Universal Jurisdiction

France / Mauritania
Will Ely Ould Dah finally stand a criminal jury trial ?

Paris, July 17th, 2002

On July 8 the Court of Appeals of the city of Nîmes (France) decided to indict the Mauritanian captain Ely Ould Dah and send him before the highest Criminal Court for acts of torture committed in Mauritania on Negro Mauritanian citizens between 1990 and 1992.
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the French League of Human Rights (LDH) welcome the decision taken by the Nîmes Court of Appeals and believe that this new step gives a new hope to the Mauritanian victims supported by the FIDH and the LDH since 1999.
The July 8 decision is an essential move in the effective implementation of the principle of universal jurisdiction in that it confirms, inter alia that :
- "Article 689-2 of the criminal procedure code … gives jurisdiction to the French tribunal to prosecute or judge, when found on the French territory, anyone who, outside of the territory of the Republic, has committed a crime or an offense which constitutes tortures and other cruel or degrading treatment or punishment, pursuant to article 1 of the New York Convention of December 10, which entered into force in France since June 26 1987 …;
- The acts were committed in the context of " an ethnic cleansing" and a massive campaign of repression organized by the Mauritanian government in power at that time …;
- Recognizing the applicability in France of a foreign amnesty law would be tantamount for the national authorities to violate its international obligations duly ratified and to empty the principle of universal jurisdiction of its goal … and
- Decides the indictment of Ely Ould Dah before the criminal court in GARD (France)".
While the FIDH and the LDH recently witnessed the systematic and characterized use of torture in Mauritania, this decision represents an immense hope for Mauritanian victims but also for those who, every day, fight against impunity in the world.
Unsurprisingly, Ely Ould Dah just announced that he was challenging the decision before the French Supreme Court (Cour de cassation). A final obstacle needs therefore to be won before Ely Ould Dah be asked to answer for his crimes before a criminal court.
The FIDH and the LDH are however confident that such a trial will take place and express their determination in putting all efforts to allow justice for the victims of Ely Ould Dah.


The authorities of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania have been denounced as being responsible for many cases of torture and ill treatment on a large scale, especially against black Mauritanians.
Starting in 1986, many black officers of the Mauritanian army, all Negro-Africans, were arrested, executed, poisoned or condemned to hard labor and tortured.
In November 1990, claiming a conspiracy had been hatched (it was never proven), authorities arrested and tortured several thousands of black Mauritanian soldiers, junior officers and civil servants. At least 310 of them were killed in atrocious conditions: they were either buried or burned alive, two vehicles quartered some and others yet were hanged. At the end of March 1991, the survivors were released, 312 of them being discharged for misconduct but none were tried. In May 1993, those responsible for the massacres were granted amnesty and as a result could not be tried for their crimes.
Captain Ely Ould Dah, an intelligence officer at the Jreida prison army base, was in charge of recording the confessions of black Mauritanian army personnel. The lawsuit in question was filed on behalf of the victims (there were two) who were tortured in Jreida prison in 1990 and 1991. Ely Ould Dah, captain in the Mauritanian army, is accused of being one of those responsible for torturing black Mauritanian army personnel. The survivors were freed at the end of April 1991. Some survivors decided to leave Mauritania to seek political asylum in France.
· June 8, 1999: the Ligue des Droits de l'Homme and the FIDH files an action against Ely Ould Dah in Montpellier, under article 689-1 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which stipulates that charges can be pressed in French courts (universal jurisdiction) for torture provided by article 222-1 of the Criminal Code, in accordance with the 1984 Convention on Torture.
· July 2, 1999: Ely Ould Dah is imprisoned and subsequently released on September 28, 1999 and placed under judicial supervision
· April 5, 2000: Ely Ould Dah escapes to Mauritania. An investigation is conducted to ascertain the circumstances of his escape.
May 25 2001: the investigative Magistrate renders a decision of indictment against Ely Ould Dah. The magistrate orders a trial before the criminal court (Cour d'assise).

June 20, 2001: Ely Ould Dah's lawyer appeals the indictment decision. The legal character of this procedure is doubtful because it might have been filed after the deadline. The notification of the decision of accusation itself is also doubtful.

November 8, 2001: the Montpellier Court of Investigation declares the appeal inadmissible due to its delay. Ely Ould Dah's lawyer files an appeal against this decision.

March 6, 2002: the Criminal Court of the Cour de Cassation broke the decision of the Court of Investigation of Montpellier and sent the case to the Court of Appeals of Nîmes.

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