Refugees living in the desert in Mauritania
Statement on the State Department’s Mauritania 2020 Human Rights Report
By Houleye Thiam, Mauritanian Network for Human Rights
May 17, 2021
In the decade since its inception, the annual Country Report on Human Rights Practices has been widely known and respected. This lengthy document presenting statistics and analysis of human rights in virtually all nations has gained wide attention from the public and policymakers. Many in Congress view it as the most authoritative and complete statement on human rights conditions around the globe, which makes it even more important for this report to present accurate and complete information for individual countries, Lives and human rights progress depend on it.
We at the Mauritanian Network for Human Rights are cautiously optimistic about the recent 2020 State Department Report on Mauritania, as it mentions some human rights abuses in Mauritania, including the arbitrary killing of Abass Diallo. Diallo was a Black Fulani man, a husband, and a father, who was cold-bloodedly shot and killed by the Mauritanian police after he was accused of violating COVID curfew while working, but we believe that the State Department can do more.
The report barely mentions multiple systemic human rights abuses in Mauritania that have been going on for decades. The perpetrators of these human rights abuses which have been the different Mauritanian governments, are specifically targeting and ruining the lives of Black Mauritanians every day, and are keeping them as second-class citizens as they have done for decades.
Some of these issues include the following:
Statelessness affects Black Mauritanians of all ages, as many of them were not allowed or able to complete the latest Mauritanian census or obtain civil documents such as IDs or birth certificates. Government policies and practices that make it difficult or impossible for Black Mauritanians to obtain an ID or participate politically effectively strip Black Mauritanians of their citizenship.
This denial of citizenship prevents them from accessing basic services and rights, such as opening a business, enrolling their children in secondary schools, voting, opening a bank account, owning property, or traveling within the country or internationally. This limits their freedom of movement within the country to certain areas where the government sets up roadblocks and checks for people’s documentation. Sometimes checkpoint agents financially exploit those without documentation by detaining them until they pay a fine to be released, which inflicts abuse and trauma and contributes to increasing poverty for Black families.
The second issue is the lack of accountability for military officers who murdered Black Mauritanians in the 80s and 90s. These officers are still free in Mauritania. They were never held accountable for their crimes, and worse, they are now getting promotions to serve under the Ghazouani regime. Families whose loved ones were tortured to death by Mauritanian military officers can run into their perpetrators in traffic, at the beach, or the supermarket, increasing the trauma and suffering caused by those crimes that have remained unresolved for decades. These families are lost and suffering in silence with a tremendous amount of trauma.
The Mauritanian Network for Human Rights demands the immediate repeal or amendment of the No. 93-23 Law that grants amnesty to members of the security forces for any offenses committed in the performance of their duties between 1989 and 1992. This law has only made it much more difficult for victims to seek and obtain justice and accountability for the perpetrators of those heinous crimes.
Despite outlawing slavery in 1981 and criminalizing it in 2007, it is estimated that Mauritania still has over half a million slaves. Slavery is an inherited status, and enslaved children inherit their status from their mothers. Mauritania is slavery’s last stronghold, and countries such as the US with great democratic values need to pressure the Mauritanian government to put an end to this shameful practice.
Black Mauritanians have historically been stripped of their land ownership rights, most notably in the 1980s when a new law provided a legal basis to confiscate their land and redistribute it to Beydanes (light-skinned Arabs), international foreign investors, and other communities.
Black Fulani Mauritanians in the southern part of Mauritania have especially been victims of land grabs in which the government simply took away their farms and livelihoods and gave the land to Haratins (former slaves)and foreign investors. These land grabs cause extreme poverty for families. Despite a program to compensate those who lost their land under the policy, very little land has been redistributed. While Black landowners often welcome development projects in general, they do not want to be victims of those projects, as it is their lands that are confiscated. They are not part of the conversations with foreign investors and developmental banks such as the World Bank on how these projects work and how people can be compensated for the loss of their lands.
While it is important for the State Department to write this yearly country human rights report, it is equally important for the US to hold its allies accountable to stop these human rights abuses and bring true democracies in the world. If that is not done, the whole world becomes victims of abuse. As the great Martin Luther King, Jr. used to say, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” None of us will win until all of us win.
The Mauritanian Network for Human Rights in the US