Mauritania:  New President must prioritise human rights

Mauritania’s new President must commit to addressing the country’s appalling human rights record, by taking meaningful measures to end the scourge of slavery and protect human rights defenders and activists from arbitrary arrest, torture and other ill-treatment, Amnesty International said today, as Mohamed Ould Ghazouani prepared to be sworn into office.

The organization highlighted the authorities’ persistent denial of the existence of human rights violations including racial discrimination, restriction of civic space and the right to freedom of expression and called on the newly elected President to prioritise respect for all human rights.

President Ghazouani is inheriting a situation where thousands of people are enslaved, and those who speak out against this horror are often arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned.

Kiné Fatim Diop, Amnesty International West Africa Campaigner

“President Ghazouani is inheriting a situation where thousands of people are enslaved, and those who speak out against this horror are often arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned. Arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and other ill-treatment, and the systematic ban of peaceful gatherings are commonplace in Mauritania, and the situation has long been exacerbated by the authorities’ denials,” said Kiné Fatim Diop, Amnesty International West Africa Campaigner.

“We are calling on President Ghazouani to ensure that his government breaks with the past and show commitment to improving the human rights of all Mauritanians.”

During the election campaign in June, Amnesty International joined other civil society organizations to call on each of the six presidential candidates to commit to implementing reforms and changing practices in order to fulfil Mauritania’s national and international human rights obligations.

Three out of the six candidates have signed the Manifesto consisting of 12 commitments to promote and protect human rights in Mauritania. Despite official request, Mohamed Ould Ghazouani – who was also the ruling party candidate – did not sign it. His campaign also neglected to commit to improving the disastrous human rights situation in the country.

Between the re-election of outgoing President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz in June 2014 and the latest elections in May 2019, Amnesty International has documented how 44 civil society organizations working to promote respect for human rights have been closed down.

In the same period at least 174 human rights defenders have been arbitrarily arrested and 17 of them have been tortured or ill-treated. Mauritanian authorities have long labelled human rights defenders as “traitors” and those who denounce discrimination are continuously harassed, intimidated and attacked.

When Mohamed Ould Ghazouani’s victory was announced on 22 June the result was disputed by four other candidates and protests took place. On that day, authorities carried out mass arrests of nearly 100 people including opposition supporters and journalists and deployed security forces in the capital Nouakchott and the cities of Nouadhibou and Kaédi.

West African nationals have also been attacked and some deported back to their home countries after being accused of destabilizing the peace in the country. The internet was cut off for 10 days apparently to prevent people gathering and protesting. Security forces closed down headquarters of the opposition coalition.

“We are calling on the authorities to repeal laws that criminalize the right to freedom of expression, and to respect, protect and promote the right to peaceful assembly,” said Kiné Fatim Diop.