Mauritania
Head of state
General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz
Head of government
Moulaye Ould Mohamed Laghdaf
Death penalty
abolitionist in practice
Population
3.4 million
Life expectancy
57.3 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f)
128/112 per 1,000
Adult literacy
56.8 per cent

Torture and other ill-treatment were widespread and prison conditions remained harsh. Dozens of people were arbitrarily arrested and detained for days or weeks. People suspected of belonging to armed groups were detained without trial for long periods. The practice of slavery continued. At least 16 people were sentenced to death.

Background

Mauritania and neighbouring countries agreed to strengthen their co-operation and co-ordinate their response to armed groups that crossed their borders, following increased activities by al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), including hostage taking and armed attacks. In July, Mauritania adopted a new anti-terrorism law; an earlier version of the law adopted in January was declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Council. The new law gave additional powers to the security forces to fight against AQIM.

In September, the former Commissioner for Human Rights, Lemine Ould Dadde, who had had ministerial rank, was arrested and charged with embezzlement.

Mauritania was elected to serve on the UN Human Rights Council in May, and in November the country’s human rights record was assessed under the UN Universal Periodic Review.

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Arbitrary arrests and detentions

In May, at least 50 warehouse workers who were seeking a pay rise were arrested arbitrarily in Tevragh Zeina, Nouakchott. Forty were released after more than seven days and the others were kept in detention for more than 15 days. Mohamed Abdallaye Ould Diaby and Bounah Ould Alayah spent more than 18 days in detention before being released without charge or trial.

  • In October, Abdelkerim Verag El Baraoui, a Tunisian national, was released after more than three years in detention, following a trial in which he was acquitted of belonging to a banned movement. Three other people tried in the same case were sentenced to death; others were sentenced to prison terms. Immediately after his release he was unlawfully arrested by the state security police. The prosecution authorities told his defence lawyers that they were not aware of his arrest. It was reported that Abdelkerim Verag El Baraoui was sent to Senegal.
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Counter-terror and security

In February, two Malians were killed and many more injured during a military operation in Lemzeirib, 650km east of Zouérate, close to the Malian border. At least 20 Malians were arrested and held without charge or trial for six months. The Mauritanian authorities accused the two people killed of belonging to a group of drug traffickers close to AQIM. In September, two Malian civilians were killed in the region of Tombouctou when the Mauritanian air force shelled an AQIM base. Mauritania apologized to Mali.

Throughout the year at least 10 people, including nationals from neighbouring countries, were arrested and accused of links with al-Qa’ida or other armed groups. Others were arrested in the context of counter-terror measures. A few were suspected of having participated directly or indirectly in terrorist acts. Several were held without trial throughout the year. Many detainees, including those accused of belonging to AQIM, were held in incommunicado detention for prolonged periods, exceeding the 15 days allowed by law. The security forces and prison officers refused to allow family visits.

  • Malick Kraina, a Tunisian national arrested in May in Nouakchott, spent more than 26 days in incommunicado detention before being charged with joining AQIM.
  • Mohamed Lemine Ag Maleck, a Malian history student, was arrested in July in Oualata, 1,200km south of Nouakchott. He was held for more than 20 days at the police station before being charged with giving information to a foreign power. The accusation was based on his possession of a GPS device and a camera, equipment he was using to take photos and design itineraries for a tourism agency.
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Torture and other ill-treatment

Police officers, military personnel and prison guards used torture and other ill-treatment against men and women detained for political reasons or on suspicion of criminal offences. Torture was generally inflicted immediately after arrest in detention centres including the first police brigade and the gendarmerie barracks.

Despite denials by the Mauritanian authorities that torture was still practised, scores of people alleged that they were tortured or ill-treated during the year, including detainees at Dar Naïm prison, Nouakchott central prison and Nouadhibou prison. During a trial held in July and August, although the detainees alleged that they had been tortured, the judge did not order any inquiry.

