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TITLE:  MAURITANIA HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1993                           
DATE:  JANUARY 31, 1994


President Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya has ruled Mauritania 
since 1984, first as head of a military junta and since 1992 as 
head of an elected civilian Government.  The January 1992 
presidential elections, however, were widely regarded by 
observers as fraudulent.  In April 1992, there were 
elections--boycotted by most opposition parties--for a new 
civilian Parliament to replace the Military Committee which had 
previously functioned as the country's legislative body.  The 
1991 Constitution delegates most powers to the executive; the 
Parliament, composed of a Senate and a National Assembly, posed 
no challenge to the executive's dominance.  The opposition 
boycott also gave the President's party, the Democratic and 
Social Republican Party (PRDS), effective control over 

The President and the Government have strong military support.  
Mauritanian security forces number between 19,000 and 20,000 
and include the regular armed forces, the National Guard, the 
Gendarmerie (a specialized corps of paramilitary police), and 
the police.  The Gendarmerie is directed by the Ministry of 
Defense, while the National Guard and police come under the 
Ministry of Interior.  The security forces continued to engage 
in human rights violations, but the incidence and severity of 
violations continued to drop from the massive scale of abuses 
during 1989-91.  The security forces, especially the military, 
are dominated by the Arabic-speaking (Hassaniya) Maurs.

Most of Mauritania's 2.1 million inhabitants, either nomadic 
herders, settled farmers, or small merchants and traders, live 
within a market-oriented subsistence economy.  Mauritania is 
burdened with numerous long-term economic and social problems:  
drought, desertification, insect infestation, extensive 
unemployment, one of the highest per capita foreign debts in 
Africa, minimal infrastructure, inadequate health and education 
systems, and rapid urbanization.  Low rainfall levels over the 
past years have forced large numbers of nomads to settle, with 
a consequent weakening of traditional nomadic culture, a severe 
strain on government resources, and increased ethnic tensions 
with the sedentary African, non-Hassaniya-speaking farmers in 
the south (see Section 5).

While the observance of human rights improved, there was only 
limited progress in resolving major human rights violations of 
previous years.  The political system still fell far short of a 
genuine democracy; despite numerous parties, the regime's 
legitimacy remained in question with a large part of the 
electorate--namely, many African non-Hassaniya-speaking 
citizens--excluded from effective political representation.  
Some 56,000 African-Mauritanians, among the approximately 
60,000 expelled in the 1989-90 period, remained in refugee 
settlements in Senegal.  Most were waiting to be repatriated 
and to be reimbursed for their lost property and belongings.  
Ethnic tensions remained high because of the Government's 
failure to bring to account those responsible for the bloody 
purge conducted by the military among its own ranks from 
September 1990 through March 1991, in which approximately 500 
persons--almost entirely from Mauritania's black African ethnic 
groups (largely Halpulaar and Soninke)--are believed to have 
died, and many hundreds more were tortured and maimed.  In June 
the PRDS-dominated Parliament aggravated the situation by 
passing an amnesty bill to preclude legal pursuit of those 
involved in this purge.

The Government undertook efforts to restructure the judiciary, 
including abolishing the Special Security Court, but in 
practice, the right of fair trial remained restricted, the 
police continued to mistreat suspects, and slavery remained a 
problem.  Violence against women became an issue for open 


Section 1  Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including 
           Freedom from:

     a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

While it was not clear whether security forces were acting 
under orders or whether individuals were acting as armed 
vigilantes, there were a number of unexplained and 
uninvestigated deaths in the border region of Guidimaka.  In 
that area, there is a high incidence of cattle rustling and 
vigilantism by both civilians and security forces.  

There are credible reports that black Mauritanians, previously 
expelled to Senegal and associated with radical, antigovernment 
groups, killed two Mauritanian military officers, both white 
Maurs, in August along the Senegal River where the majority of 
the country's non-Arabic-speaking black population lives.  

