Islamic Republic of Mauritania
Head of state: Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz
Head of government: Yahya Ould Hademine

Human rights defenders and opponents of the government faced politically motivated prosecutions, with anti-slavery organizations particularly persecuted. The rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly were restricted. Torture and other ill-treatment in custody were common. Groups making up two thirds of the population faced systematic discrimination, and extreme poverty was widespread. The practice of slavery continued.


Laws – including those covering public disorder, resisting arrest and belonging to an unauthorized organization – were used in politically motivated prosecutions against human rights defenders and government opponents, particularly anti-slavery activists.

In May, the Supreme Court ordered the release of two anti-slavery activists, Biram Ould Dah Abeid and Brahim Bilal, after reducing their prison sentences. The two prisoners of conscience, members of Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA), were arrested in November 2014 after taking part in a peaceful protest. They had been sentenced to two years' imprisonment on charges of belonging to an unrecognized organization, taking part in an unauthorized assembly, failing to comply with police orders and resisting arrest. Another member of the IRA who received the same sentence, Djiby Sow, was released on medical grounds in June 2015.

In June and July, 13 other members of the IRA were arrested after a protest against forced eviction by communities in the slum area of Bouamatou, in the capital Nouakchott. Although none of the IRA members had attended the protest, in August they were convicted on charges including rebellion and use of violence. The court refused to examine allegations of torture made by the accused.[1] In October a group of UN experts expressed serious concern that these activists had been targeted by the government for their anti-slavery advocacy, stating that the government was hostile to civil society groups that criticized its policies, especially groups such as the IRA, whose members are drawn from the Haratine minority and advocate for an end to slavery. In November, the Appeals Court of Nouadhibou acquitted three of the 13 IRA members and reduced the sentences of seven others who were released the same month. Three remaining IRA members were sentenced to six months and three years in prison.


The space for the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly shrank as journalists, human rights defenders and government critics were arrested and prosecuted by a politicized judiciary.[2]

In April, the Appeals Court in Nouakchott upheld the death sentence of Mohamed Mkhaïtir for apostasy in the first case of its kind in Mauritania. Mohamed Mkhaïtir was originally sentenced to death in December 2014 in Nouadhibou after a year in pre-trial detention for writing a blog critical of those who use Islam to foster discrimination against Moulamines (blacksmiths) and the descendants of slaves and griots. The Appeals Court referred the case to the Supreme Court.

In July, Cheikh Baye, manager of the Meyadine news website, was sentenced to three years' imprisonment for using violence against a public official. He had accused a government spokesperson of lying and threw his shoe at him during a press briefing. Five people who criticized the verdict were also convicted of the same charges in August. Three were sentenced to two years' imprisonment and two received suspended sentences.

The authorities continued to bar the legal registration of several NGOs and human rights organizations. For example, the Association des Veuves de la Mauritanie, an organization calling for the truth about summary executions and disappearances in the 1990s, has been waiting for recognition since 1993; it renewed its request in 2010.


Following a visit in February, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture welcomed legislative developments, including the introduction of a new law against torture, and the establishment of a National Preventive Mechanism (NPM). He stressed that the judiciary should step up efforts to implement these safeguards and highlighted the lack of investigations into allegations of torture. He also drew attention to the use of unofficial detention facilities and the denial of access to a lawyer for up to 45 days in terrorism-related cases.

Prisoners, male and female, reported in mid-2016 that they had been tortured and otherwise ill-treated in police custody and by prison guards. One prisoner charged with a terrorism-related offence said that following his arrest in March, he was beaten to make him "confess" with his hands and feet tied together behind his back.

The IRA members arrested in June and July were held separately in undisclosed places of detention and denied access to their families and lawyers. They were interrogated at night, deprived of sleep and denied access to toilets. At least four had their feet and hands bound in painful positions for hours and were suspended by ropes from the ceiling. Others were stripped, insulted and threatened with death. Despite the new NPM programme to monitor places of detention, an NPM member was denied access to IRA members who were being held in incommunicado detention.


The UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, who visited Mauritania in April, highlighted a systematic absence of Haratines and Afro-Mauritanians from almost all positions of power and their exclusion from many aspects of economic and social life, including their inability to obtain a national identity card. The two groups make up two thirds of the population. He stressed that, although economic, social and cultural rights are mentioned in the preamble of the Constitution, there were no provisions dealing with them. He pointed out that in some rural areas only 10% of children attended secondary school and that the maternal mortality rate remained one of the highest in the world. In 2015, according to the World Bank, 602 mothers died for every 100,000 live births.


Although slavery was abolished officially in 1981 and is recognized as a crime in domestic law, human rights organizations including SOS Esclaves and IRA regularly criticized the continuation of this practice.[3]

In May, the Special Tribunal against Slavery opened in Nema, and in the same month two former slave owners were handed a one-year prison sentence and a four-year suspended sentence and ordered to pay compensation to two women victims. Yet in the same month, in the same town, President Abdel Aziz denied that slavery existed and called on the Haratines, the former slave population, to have fewer children in order to address the legacy of slavery and poverty.

1. Mauritania: Drop all charges and release anti-slavery activists (News story, 1 August)

2. Mauritania: New law compromises right to freedom of association (News story, 2 June)

3. Amnesty International calls for an end to slavery and torture and ill-treatment in Mauritania (AFR 38/3691/2016)

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