Human Rights Watch Report of 2019 Apartheid and racist Laws
The first constitution of Mauritania adopted in March 1959 was modeled on the constitution of the French Fifth Republic which recognized principles of separation of the three powers while leaning towards a strong Executive.
Subsequent constitutional amendments have maintained that initial framework. The current constitution is the one of 1991 which was amended in 2017. It recognizes a greater freedom and civic liberties and establishes institutions such as the Constitutional Council to serve as watchdogs for the respect of constitutional norms and democratic processes. What may be considered as the Bill of Rights of the Constitution is listed in articles 10 to 22.
Although, the Preamble of the constitution does make a reference with regards to socio-economic rights. The rights listed include a right to equality, privacy, physical integrity, equal access to public service, presumption of innocence and freedom of movement, opinion, expression, assembly, association, trade unionism, adhesion, and creation of political parties. Additionally, the right to conduct commerce, business, and intellectual, artistic, and scientific creation. Equally worthy of notice is the fact that the right to strike is constitutionally recognized.
The Mauritanian authorities continue to restrict freedom of expression and assembly, especially when independent activists protest against racism and ethnic discrimination, the persistence of slavery, and other sensitive issues. They imprison activists on dubious charges.
In addition to social pressures, a variety of state policies and laws that criminalize adultery and morality offenses render women vulnerable to gender-based violence, making it difficult and risky for them to report sexual assault to the police.
Mauritania’s laws impose the death penalty for a range of offenses, including, under certain conditions, blasphemy, adultery, and homosexuality. A de facto moratorium remains in effect on capital punishment and on corporal punishments that are inspired by Islamic Sharia law and found in the penal code.
Prosecutors use repressive legislation that includes criminal defamation and broad definitions of terrorism and “inciting racial hatred” to censor and prosecute critics for nonviolent speech. A new anti-discrimination law adopted in 2017 added to the arsenal; article 10 states, “Whoever encourages an incendiary discourse against the official rite of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania shall be punished by one to five years in prison.”
The 1964 Law of Associations requires associations to obtain permission to operate legally and allows the Ministry of Interior to refuse such permission on vague grounds such as “anti-national propaganda” or exercising “an unwelcome influence on the minds of the people.” The ministry has withheld recognition from several associations that campaign on controversial issues, such as IRA and “Hands Off My Nationality,” which accuses the government of discriminating against blacks in the national civil registration process.
On July 22 1998, Mauritanian authorities blocked the departure for Geneva of five activists who lead organizations of widows and orphans that demand accountability for the state-sponsored repression that targeted Afro-Mauritanians between 1989 and 1991 and oppose the amnesty that the government decreed for those events in 1993. Maimouna Alpha Sy, Aïssata Mamadou Anne, Aïssata Alassane, Diallo Yaya Sy, and Baba Traoré were to participate in the UN Committee Against Torture’s periodic review of Mauritania.
Mauritania abolished slavery in 1981 and criminalized it in 2007. The government claims that there is no longer any slavery, only its legacy, in the form of extreme poverty and exclusion, which it is addressing. Slavery has not been eliminated entirely. The Global Slavery Index estimates that there are 90,000 slaves in Mauritania, or 2 percent of the population, including those who endure “modern” forms of the practice, such as forced or bonded labor.
Three special courts that prosecute slavery-related crimes have tried a handful of cases since their creation under a 2015 law.
In 2017, parliament adopted a law on reproductive health that recognized it to be a universal right but that maintained the ban on abortion.
Mauritanian law does not adequately define the crime of rape and other forms of sexual assault, although a draft law on gender-based violence with more specific definitions was pending before parliament. The criminalization of consensual adult sexual relations outside marriage likely deters girls and women from reporting assaults, because they can find themselves charged if the judiciary views the sexual act in question as consensual.
Mauritania continued to implement a biometric national civil registration process for all citizens and others present in the country. Many citizens, particularly the poor or poorly educated, struggled to fulfill the arduous documentation requirements. Some had reportedly given up trying. Schools sometimes prevented unregistered children from enrolling, even though school is compulsory from ages 6 to 14. Even when education authorities allowed unregistered pupils to enroll, they prevented them from taking the national exams they must pass to continue their education, causing many to drop out of school.
Human Rights Watch report of 2019