Slavery and slavery-related practices plagued the lives of slaves and indentured labourers in Mauritius from the island's colonization in 1638. In 2009, the Parliament of Mauritius created a Truth and Justice Commission to research socioeconomic class abuses and its implications.
Problems and Purpose
Although slavery was abolished in 1835, labourers in Mauritius continued to operate under slavery-like conditions throughout the colonial and post-colonial periods. Slavery and slavery-related practices, such as debt bondage and indentured labour, plagued the lives of approximately half a million people, many of whom were brought to Mauritius from India to work as slaves. In 2009, the Parliament of Mauritius created a Truth and Justice Commission to research socioeconomic class abuses since the island’s colonization.
In 1638, the Dutch East India Company introduced slavery to Mauritius, which would last for centuries as French and British colonial powers continued the Dutch practice of slave labour in the island’s agricultural sector.
The slave population in Mauritius grew substantially during the eighteenth century. From 2.533 in 1746, the population had reached 63,821 by 1810, prior to the British conquest . The occupations of indentured labourers consisted of agricultural labourers, household servants, fishermen, artisans, port workers, and sailors, and their treatment was, according to the Report, very harsh in terms of both housing and working conditions . They suffered inadequate wages and a lack of regulation on hours of work, however, in the case of resignation, workers faced arrests and imprisonment under vagrancy laws . It is also important to note that gender differences influenced labour conditions, as women workers were expected to execute the same physical tasks as men but were paid lower wages .
In 1871, a mass petition for redress addressed Queen Victoria and led to the establishment of the Royal Commission of 1872, which recommended new legislation to improve working conditions, wages, and food and housing allocation . However, during the British colonial period (1810 to 1968), slavery and indentured labour were nurtured by French and British colonialism to serve their greater economic interests . While Indian workers held significant land for sugar production, underproduction and a drop in sugar prices on the world market hindered cane cultivation and created unrest in the early- to mid-twentieth century .
In the twenty-first century, social and economic progress in Mauritius is still skewed toward economic elites. Land ownership poses a primary issue, and thus the Report recommends a more equal distribution as a form of reparations . The economic and social structure of Mauritian society, from the perspective of the labouring classes, has not fundamentally changed .
Background History and Context
This Commission is unique in that it dealt with socioeconomic class abuses that spanned more than 370 years (1638 to the present), which is the longest period that a truth commission has ever attempted to cover. Additionally, prior to this Commission, there had never been any real inquiry into the fates of ex-slaves and their descendants.
The history of Mauritius has been largely misconstrued in historiography. Most histories centralize the ruling class, being French colons and their descendants, leaving most descendants of ex-slaves ignorant of their ancestral history . As such, assessing the number of citizens who claimed ancestry of slaves proved challenging for the Commission . It was important that the Commission provided Mauritians with the tools to be able to judge their own history .
Prior to the TRC, attempts to set up a similar reconciliatory body failed in Mauritius. In 1999, the government tried to create a “committee on reparations for slavery,” but was disregarded as riots broke out in Mauritius and required government attention .
In 2002, the government sought a Commission to examine “all aspects of damages sustained by slaves and by indentured labourers and their descendants,” but it did not materialize .
In 2007, a task force was set up to work out the logistics of a TRC, and, in 2008, the government passed the Bill and added objectives regarding land equality and reallocation .
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Shortly following the creation of the Truth and Justice Commission Act, Professor Robert Shell was appointed as Chairman of the Commission and was later replaced by Professor Alexander Boraine in 2010. Four additional Commissioners were appointed: Dr. Vijayalakshmi Teelock (Vice-Chairperson), Benjamin Moutou, Dr. Paramaseeven Veerapen, and Lindsay Morvan, who later resigned and was replaced by Jacques David in 2010 .
Methods and Tools Used
The Truth and Justice Commission Act was constituted in March 2009 and its mandate sought to: 
- Make an assessment of the consequences of slavery and indentured labour during the colonial period up to the present;
- Conduct inquiries into slavery and indentured labour in Mauritius during the colonial period and, for that purpose, gather information and receive evidence from any person;
- Determine appropriate reparative measures to be extended to descendants of slaves and indentured labourers;
- Enquire into complaints, other than frivolous and vexatious complaints, made by any person aggrieved by dispossession or prescription of any land in which they claimed to have an interest; and
- Prepare a comprehensive report of its activities, research and findings, based on factual and objective information and evidence received by it and submit the report to the President.
There would be three broad areas of research; first, the revision of history from 1723 to 2009, second, the consequences of slavery and indentured labour on society, and, third, measures to achieve social justice . Additionally, the Commission undertook a number of critical specialist studies of land, reparation, religion, and oral history .
The Commission established a number of project teams, including Slave Trade and Slavery; the Indentured Experience; Mauritian Economic History; Culture; Ethnicity, Memory and Identity; Health; Education; Towards a Just Society; Rodrigues, Agalega, Chagos and St. Brandon Islands; and Recommendations .
Several workshops on slavery, economics, education, law, and indentured labour were conducted .
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The Commission’s mandate sought to assess the consequences of slavery and indentured labour from the colonial period to the present. Then, it would make recommendations to the President on measures to be taken to achieve social justice and national unity.
The Commission was made up of a Chairperson, a Vice-Chairperson, and three other members appointed by the President. The Commission would then prepare a comprehensive report of its findings .
