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Observatory Annual Report: The Human Rights Situation in Mauritania

Sat, 04/04/2015 - 09:52

On behalf of the executive office of the Mauritanian Observatory for human rights and on my own behalf, I am pleased to welcome you and thank you for accepting our invitation to attend this General Assembly. This meeting is meant for the renewal of outgoing bodies and to submit a report on human rights violations during their tenure in office, which the observatory used to do since it was founded in 2003, in line with the established objectives of the protection of human rights in various dimensions and advancement; training, monitoring, support and advocacy.

I cannot fail to mention in the beginning that the Islamic law was the first to report the values of human rights without national nor regional or global pressures. Certainly, the reader of the noble Qur’an will find hundreds of verses that recognize human rights to the fullest. The rights prescribed by Islam are not a gift from a governor, or an organization, but are eternal rights imposed by will of the Lord as an integral part of Allah’s blessing on human when he was created in most complete and best of image. Islam has acknowledged the principle of freedom and equality between peoples and nations (Muslims and non-Muslims alike), and ensured that everyone has the right to a safe and secured shelter. Islam was credited to recognize the economic, social and cultural rights of individuals and groups as well as the right of persons to freely trade and work. It acknowledged the human right to a decent life and the right to travel within and outside the country. It also acknowledged the right to education, freedom of religion and the right to protection from authority abuse of power. In fact, there are countless Islamic legislative texts confirming, guarantying and protecting the human rights without prejudice.

In recent years, the human rights situation in Mauritania as monitored by this report, which we have prepared, is based on the information and data we obtained, whether through direct monitoring of violations by our activists, or through what is published by the media and research centers in general; has been marked by continuity of escalating violations, as characterized by targeting the human rights defenders. The targeting continues to this date through the harassment, arrests and trials. Those practices which refutes every official speech on the reform of justice and the independence of the judiciary system; which has become a remarkable blatant, not hide untruths, inaccuracies or claims the reform and allegations.

This report contains the status of various categories of rights which was accompanied by the Observatory as a range of areas spreading over three axes: i) Legislative and institutional rights, ii) Civil and political rights, and iii) Economic and social rights. This report does not claim to cover all violation practices of human rights, but it is sufficient to draw the general features that marked the government’s behavior in this area, and to what extent the state has honored its national and international commitments to freedoms and human rights.

The legislative and institutional level:

The military coup in 2008 has plunged the country into a deep political crisis that has created a heated debate about the extent of implementing the constitutional requirements. The new authorities called for a “national dialogue” on the reform of some areas, but without de facto involving the broad political forces or legal organizations (especially human rights organizations) or trade unions, while imposing the State apparatuses to dominate and to control this dialogue in advance. Indeed, there was a noticeable weakness in implementing the output of that dialogue by favoring the executive branch to provide the laws over the drafts submitted by the opposition parties. This indicates that the function of the legislative parliament fade back in front of the government initiatives and the dominance of the executive branch over legislative mechanisms.

As usual, the draft of financial law gets greater attention each year, especially in light of the continued normally revised budgets, and social crisis, and the inability to fight financial corruption as well as the limited role of the legislative council on the formal tasks of accepting whatever the government offers without major adjustment or a profound revision, in fact the second room of the council is not much better than the first room.

1) The constitution:

Despite the inclusion of number of civil and political rights and freedoms in the constitution and the commitment of the state to criminalize torture, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance, and its emphasis on a number of economic, social and cultural rights. However, the impact has been limited due to lack of constitutional and judicial guarantees and the necessary institutional mechanisms as well as the necessary will to grant these rights and ensure their protection and violators do not escape punishment.

The torture still a preferred punitive way in Mauritanian detention centers to extract coercive confessions, involving detainees of all ages regardless of their status or the charges against them, which proves that is a genuine behavior in these centers. This criminal behavior and the systematic neglect of prisoners have harvested dozens of lives in prisons (e.g. Dar Naim and the central prisons). These behaviors are well documented in reports issued by local and international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International. In the Observatory we have been reported cases of torture documented by video and audio, including beatings on a regular basis with sticks on the hands and the back with the hands and feet cuffed behind the back and putting an iron rod between the knees and hanging. The latest victim of this behavior is the Salafi prisoner Mr. Salek Ould Cheikh who was sentenced to death has lately entered a hunger strike since March 31, 2015 to protest the inhumane treatment and injustice practiced against him.

