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Mauritania 2023

At least one person died in police custody following acts of torture. An activist was the victim of an enforced disappearance by Mauritanian police in collaboration with their Senegalese counterparts. The rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly were violated by repressive measures including internet disruption and excessive use of force. Descent-based slavery persisted in the country. UN experts reported a general culture of impunity around gender-based violence.


In May, the ruling party was declared winner of the legislative, regional and local elections, one year after Mohamed Ould Ghazouani had won the presidential election. Some opposition parties contested the results based on fraud allegations. In December, former president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for corruption.

Torture and other ill-treatment

On 9 February, human rights defender Souvi Ould Jibril Ould Cheine was summoned to the Dar Naim 2 police station over an unpaid debt and taken into custody. He was later transferred to Sheikh Zayed Hospital and pronounced dead. Souvi’s death was initially attributed to a heart attack but, following protests, a Ministry of Health autopsy determined the cause as traumatic asphyxiation due to strangulation. The Public Prosecutor ordered the arrest of the commissioner and all police officers present during Souvi’s arrest and interrogation.

In June, at a press conference, lawyers representing the family of Oumar Diop, who died after police detention, alleged that he had been tortured. Police claimed Oumar was arrested after a fight, questioned at Sebkha police station, and later transferred to hospital due to breathing issues, where he died shortly after arrival. The autopsy report attributed his death to cardiac arrest caused by excessive cocaine and alcohol consumption. The family lawyers called for a thorough investigation.

Freedom of expression

In June, mobile internet access was shut down by authorities for several days after nationwide protests over the death of Oumar Diop in police custody. Access was also blocked multiple times during high school exams. According to the government, this was to prevent cheating.

On 28 July, a 19-year-old high school student was detained at the women’s prison in the capital, Nouakchott for “insulting and backbiting the prophet” in her baccalaureate exam comments. The student’s copy was shared on social media by an exam official, who deemed the remarks blasphemous. Blasphemy against the prophet remained punishable by death as per the law.

Enforced disappearances

On 14 September, activist Youba Siby, also known as Youba El Ghaouth, was arrested by the Criminal Investigation Division in Senegal. He was subjected to enforced disappearance for 20 days, with the Senegalese and Mauritanian authorities providing no information as to his fate or whereabouts.1 On 6 October, Mauritania’s National Human Rights Commission reported that Youba Siby was being held in Nouakchott Civil Prison without legal representation or contact with his family. He received a two-year sentence for “inciting hatred” and “undermining army morale” via social media.

In October 2023, the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances found that proposals to establish a truth and reconciliation process in relation to Mauritania’s “Passif Humanitaire” (“humanitarian liability”) period of mass human rights violations, between 1989 and 1992, which involved disappearances, detentions, executions and expulsions, had not been considered in depth. The committee called for the investigation of all disappearances in this period and the prosecution of those responsible, including military and civilian leaders.

Freedom of peaceful assembly

On 27 September, the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA) staged a peaceful sit-in at the Ministry of Justice to protest the arrest of Youba Siby. Security forces violently dispersed the protesters despite having been notified of the planned action. The IRA reported over 10 injured, with victims taken to various hospitals.



In the July report on Mauritania, the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery noted the persistence of both descent-based and modern forms of slavery in certain parts of the country. The report highlighted the social, economic and political exclusion experienced by currently and formerly enslaved individuals and their descendants. While efforts to raise awareness of anti-slavery laws were recognized, the Special Rapporteur stressed the importance of ensuring victims were informed of their rights and the process for seeking redress.

Women’s and girls’ rights

In its October statement following a visit to the country, the UN Working Group on discrimination against women and girls commended the country’s efforts in enhancing its institutional, political and legal framework for gender equality. However, it emphasized the need to address lack of access to justice and the culture of impunity surrounding gender-based violence. It called for an end to harmful practices such as female genital mutilation and child marriage, which often led to the sacrificing of education and health, and the risk of death during childbirth.

  1. “Mauritania: Amnesty International condemns the enforced disappearance Youba Siby and subsequent violations of his rights”, 16 October