Extrajudicial killings, primarily of African-Mauritanians, from 
past years remained uninvestigated and unresolved.  The 
principal example of unresolved extrajudicial killing dates 
from 1990-91 when, while in military custody, approximately 500 
largely Halpulaar and Soninke military and civilian personnel 
died; many of these persons were summarily executed after being 
tortured.  They were part of a large group of as many as 3,000 
who were rounded up, detained, and tortured, allegedly for 
coup-plotting.  The results of an internal military 
investigation into this matter have never been made public, and 
no one has been charged with or faced trial for the tortures 
and deaths.  In fact, several high-placed military officials 
who reportedly were involved remain on duty and in some cases 
were promoted, including Colonel Sid'Ahmed Ould Boilil, Colonel 
Cheikh Ould Mohamed Salah, Major Mohamed Cheikh Ould El Hadi, 
and Major Ely Fall.  

In June Parliament approved a bill granting amnesty to members 
of the armed forces and police, as well as to private citizens, 
involved in those killings and other abuses during the 1990-91 
period.  The bill was a setback for efforts by human rights 
groups and others to bring to account those responsible or 
otherwise resolve these abuses.  The Government offered 
compensation to victims of these abuses and to relatives of 
those who were killed, but very few of the concerned families 
accepted the compensation in the absence of an overall 

     b.  Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances.  In previous years, 
there were occasional credible reports of black Africans 
disappearing after being taken into military custody.  The 
Government appears to have made no effort to investigate these 
past incidents.

     c.  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading 
         Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits the use of torture and other forms of cruel 
or inhuman punishment.  However, while there was no repetition 
of the large-scale mistreatment of 1990-91, there continued to 
be credible evidence of mistreatment by security forces.  In 
particular, police occasionally beat criminal suspects prior to 
interrogation.  Persons who commit such abuses are only 
occasionally tried and punished.  In one instance, police 
reportedly apprehended a journalist in Nouakchott for not 
having his identity papers with him; they stripped and beat him 
and then released him.  There was no report of an investigation 
or punishment of the police involved.

Security forces, claiming retaliation for cross-border raids in 
the Guidamaka area near the Mali border, reportedly sometimes 
resort to brutality--usually severe beatings--in questioning 
people, and on some occasions have themselves stolen goods from 
the people they were supposed to protect. 

Prison conditions are harsh and do not meet minimum sanitary or 
humanitarian standards.  In September an independent journal 
featured an expose on abysmal conditions at the central prison 
for men in Nouakchott.  The article cited, inter alia, 
inadequate food and medical treatment for inmates.  There was 
also a report of some inmates being forced to wear manacles 
continually so as to restrict their movement.  Another 
independent newspaper reported the arrest of two minors, aged 
10 and 12, who were held in an adult prison where they were 
beaten before being released.  The Government permitted visits 
by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to 
monitor prison conditions. 

There were a few reports of policemen being brought to justice 
for the mistreatment of individuals.  In one case, four police 
officers entered a house under the guise of searching for drug 
traffickers.  After raping and robbing a woman, they were 
apprehended by other police officers; the perpetrators were 
tried and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The 1991 Constitution provides for due process and the 
presumption of innocence until proven guilty by an established 
tribunal.  It further states that no one can be arrested, 
detained, prosecuted, or punished except as provided for under 
the law.  The Government, with the participation of an 
association of lawyers, revised the Code of Civil and Criminal 
Procedures in 1993 to bring it into line with the Constitution 
and to spell out more clearly safeguards to protect the 
accused.  Nonetheless, actual application of these safeguards 
remained inconsistent and continued to vary widely from case to 

By law, the courts are required to review the legality of a 
person's detention within 48 hours of arrest.  However, the 
police can extend the period for another 48 hours, and a 
prosecutor has the authority to detain persons for up to 30 
days in cases considered to involve national security.  Only 
after the prosecutor submits the charges is the suspect 
permitted to contact an attorney.  It is, moreover, common 
practice to detain prisoners incommunicado for prolonged 
periods without charging them with any crime and without 
judicial review.  Sometimes prisoners who have been charged 
find themselves released before trial without explanation.  
Such releases usually can be attributed to the prisoner's 
familial, tribal, or political connections.  There is a 
provision for granting bail, but it is rarely used.