In the area of ​​slavery; despite the adoption of laws criminalizing slavery and the establishment of a special court in December 2013 to consider the slavery issues, its implementation remained weak. Between 2010 and 2014, at least six cases related to slavery issues have been transmitted to the prosecutor, but he did not decide on any of them to this day.

 

2) National Commission on Human Rights:

Since its foundation in 2006, it did not used all the powers vested in its mission to follow up and to monitor ongoing ​​civil and political rights violations, nor it scores any strong and firm position, especially in the face of attacks, arrests and politicized trials, which has been inflicting opponents and human rights activists. This commission has not only repeatedly ignored the victims of gross human rights violations demands, but has also imitated the government discourses. What is required from this entity is to issue thematic reports to brief the appropriate authorities of glitches and torrent deviations in the field of human rights, which should be strengthened by issuing recommendations attached to these reports and follow-up until are implemented.

ii) Civil and political rights:

1) The right to a decent life and personal security:

The Mauritanian constitution provides in its preamble the basic freedoms and rights of the human being endorsed by the international conventions and included in the heavenly messages.In drafting the text refers to the importance of institutional guarantees of freedoms and rights through the rule stemming from the will of the community building laws; it says: “Given that freedom, equality and human dignity , is impossible to guarantee, except in a society that devotes the rule of law, and willing to create fixed conditions for the growth of social harmonious , respectful of the provisions of the Islamic religion , the only source of law, and suit the requirements of the modern world, the Mauritanian people proclaims in particular the surest guarantee of the rights of the following principles :

a. The right to equality

b. Fundamental rights and freedoms of man

c. The right to property

d. Political and trade union freedoms

e. Economic and social rights

 

Article 10 of the constitution mentions that:

The State guarantees to all its citizens the individual and public freedoms and, in particular:

Freedom of movement and residence in all parts of the soil of the Republic,

Free access to the national territory and freedom of exiting out of it,

Freedom of opinion and freedom of thought,

Freedom of expression,Freedom of assembly,

Freedom of association and freedom to engage in any political organization and the trade union of their choices,

The freedom of trade and industry (crafts),

Freedom of intellectual, artistic and scientific creativity and,

Freedom is not restricted, except by the law (i.e. not by any private or official entities).

 

Article 11 of the constitution stated that:

a. In the framework of the political freedoms that political parties and groupings contribute to the formation of political will and expression. According to this article; “operating freely, on condition to respect the democratic principles, and that does not affect the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of the state and the unity of the nation and the Republic”.

b. In the treatment of the constitution and the Mauritania laws to the reality of the practice of slavery and its aftermath; Article 13 (new) provides that: “No person subjects any one to be held in slavery or any kind of harnessing human being or subjected to torture or other cruel or degrading treatments. These practices constitute crimes against humanity and law punishes accordingly. Even though, the Observatory had already scored many violations which affected the right to life in which the state bears responsibility either directly or indirectly; for instances the violence inflicted on the citizens in police stations and other public places, the negligence in health centers, the overcrowding and the absence of health and safety conditions in prisons and the prevalence of violence in some of the protests, and during demonstrations and vigils. These violations were repeated many times by various means and forces of the security authorities. From 2011 to 2012 were the worst two years in terms of the size of violations and repression, mainly affecting active segments of the society such as students of the Higher Institute and the University, the human rights movements ( e.g “do not touch my nationality” and Ira), youth movements (e.g. 25 February and Mauritanian Youth Movement) and seaport workers. In the same period, the Observatory headquarter has been broken into twice and all its documents and papers were stolen and confiscated. Despite all of these infractions, the responsible for these violations still enjoy the government protection and remained immune to the follow-up and accountability and even some of them have been promoted which constitutes an encouragement for them to continue the same behaviors.

2) Political arrests:

The country has known dozens of cases where individuals spent years in prison without charges before they get out innocently as an expression of blatant contempt for the freedoms of people. Many examples of which include, but not limited to cases of Mr. Ahmed Ould Khatri, Mr. Malai (Moulay) Arabi, Mr. Mahfouth ouled Akat, Mr. Mohamed Lemine Ouled Daddah, Mr. Yahya Ouled Alwaqf , and still the detainees Mr. Ibra Biram Ould Abeid and Mr. Brahim Ould Bilal and Mr. Habibi Sow languishing in prison for exercising their natural right to demonstrate.

