Fifty-two political prisoners held for over a year were acquitted on appeal and released. There were still no investigations into past human rights violations. In October, the first ever multi-party elections were held. The majority of seats were won by President Maaouiya Ould Sid Ahmed Taya's ruling Democratic Republican Party. The main black Mauritanian opposition party, Action pour le changement, Action for Change, won one seat and six independent candidates also won seats in the 79-member Legislative Assembly. The opposition political parties made allegations of electoral irregularities. According to the estimate of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in June 1995, more than 66,000 Mauritanians remained in refugee camps in Senegal and Mali. More than 50,000 black Mauritanians had been expelled by the government in 1989 following intercommunal violence, and many thousands more had fled to escape human rights violations. Plans to voluntarily repatriate 10,000 of the refugees from Senegal and Mali were halted in June, apparently when the Mauritanian authorities refused to agree with the UNHCR on a date for the repatriations. However, in December, the UNHCR estimated that over 30,000 refugees had returned to Mauritania. Press freedom continued to be limited. All newspapers had to pass the scrutiny of a censor commission before being given permission to circulate by the Ministry of the Interior. In April, an opposition newspaper, Mauritanie Nouvelles, was banned by the Ministry of the Interior for three months on the grounds that recent editions had been subversive and damaging to the country's interests. Shortly after the ban was lifted, the French and Arabic versions of one edition were again seized; no reason was given. In January, the appeal court in the capital, Nouakchott, acquitted 52 political prisoners arrested in October 1995 (see Amnesty International Report 1996). They were all believed to be current or former members of the Mauritanian branch of the Arab Socialist Bath Party, whose headquarters are in Iraq, and members of Attali'à, a political party formed following a spilt within the Bath party. The appeal had been lodged both by the defence lawyers, who felt they had had inadequate opportunity to deliver their defence, and by the Public Prosecutor, who felt the sentences handed down had been too lenient. In December 1995, 29 of the accused had been acquitted, 13 had received suspended prison sentences and 10 had been sentenced to prison terms of between six months and one year. The government continued to prevent investigations into past human rights violations, including the suspected extrajudicial executions of over 500 black Mauritanians held in military custody between 1990 and 1991.
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