  • Most, if not all, of the 20 or more Malians arrested in Lemzeirib in February were allegedly tortured by the army. Some were stabbed by soldiers at the time of their arrest and some were burned with cigarettes.
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Deaths in custody

At least 12 detainees died during the year in Dar Naïm prison alone, apparently as a result of inadequate food and lack of medical care. No investigation was known to have been carried out.

  • It emerged during the year that Ousseyni Wellé, a Senegalese national sentenced to death in 2008, had died in 2009 in Dar Naïm prison, allegedly as a result of torture. No investigation was known to have been carried out.
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Prison conditions

Hundreds of detainees were held in overcrowded prisons with inadequate sanitation and health care, and poor quality food. The conditions in some prisons amounted to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Detainees in the prisons of Nouadhibou and Dar Naïm, near Nouakchott, were held in cramped conditions in stifling heat and rarely allowed to leave their cells or breathe fresh air. More than 1,000 people were held in Dar Naïm, built to house 350.

Prison officials acknowledged to Amnesty International that the prisons in Dar Naïm and in Nouadhibou did not meet national standards, and referred to lack of medical care and inadequacies in the water disposal system, dampness and lack of ventilation in cells.

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Migrants’ rights

More than 250 people, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, in particular Mali, Senegal and Guinea, were arbitrarily arrested and held at a detention centre in Nouadhibou for a few days on suspicion of trying to reach Europe. Despite promises to refurbish the detention centre, the authorities did nothing to improve the harsh detention conditions.

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Slavery

Although slavery was abolished in 1981 and has been a criminal offence since 2007, the practice persisted. There have been no judicial proceedings against slave owners.

Two families were freed from slavery during the year with the help of two human rights organizations, SOS Esclaves and L’Initiative pour la Résurgence du Mouvement Abolitionniste en Mauritanie (IRA Mauritanie).

  • Moulkheir Mint Yarba was born into slavery, as were other members of her family. In February, she was freed with her four children. In December 2007, she had been freed for the first time, but she was recaptured by another slave owner two months later. During her slavery, she was occasionally beaten and deprived of food.
  • Aichetou Mint M’Bareck was held in slavery since her birth in 1975. In October, together with her seven children, she managed to escape from captivity. During her slavery, she was separated from her children, she was beaten and her children were not able to attend school.
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Human rights defenders

Human rights defenders were arrested and one was beaten at the time of arrest and at a police station in Nouakchott.

  • Eight anti-slavery activists were arrested and detained in December in Nouakchott after raising the case of two young girls who they believed were held in slavery. They were members of the Initiative pour la Résurgence du Mouvement Abolitionniste en Mauritanie (IRA, Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement in Mauritania) and were charged with assaulting police officers and obstructing public order. The authorities did not recognize the IRA, although it had applied for registration. Amnesty International considered the eight detainees to be prisoners of conscience.
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Death penalty

Although no executions have taken place since 1987, the number of death sentences passed by the courts rose sharply in 2010. At least 16 people were sentenced to death following trials before the Nouadhibou and the Nouakchott tribunals, despite allegations in court that some had been tortured. The tribunals took no steps to investigate these allegations. Three people, including Sidi Ould Sidna who had been sentenced to death in May for murder, were again sentenced to death on charges of belonging to a banned organization in October.

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Human rights by region

World regions Midde East and North Africa Asia Pacific Europe and Central Asia Africa Americas

Africa

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Americas

In the Americas many human rights have been recognized in law, if not always in practice, over the past 50 years. Whi ...

Asia Pacific

In a region with almost two thirds of the world’s population, stretching a third of the way around the planet, ...

Europe & Central Asia

The right to truth and justice, and the determination of victims and their relatives to achieve this how ...

Middle East and North Africa

2010 dawned with Yemen an unusual focus of international attention following an alleged terrorist ...

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Country Visits

  • Amnesty International delegates visited Mauritania in September and October.