There was a credible report of suspects being held for extended 
periods without being tried or charged.  For example, in Sory 
Male, a Halpulaar village with a history of abuse and torture 
by security forces, four persons were arrested in November 1992 
for the murder of a Maur storekeeper.  At the end of 1993, they 
remained in pretrial detention. 

There continued to be occasional reports of arbitrary arrests 
and intimidation committed by security forces, particularly in 
communities along the Senegal river.

     e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the judiciary is nominally independent, it is controlled 
and influenced by the executive.  The Government appoints 
judges and subjects the courts to pressure in reaching 
verdicts.  This influence was demonstrated clearly when the 
Government refused to allow the courts to accept the opposition 
parties' challenge of the January 1992 presidential elections.  
Other examples include the court's dismissal, at the 
Government's direction, of banks' suits to seize collateral on 
defaulted loans held by influential community members and the 
rejection of class actions which could embarrass the 
Government.  Furthermore, effective implementation of justice 
is problematic due in part to poorly educated and trained 
judges and their susceptibility to tribal or social pressures.

To a significant degree, the judicial system continues to be 
dominated by rulings, conciliations, and settlements conducted 
by tribal elders based on Shari'a (Islamic law), tribal 
regulations, and personal connections.

The revised formal judicial system (see Section 1.d.) includes 
a system of lower, middle, and upper level courts, each with 
specified jurisdiction.  The Security Court, a chamber reserved 
for cases involving the Government, was abolished.  Bridging 
the traditional and modern system of justice are 43 
department-level tribunals staffed by Qadis or traditional 
Islamic magistrates trained primarily in Koranic law.  
Mauritanians aiming to use the courts to seek redress in 
matters such as marriage, inheritance, succession, 
noncommercial suits, and land issues in rural areas must 
address themselves to one of these tribunals, which operate on 
the basis of both Shari'a and legal codes.  The use by Islamic 
judges of extreme physical punishment, such as amputation, is 
no longer practiced in Mauritania.  The Government is 
continuing to eliminate a number of unqualified Shari'a judges, 
and it held two training seminars for judges and members of the 
security forces to increase their awareness of the basic rights 
of detainees.

The 10 regional courts or tribunals of first instance handle 
litigation between companies, civil suits against the 
Government, traffic accidents and infractions, embezzlement of 
public funds, banking or insurance matters, money changing 
violations, and land issues in urban areas.

Challenges to decisions at the department and regional levels 
are handled by one of three regional Courts of Appeals.  A 
Supreme Court, nominally independent, is headed by a magistrate 
named to a 5-year term by the President.  The Supreme Court 
reviews decisions and rulings made by the Courts of Appeal to 
determine their compliance with the law.

Constitutional review is the purview of a six-member 
Constitutional Council.  Established by the 1991 Constitution, 
it has three members named by the President, two by the 
National Assembly President, and one by the Senate President.  
Submission of laws for review by the Council can be done only 
by the President, the Senate or National Assembly Presidents, 
or by one-third of the members of either house.  Council 
findings may not be appealed.  At the end of 1993, two laws 
submitted for review had been declared not in conformity with 
the Constitution on technical grounds.  Both were being 
reformulated to bring them into compliance.

In theory, all defendants, regardless of the court or their 
ability to pay, have the legal right to be present with legal 
counsel during the proceedings.  The law also states that 
defendants may confront witnesses, present evidence, and appeal 
their sentences.  However, in practice these rights are not 
regularly applied. 

The Government's claim that there were no political detainees 
or prisoners appeared accurate at year's end.

     f.  Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 

By law, judicial warrants are required to perform home 
searches, but this requirement is often ignored.  There were 
fewer reports of government surveillance of suspected 
dissidents than in the past.  The extent to which the 
Government uses informants is unknown.