To ensure that participation was accessible to all Mauritians, the Commission organized a series of public hearings that were open to the public and the media . In total, the Commission held 212 hearings at its offices and outside Port Louis . The Report notes that these hearings are representative of the most vocal Mauritians, however, and those who are ultimately voiceless were not heard .
Following the hearings, the Commission met weekly to discuss a number of actions and possible policies .
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The Report consists of six public volumes that cover all aspects of the history of indentured labour in Mauritius. The Commission found that, following applied research, in-depth inquiries, and oral testimonies, people of slave descent in Mauritius faced the following challenges: 
- they are poorly housed, in that a majority of them live in housing estates, devoid of bare amenities and in overcrowdedness;
- literacy is rampant in their milieu, schooling of children needs re-thinking to be effective; due to their low level of education and poor performance at school, few can get employed in Government services and parastatals;
- marked absence in agricultural occupation, as a result of circumstances arising from the aftermath of slavery;
- marked absence in the fields of trade and commerce, and especially in the small and medium enterprises sector;
- over-concentration of employment in hard manual work;
- contrary to the other communities, they have no real effective pressure groups to make their voices heard in higher and political quarters, and most of their grievances remained unheard;
- for these and other reasons, they are poorly represented in all spheres of public life and in Government institutions; and
- the Commission has also undertaken for the first time, a psycho-sociological analysis to better understand the various factors which impede progress, and the following relevant reports and recommendations highlight new strategies to be adopted in the future.
As such, the Commission recommended that: 
- the Republic of Mauritius and other institutions make an official apology through the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister and private institutions connected with slavery and indenture, such as the Catholic Church, the Chamber of Commerce and the Mauritius Sugar Producers’ Association
- a Slave Museum be built, honouring the memory of all slaves who underwent horrific treatment under their masters and in recognition of the contribution which they made to the development of Mauritius
- consideration be given to commemorating 23 August (UNESCO Day of Remembrance of Abolition of Slave Trade) as a Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation which will more fittingly honour both slaves and their descendants, as well as the descendants of indentured labourers. The Commission also recommends that a monument be erected on the Caudan Waterfront as a reminder of the arrival of slaves
- the immediate Proclamation and Implementation of the Equal Opportunities Act to create a more just society for all citizens irrespective of race, ethnic religion, caste, religion, culture, and social background
- the establishment of an audit of public and private employers to investigate cases of unfair discrimination in all employment opportunities
- Creole be introduced as a medium of instruction at all levels
- Discrimination on the basis of race, colour, gender, caste, and religion should be outlawed
- A Land Monitoring and Research Unit be established to assist citizens to establish the facts concerning their search for land which they believe is rightly theirs
- Immediate plans are introduced to audit housing estates and consider new adequate housing projects
The Commission also recommended the establishment of a number of memorialization projects to encourage the education of the Mauritian population. First, it recommended that a slavery museum be created in the capital city of Port Louis. Next, it noted that more than fifteen current memorial sites and monuments require improved supervision, physical protection, and increased recognition. Last, online historical data on slavery and the slave trade to enable all Mauritians to access their history was to be made freely available .
Land reform was central to the Commission’s recommendations, which included sustainable development, closer reviews of all sales, leases and projects, and the setting up of a land monitoring and research unit .
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The Mauritian TRC is unique in its extensive focus on slavery and colonialism. Its mandate, which emphasized continuities in historical human rights violations, assessed the consequences of slavery and indentured labour. It concluded that, under Dutch, French, and British colonial rule, many Mauritians suffered extreme violence, enslavement and forced labour, arbitrary killings, socio-economic and racial discrimination, and other human rights violations.
While the Commission recommended that the Government, the Church, and other private institutions make official apologies to the descendants of enslaved Mauritians, that memorials and monuments to commemorate victims of colonialism be constructed, and that land allocation and economic support programs be implemented as a form of restitution, the Commission found that regardless of its recommendations, it could not adequately address the damage inflicted upon Mauritians over the past few centuries.
Since the Report’s submission to the President of Mauritius in November 2011, the government committees established to study the Report have provided little feedback and have been slow moving in implementing its recommendations.
Veerapen, Parmaseeven. “Labour and the Truth and Justice Commission.” Le Mauricien, May 2015. https://www.lemauricien.com/le-mauricien/labour-and-truth-and-justice-commission/35576/
 Truth and Justice Commission, Report of the Truth and Justice Commission, Vol. 1 (Mauritius: Government Printing, 2011), 61.
 Ibid., 61; Ibid., 2.
 Ibid., 2.
 Ibid., 234.
 Ibid., 3.
 Ibid., 62.
 Ibid., 3.
 Ibid., 213.
 Ibid., 1.
 Ibid., 50.
 Ibid., 7.
 Ibid., 8.
 Ibid., 1.
 Ibid., 9; Ibid., 42.
 Ibid., 9.
 Ibid., 4.
 Ibid., 8.
 Ibid., 43.
 Ibid., 45.
 Ibid., 2.
 Ibid., 11-13.
 Ibid., 400.
 Ibid., 430-433.
Truth and Justice Commission, Report of the Truth and Justice Commission, Vol. 1. Mauritius: Government Printing, 2011.
The first version of this entry was written by Sarah Slasor, McMaster University.