Mauritania - Amnesty International Report 2008


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Head of State : Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi (replaced Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall in April)
Head of government : Zeine Ould Zeidane (replaced Sidi Mohamed Ould Boubacar in April)
Death penalty : abolitionist in practice
Population : 3.2 million
Life expectancy : 63.2 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f) : 147/135 per 1,000
Adult literacy : 51.2 per cent

Several possible prisoners of conscience were tried. There were reports of torture in detention. One student was killed when the security forces opened fire on protesters. Slavery became a criminal offence.


Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi won the March presidential election which followed multi-party parliamentary polls in December 2006. This completed a promised handover to civilian rule.

In March, the 24 members of the National Human Rights Commission, set up in May 2006, were appointed.

In April, Mauritania was reintegrated into the African Union, from which it had been suspended after the August 2005 military coup.

In November, the governments of Mauritania and Senegal, together with UNHCR, signed a tripartite agreement in Nouakchott, paving the way for the return of some 24,000 Mauritanian refugees who left the country in the aftermath of the 1989 repression against the black Mauritanian population.

Justice system

Possible prisoners of conscience

Two trials took place of people suspected of belonging to an unauthorized organization and “putting the country at risk of foreign reprisals”. Most of those tried were arrested in 2005.

  • In May, the criminal court of Nouakchott tried 21 people accused of forming an unauthorized organization, belonging to a criminal group, and “participating in acts that expose the country to the risk of foreign reprisals”. Twenty were acquitted. However, El Khadim Ould Semmane, one of four men who escaped from Nouakchott Central Prison in April 2006 and were tried in their absence, was convicted of possessing illegal weapons and false documents and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. A number of the suspects had been in preventive detention for over two years and were alleged to have been tortured (see below).
  • In June and July, 14 people accused of belonging to the Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat) and of involvement in cross-border attacks in 2005, were tried. Nine were acquitted and five were sentenced to between two and five years’ imprisonment. Three men who had faced charges carrying possible death sentences – Tahar Ould Biye, Tiyib Ould Salek and Ely Sheikh Ould Ahmed Vall – received sentences of between five and three years’ imprisonment for forgery.

Police and security forces


Detainees were frequently tortured shortly after arrest and during interrogation.

  • During the two trials (see above), most of the detainees stated that they had been tortured in detention. One of the 21 detainees tried in May said that he had been burned with cigarettes by police to extract confessions. The defence in the first trial maintained that testimonies were inadmissible as statements had been obtained under torture. Their request that those believed to be responsible for the acts of torture be called as witnesses was refused.

Excessive use of force

In November, the security forces fired live bullets at secondary school students protesting at increases in food prices.

  • Eighteen-year-old Cheikhna Ould Taleb Nava was killed when the security forces opened fire on protesters in Kankossa in the south-east.


At least 11 people were arrested in the context of Mauritania’s fights against terrorism, some of whom may have been prisoners of conscience.

  • Five Mauritanians and a Moroccan, arrested in March for suspected links to terrorism, were charged in April. They were charged with offences relating to planning attacks, selling arms and financing terrorism. In June, six people, including three Moroccan nationals, were arrested for their suspected involvement with a cell linked to al-Qa’ida. There were concerns that they may have been targeted because of their membership of an Islamic group.


In August, slavery was made a criminal offence. Although officially abolished in 1981, evidence indicated the continued existence of the practice. Under the new law, slavery is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine.