Mauritania: Criticizing governance – a risky business

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On Mauritania’s Independence Day, FIDH and its member organisation, AMDH, released a report detailing numerous human rights violations including the systematic repression of popular protest shaking the country since 2011. These events raise concerns about the re-emergence of an authoritarian regime in Mauritania. Our organisations call upon Mauritanian authorities to organise pluralistic, free and fair elections as soon as possible, whilst ensuring respect for fundamental freedoms in order to ease the extremely tense political and social context prevailing Mauritania.

Since Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz came to power, popular criticism of Mauritanian governance has steadily grown. The Mauritanian population has denounced violations of both human rights and democratic principles. These are identified in the FIDH/AMDH report as including the continuous postponement of legislative elections, poor working conditions for students and workers, the persistence of slavery, and discriminatory practices in population census procedure.

For several months, Mauritanian civil society has expressed its discontent over the prevailing human rights situation by staging frequent demonstrations in Nouakchott and nationwide, demanding “Aziz dégage” (“Aziz leave”). To date, the authorities have answered these calls with repression, and are experiencing difficulties in establishing a constructive dialog with the opposition.

The FIDH/AMDH report canvasses the different repressive interventions targeting demonstrations since the start of 2011, particularly those targeting students, trade unions, political parties and human rights organisations. The upsurge in violence in Mauritania is striking: since September 2011, three individuals have died following violent interventions by security forces, and arbitrary arrests and detentions have increased. “The systematic use of violence and torture by security forces, as well as the lack of judicial action in cases involving human rights violations, create a dangerous atmosphere in Mauritania: here, impunity joins the ranks of political power and distrust the ranks of the population”, said Mr. Sidiki Kaba, FIDH Honorary President. “It is essential that the Mauritanian authorities do not yield to the temptation of authoritarianism and promote a constructive dialog with political parties, trade unions and civil society”, he added.

Although legislative elections have been anticipated for over a year now, the population census process – a prerequisite to the elections - has proved controversial and questionable in many respects. Such controversy surrounds the slow speed of the process, which started in May 2011, the absence of information regarding its procedures and objectives, and discriminatory practices. These have heightened ethnic tensions and reinforced among thousands of Mauritanians a sense that they are being denied citizenship, leading them to mobilise within the “Touche pas à ma nationalité” (“Don’t touch my citizenship”) movement. “The Mauritanian authorities must guarantee all citizens identical access to the census. However, at present this is not the case since, as unbelievable as it may seem, members of certain ethnic groups are subjected to more detailed examinations compared to others”, said Ms. Fatimata Mbaye, AMDH President.

The persistence of the practice of slavery in the country is also an issue that Mauritanian authorities have yet to deal with. Although officially abolished in 1981 and criminalized in 2007, slavery practices persist with total impunity in Mauritania. “The adoption of constitutional reform that includes the constitutional criminalisation of slavery by Parliament in March 2012 was a sign of political will”, said Ms. Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President. “However, the concrete expression of this provision in practice is still awaited”, she added.

FIDH and AMDH call upon the Mauritanian authorities to engage firmly in ensuring respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country, to take into consideration the legitimate demands of the Mauritanian people and to foster a true social and political dialogue so as to ease current tensions.

Download the report (in French) : «Critiquer la gouvernance, un exercice risqué »

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