Mauritania: Presidential candidates must commit to protect human rights

Mauritania’s next president must urgently tackle the country’s poor human rights record by taking a tougher stance against slavery, human trafficking, and attacks on the rights to freedom of expression including intimidation and harassment of activists speaking out against discrimination, Amnesty International and 32 local human rights organizations said today.

The organizations are calling on all candidates for this month’s presidential elections to sign a manifesto consisting of 12 commitments to promote and protect human rights in Mauritania.

The future president must break with decades of gross human rights violations by carrying out reforms and changing practices to ensure human rights are fully respected
Kiné Fatim Diop, Amnesty International West Africa Campaigner.

“The human rights situation is poor in Mauritania. Anyone who dares to stand up against slavery, discrimination and other human rights violations and abuses is at risk of arbitrary arrest, unlawful detention and even torture. The next president cannot ignore these serious human rights challenges and will have to strive to ensure justice and effective remedies for Mauritanians whose rights have been trampled upon for so long,” said Kiné Fatim Diop, Amnesty International West Africa Campaigner.

“The future president must break with decades of gross human rights violations by carrying out reforms and changing practices to ensure human rights are fully respected.”

There are still thousands of people living in slavery while Afro-Mauritanians and Haratines are discriminated against in many ways, including access to justice and enlistment. From 2016 to now, only two individuals were sentenced by the country’s anti-slavery courts, despite them receiving 47 cases for investigation involving 53 suspects. 

Despite numerous complaints to the anti-slavery courts and the police, there is a deliberate tactic of keeping victims wait for long time and discouraging them. As of today, 24 new cases are awaiting to be transferred to the anti-slavery courts. The manifesto calls for a public commitment to end slavery, human trafficking and discriminatory practices through the implementation of new laws, policies and campaigns. It also calls for a new law to combat violence against women to be adopted within the first year the new president’s inauguration and assumption of office.

By signing the manifesto candidates promise to ensure that if elected their government will make adequate resources available to the police and judiciary to enable them to identify and bring to justice suspected perpetrators in cases relating to exploitation. Candidates commit to ensuring the independence of the judiciary through a revision of the Constitution so that the president will no longer chair the High Council of the Judiciary.

The manifesto promises the repeal of laws criminalizing activities relating to the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, including provisions on criminal libel, apostasy and dissemination of false information. 

From the re-election of President Aziz in June 2014 to May 2019, human rights organizations have documented the cases of more than 44 associations working for the promotion and protection of human rights, which have never received authorizations to operate. There have been over 174 cases in which human rights defenders have been arbitrarily arrested, including at least 17 cases where they were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment.

The manifesto also includes measures to reduce the length of preventive detention while ending prison overcrowding and closing all private detention centres to prevent torture and other ill-treatment.

Other commitments in the manifesto address discriminatory practices. They include, for example, ensuring civil registration procedures are simplified, free and do not allow any form of discrimination based on ethnicity, as well as the implementation of an inclusive cultural and linguistic policy to ensure that non-Arabic speaking communities have access to essential services.

The manifesto proposes specific measures to be taken to ensure full implementation and enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights for all, such as extensive consultations between the new president and local communities to review land ownership. 

“The next president has the opportunity to build a country where dignity and human rights are respected and promoted for all," said Mamadou Sarr, President of the Forum des Organisations Nationales de Droits Humains (FONADH).

“All candidates must publicly commit to signing the manifesto putting human rights first.”

All candidates must publicly commit to signing the manifesto putting human rights first
Mamadou Sarr, President of the Forum des Organisations Nationales de Droits Humains (FONADH).

Background

On 22 June, Mauritanians will elect a president for the next five years. The presidential election campaign starts on 7 June. A provisional list of six candidates was released by the Constitutional Court. The list comprises:  ruling party candidate Mohamed Ould Cheikh Mohamed Ahmed (Ould El Ghazouani); National Rally for Reform and Development candidate Sidi Mohamed Ould Boubacar; rights activist Biram Dah Abeid; and opposition coalition candidates Mohamed Ould Mouloud, Kane Hamidou Baba and Mohamed Lemine al-Mourtaji al-Wafi.