Mauritania: New law compromises right to freedom of association
The Mauritanian Parliament must reject a draft new law currently under consideration as it restricts the right to freedom of assembly and association, Amnesty International and 20 civil society organizations said.
The draft law has already been approved by the Council of Ministers without public consultation. If it is passed, it would above all confirm the very particular situation in Mauritania where State authorization is still required to establish an association. The signatory organizations believe that this provision will continue to restrict what is an already limited civil space.
“The absence of prior consultation with the associations and the lack of consideration of their concerns has the appearance of an unjustified decision being forced through. Restrictions have already been imposed on the right to freedom of expression and association, and this has resulted in the detention of human rights activists for belonging to an unauthorized organization,” said Gaetan Mootoo, Amnesty International West Africa researcher.
“A declaratory system is the only kind that conforms to current rules in countries that respect international provisions on freedom of expression and thought. Mauritania must not be the exception and must apply Article 10 of its Constitution, which guarantees freedom of association”.
Restrictions have already been imposed on the right to freedom of expression and association, and this has resulted in the detention of human rights activists for belonging to an unauthorized organization
Amnesty International has documented cases of at least four organizations that are still struggling to obtain authorization despite filing their statutes in due form. These are the “Mouvement IRA” or Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement, “Touche pas à ma nationalité” (Hands off my Nationality), the “Association des veuves mauritaniennes” (Association of Mauritanian Widows) and the “Union des Jeunes Volontaires” (Union of Volunteer Youth).
“Our association’s statutes were submitted to the ministry of Interior in 2013. Since then, after incessant comings and goings between the Ministry and the Police Commissioner, we have been refused permission to submit our request for authorization four times on the pretext that the association includes members from only one community when, in actual fact, several communities are involved”, said Alassane Dia, President of “Touche pas à ma nationalité”, an as yet unrecognized organization born in reaction to the 2011 census launched by the authorities and considered as discriminatory to black Mauritanian communities.
The Association des veuves de la Mauritanie (Association of Mauritanian Widows), an organization calling for truth with regard to the summary executions and disappearances of the 1990s, has been waiting for recognition since 1993, having renewed its request in 2010.
The draft law also includes a number of freedom-curtailing provisions and makes no reference to Mauritania’s international commitments. Article 4 requires established associations to limit their sphere of influence either to the national, regional or local level when they should have the possibility of working throughout the whole country.
Some provisions of Article 6 of the draft law, which stipulates that no association can be created on a basis or for an objective that is contrary to Islam, the Constitution or current laws, or for activities that are likely to harm the safety of citizens, national unity, territorial integrity, the republican nature of the State or public decency could also threaten freedoms.
The authorities could use religious arguments, for example, if they consider that an association’s objective is contrary to Islam or threatens national unity or public decency in order to prevent associations from exercising their rights.
Article 24 requires associations to submit their narrative and financial reports no later than 31 March each year, failing which they could be suspended. The signatory organizations further consider that requirements for transparency in the associations’ financing must not pose a risk to freedom of association. The draft law also limits the sphere of action of associations to just one area.
“If this law is adopted, it will no longer be possible for an association to work, for example, on women’s and children’s rights at the same time because, according to this new law, they are two different areas,” said Mine Abadallah, a lawyer and member of the ad hoc committee on the draft associations law.
“Mauritania must bring its legislation into line with international human rights norms and standards.”
Already, since last February, associations have been unable to organize events without the prior authorization of the prefect. A note dated 11 February 2016, of which Amnesty International has a copy, stipulates: “It is formally prohibited to organize a show, conference or event to which the public are admitted without the prior authorization of the Hakem (prefect).”
Civil society organizations questioned by Amnesty International stated that prior to confirming their reservation to organize a press conference, workshop or seminar, hotels ask them to provide written authorization from the prefect. Moreover, the Forum des organisations nationales de droits humains (Forum of National Human Rights Organizations / FONADH) was summoned in March 2016 by the Ministry of the Interior and informed that unauthorized organizations could no longer hold press conferences at the organization’s offices.
If this law is adopted, it will no longer be possible for an association to work, for example, on women’s and children’s rights at the same time because, according to this new law, they are two different areas
In August 2015, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and association called on the National Assembly to reject this draft law on civil society associations, which had already been approved without public consultation by the Council of Ministers.
List of signatories
Action des Chrétiens pour l’abolition de la Torture (Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture); Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de l’Homme (Together for Human Rights) (France); Amnesty International; Anti Slavery International; Association des Femmes Chefs de Famille (Association of Women Heads of Household) (Mauritania); Association mauritanienne des droits de l'Homme (Mauritanian Human Rights Association) (Mauritania); Collectif des veuves de la Mauritanie (Widows’ Collective of Mauritania); Collectif Touche pas à ma nationalité (Hands Off My Nationality Collective) (Mauritania); Comité de Solidarité avec les Victimes des Violations des Droits Humains (Committee for Solidarity with Human Rights Victims) (Mauritania); Forum des Organisations Nationales des Droits de l’Homme en Mauritanie (Forum of National Human Rights Organizations in Mauritania) (Mauritania); Free the slaves; Groupe d’études et de recherches sur la démocratie et le développement économique et social (Study and Research Group on Democracy and Socioeconomic Development) (GRDS - Mauritania); Initiative de la Résurgence du Mouvement Abolitionniste (Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement) (Mauritania); Initiative de la Résurgence du Mouvement Abolitionniste, IRA (Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement) (USA); Ligue Mauritanienne des Droits de l'Homme (Mauritanian Human Rights League); Minority Rights Group International; Union des Jeunes Volontaires (Union of Voluntary Youth); La Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme (Africans Meeting for Human Rights) (RADDHO); Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization: (UNPO); SOS Esclaves (Mauritania).