In Other Countries

In Other Countries

In other countries emancipation of slaves was also a serious problem, but never to such an extent as in the United States, chiefly perhaps because the question of race prejudice was nowhere else so important. As the South American nations gained independence, they broadened their democratic principles to include absolute prohibition of slavery (Chile in 1823, Central America in 1824, Mexico in 1829, and Bolivia in 1831) or gradual emanicpation (Argentina in 1813, Colombia in 1814, and Venezuela in 1821). In Brazil the opposition of the planters to abolishing slavery was strong, and it was only after a series of rather ineffective measures that the slaves were emancipated in 1888. Opposition to that action helped to launch the revolution of 1889.

In later years the slave trade was conducted on the east coast of Africa, the market being in Muslim lands. Most antislavery efforts during the 19th cent. were directed against slave trading. Great Britain had passed antislave-trade laws in 1807 and 1811; the British attempted to enlist other nations in an effort to stop the slave trade, and several treaties for such a purpose were signed in the 1840s. However, the first important international agreement was not reached until the Berlin Conference in 1885, which bound the more important Muslim potentates to act against the slave traffic. This was supplemented by the even more significant Brussels Act of 1890, to which 18 states were signatory.

The emperor of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) was unable to prevent traffic from that land to Arabia, and a brisk trade went on over the Red Sea. International scandals occurred from time to time with regard to forced labor; three notable ones concerned the Congo, Liberia, and the Putumayo region of Peru in the 1930s (Native American servitude). The League of Nations adopted the resolutions of the International Slavery Convention of 1926, which was considered an advance over the Brussels Act of 1890; its main weakness was in not providing a permanent commission to oversee the total abolition of slavery. Slavery continued to exist in parts of Asia, the Middle East, and, despite increasingly successful efforts to abolish it, in various parts of Africa.

The United Nations has continued the efforts of the League of Nations to achieve worldwide abolition of slavery. The Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the General Assembly in 1948, contained a provision prohibiting slavery or trading in slaves. The Security Council in 1954 condemned systems of forced labor, particularly those employed as a means of political coercion. In 1956 a UN conference of plenipotentiaries adopted a convention on the abolition of slavery; an important aspect of the convention was the inclusion of other institutions similar to slavery as practices to be abolished. However, a report prepared for the United Nations in 1966 charged that slavery still existed in parts of Africa and Asia.

Although efforts to end involuntary servitude continued throughout the last half of the 20th cent., by the beginning of the 21st cent. forms of slavery, forced, or bonded labor still persisted in a number of countries, e.g., Mauritania, Niger, and Sudan in Africa, Myanmar, Pakistan, Thailand, and parts of the Persian Gulf region in Asia, and the Amazon region of Brazil. More isolated instances have been occasionally revealed elsewhere, e.g., involving Asian immigrants in the United States and sub-Saharan African migrants in parts of Libya. In many cases of forced labor, workers have been deceptively recruited in their home countries and then deprived of their passports and forced to work under altered contractual terms once they have arrived in a foreign country. In other cases, as under Stalin in the Soviet Union in the 20th cent. or in Xinjiang, China, in the 21st cent., forced labor has been used as part of a program to control suspected political opponents or ethnic minority groups.

Sections in this article:

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Labor