3) Enforced disappearances:

In the area of ​​enforced disappearances we have 14 “Salafi” detainees forcibly disappeared for several years before the authorities announced their place of detention under the pressure of national and international human rights organizations.  In this prison where Mr. Maarof ouled Al-hibah has passed away because of ill-treatment, despite the alert of his deteriorating health before death through opposition protest statements and sit-ins in front of the military hospital in Nouakchott. I have to thank my colleagues in the Mauritanian Observatory for Human Rights for their efforts to restore some smiles to the families of these Salafi inmates through following this dossier and internationalize their case which forced the appropriate authority to disclose the place of detention. That could not happen without the support of our colleagues in the international organizations and specially the Swiss Dignity Organization which pledged to campaign with all United Nations bodies and enlist international lawyers to strongly put it in front of concerned departments; they have all our thanks, appreciation and gratitude.

4) Prison conditions:

According to the lawyers body that the detention center, Dar Naim, originally designed to accommodate three hundred inmates now houses more than eight hundred prisoners. Obviously, as a result of this overcrowding that guests of this prison are crammed inappropriately in a small number of wings. In addition, the limited number of guards and poor infrastructure of the prison have forced officials to adopt this deplorable situation. Moreover, it was noted that the transfer of detainees to the prison wings was not subjected to any logic. For example, we find in the same wing of Dar Naim prison dangerous criminals and people who have been arrested for civil debts or other minor offenses. There must be a strict separation between inmates according to their status, such as remand and convicted for non-criminal reasons.

5) Public and individual freedoms:

In the field of public freedoms, despite the marked improvement in the area of ​​freedom of information since 2005, and despite being in the forefront of the Arabic countries, this country still suffers from restrictions on freedom of expression and association. This was reflected in the expulsion of students from the Faculty of Medicine and the harassment of some journalists and arresting other reporters like Mr. Hanafi ouled Dehah, Mr. Aziz ouled Alsofi and Mr. Ahmedou Ould Alwadiaa, and the suppression of peaceful protests of some Jurists. Additionally, this period witnessed the government’s closure of many Islamic health and educational charities by sealing their headquarters with red wax without giving any convincing formal legal justification.

6) Independence of the judiciary system:

According to the lawyers body reports that the remarkable impeding and strong impact of the prosecutor on the investigating magistrates and verdict judges is unacceptable and must be stopped. Obviously, it is not necessary to provide some examples because it is self-evident. Supposedly the judges are subjected only to the authority of law and to their professional conviction, as opposed to reality; this sacred principle must be scrupulously respected. No one should be trying to prejudice this independence, especially the prosecutor and the executive branch in general. For that reason, the judges must deserve this independence, which is the subject of another discussion. Evidently, this profession should not be granted to incompetent or corrupt judges. In order for judges to be in the level of this responsibility, there should be a review policy of their promotion through the Supreme Council meeting to eliminate the previous practices of appointing judges by the interventions of influential people.

Economic and social rights:

Recent years have recorded the continuation of the same economic, social and cultural conditions, where most reliable indicators did not show any significant improvement, sometimes even recorded a serious setback. To address the structural economic and social crisis which has been deteriorating our country as manifested by the growing budget deficit which is expected to reach 320 % in 2015 compared to what it was in 2014.The original project text for the 2015financial year stated that the deficit reached six billion five hundred and sixty-seven million eight hundred and eighty thousand Mauritanian Ouguiya (6.567.880.000 M.O.), while in 2014 that figure did not exceed two billion nine hundred M.O. The prices of various commodities remained on the rise especially food items that recorded the biggest increase, making the heaviest weight on consumer shoulders. To face this situation, the government continues with a policy of reducing public expenditures, evading provision of social services, increase sales taxes from 14 to 16 %, and raising prices more including energy materials, which witnessed large and successive increases in recent years then it was justified by the rise of such materials internationally. But, the authority has refused to review the energy prices after their reduction in the international markets, in stark contrast to the principle of justification and in full harmony with the spirit of opportunism. In recent years we have also witnessed clear declines of the political gains such as the freezing of social dialogue, and the confiscation of fundamental rights and freedoms in the field of protest, demonstration and strike. The SNIM workers are the best living example we have today in this matter.

 

The right to work:

The unemployment rate continues to rise astronomically which led the International Labor Organization of the United Nations to confirm in its 2015 report that Mauritania will top countries in the world by having the largest unemployment rate exceeding the threshold of 30%. During the current year the report estimates that Mauritania tops 10 countries with the highest unemployment rates. The U.N. report comes in the light of the government insistence that the unemployment rate is in the range of only 10 %. The fact that the official unemployment rate hides other facts related to disguised unemployment (street vendors, non contracts employees, short -term contracts, and workers for days or even some hours). It is worth mentioning that in recent years, we have observed an increase in labor strike in several public and semi- public sectors, against the Government’s policy of ignoring the demands of the strikers and its reliance on the deduction as the only method to respond to those demands. This is a flagrant violation of the rights and trade union freedoms and a frank retreat from the gains that previous governments could not touch.On the other hand, the largest share of violations was on the private sector, where there is continuous denial of basic rights (e.g. employment contracts, minimum wages, social security fund, health insurance fund, determined working hours, weekly and annual holidays). Series of arbitrary dismissal of workers and collective redundancies have continuously taking place.Moreover, deaths as a result of absence of occupational health and safety requirements, especially in the metals companies and the complete absence of any insurance for work accidents, not to mention the low wages which are not compatible with the cost of living. This form of practices must be criminalized and ensuring the rights and trade union freedoms in the labor laws.

2) The right to health:

Health sector lives scary scenes; it is difficult to believe that there is not enough medical personnel nor equipped hospitals, no availability of medical drugs, no treatments for many diseases such as renal failure and some cancers and above that, there is a scary high death rate among women and children. This situation made the ​​rich people to travel abroad for treatment or resorting to the expensive private medical sector, whereas the poor have to live with the inefficient services in these dilapidated medical facilities. Although the present authority claimed to make the health sector a top priority, there was no big improvement noted on the level of equipments or on the level of the human staff. In fact, health is considered among the indicators that make Mauritania in the back of countries with regard to the human development index.Hardly a day goes by, without hearing of death cases or neglect resulting in death because of the weakness of public funding for health, poor medical assistance system for low-income, poor preventive health services and the deterioration of the situation in public hospitals due to several financial, human and logistical difficulties and the continued high cost of pharmaceutical agents.

 

3) The right to education:

There is almost a consensus that the educational system has reached an unprecedented deterioration as shown by the results of the qualitative studies carried out by the evaluation cell of the National Educational Institute in cooperation with a French Educational Research Institute (1999-2014). These studies have confirmed, beside the increase of dropout rates in high schools, there is a significant decline in the rates of success in the baccalaureate (end of high school) and end of junior high certificate as well as the prep contest entry to the first year of junior high (end of primary school).            For instance, the Educational Institute has shown the following figures for the national examinations for 2013/2014 school year: Only 13% of high school seniors have passed the baccalaureate and 30.1% have passed the junior high certificate while the success for the prep contest entry to junior high was 56.39%. In general, the national educational system suffers from many imbalances and deficiencies, including:

a. The absence of a national charter for discipline and the lack of a Higher Council for Education and Training.

b. The displacement of qualified teachers and high school educators to administrative tasks or being laid off claiming they are Arabised.*

c. The absence of control over the performance and quality of educational crews.

d. The scarcity of material resources and the absence of the appropriate pedagogic guidance.

e. The absence of reward and punishment and the spread of patronage in the educational sector.

f. The small number of teachers to large number of students, for example there is 42% of schools operate according to the multi-level system sections.

The degradation of the national educational system had a deep negative impact on what the country is witnessing today of the collapse of the moral system, the weakness of religious responsibilities to better serve the society and the absence of national spirit seen among a large sector of government employees .

Conclusion:

In an effort to promote the culture of citizenship and human rights and to ensure the respect for the civil rights and liberties, the Mauritanian Observatory has organized several seminars on arbitrary detentions, the rights of the prisoner, the required living conditions of the population, the right to access to decent housing and the issue of Guantanamo prisoners. The Observatory has also released dozens of statements condemning the violations and the authority abuses in solidarity with the victims and recording a documentary film for the Salafi prisoners and the suffering of their relatives has been conveyed to every active organization in the field of human rights.

God grants success,

Amar Mohamed Najem

The Mauritanian Observatory for Human Rights

Nouakchott,

04/03/2015