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

The 1991 Constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, 
but there are important restrictions including prepublication 
press censorship.  With regard to freedom of speech, opposition 
political leaders spoke openly at large rallies in preparation 
for the municipal elections expected to take place in early 

The Government controls the electronic media (radio and 
television) and the country's two daily newspapers, Horizon and 
Chaab.  Radio is the most important medium by far in reaching 
the public, and all the official media strongly support 
government policies.  All newspapers and political parties must 
register with the Ministry of Information, and newspapers must 
submit their copy to the Ministry prior to publication.  There 
were no reports of the Ministry excising material from journals 
or otherwise censoring their articles, and in contrast to 1992 
there were no cases of the authorities seizing issues of 

Independent, privately owned journals, established following 
the press law of 1991, numbered approximately 60--most 
appearing weekly in the capital and other large towns.  For the 
most part, these weeklies reach a limited audience, not only 
due to financial constraints but also because of the high rate 
of illiteracy.  They were boldly critical of the Government, 
particularly on its human rights record, and the President 
himself was often criticized by name.  Some of them undertook 
investigations of human rights violations, unresolved crimes, 
and government corruption.  Antigovernment tracts, newsletters, 
and petitions circulated widely in Nouakchott and other major 

The one university is government operated, but since 1991 
limits on academic freedom have eased.  There were no cases of 
professors being prevented from pursuing their research and 
publication interests or of having their lectures censored.

     b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and 
association.  The law governing political parties requires that 
all groups must register with the Minister of Interior and 
obtain permission for large meetings or assemblies.  There were 
reports of some permits being denied or conditions placed on 
some marches or rallies to limit their effectiveness.

Over 16 political parties and a wide array of nongovernmental 
organizations (NGO's), many of them highly critical of the 
Government, met openly, issued public statements, and chose 
their own leadership.  Legally required to register with the 
Government in order to operate, a large number of newly formed 
NGO's, such as the Association of Human Rights, a women's group 
on the environment, and a group concerned with the rights of 
the handicapped, operated unfettered, although they had yet to 
receive the Government's approval by year's end.

     c.  Freedom of Religion

Freedom of religion does not exist.  Islam is the official 
religion of Mauritania, and all citizens are, by law, Sunni 
Muslim and prohibited from converting to another religion.  
Proselytizing by non-Muslims is prohibited, and Mauritanians 
are prohibited from entering non-Islamic houses of worship and 
from possessing sacred texts of other religions.

The small Lebanese Shi'a community is allowed to practice its 
religion privately.  The expatriate Christian community is 
allowed to hold worship services that are restricted to 
resident foreigners.

     d.  Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign 
         Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Historically there were few restrictions on movement within 
Mauritania, where nomadism has long been a way of life.  The 
Government has ended previous strictures on movement along the 
riverine area imposed by local authorities following the 
rupture of relations with Senegal in 1989 and the attendant 
violence.  Travelers are regularly stopped and papers checked 
by the Gendarmerie on the roads between towns and on the 
outskirts of Nouakchott and other large towns.  No cases were 
reported of persons being denied passports for political 

The approximately 200,000 Mauritanian Maurs expelled by the 
Government of Senegal in 1989-90 have now been largely absorbed 
through government and private means.  Some of them have 
settled on land belonging to Africans who were expelled by 
Mauritania during the 1989-90 crisis, heightening ethnic 
tensions in the Senegal River Valley.  Of the approximately 
60,000 African-Mauritanians who were expelled, an estimated 
56,000 remain in refugee settlements in Senegal, the others 
presumably having returned to Mauritania or been absorbed into 
the Senegalese population.  The 1989 crisis also led 
approximately 13,000 Mauritanian Peuhl to take refuge in Mali.  
Although the overwhelming majority apparently continue to 
remain there, some reportedly have returned.

The Government claims that it places no restrictions on the 
return of those expelled in 1989-90, including the Senegalese 
previously resident in Mauritania, and some refugees have 
traveled to Mauritania to visit family or to seek work.  In the 
town of Debaye, 705 of the former 1,000 residents returned.  
The Government appeared to be encouraging a gradual 
case-by-case repatriation.  In some areas regional and local 
government officials have encouraged refugees to return and 
have promised to issue new identity papers, return their land 
(or land nearby in cases where other settlers now occupy their 
land), and provide economic assistance to farmers.  Authorities 
have fulfilled their promises of support for some returning 
refugees but not for others.

The impasse for the 56,000 refugees still in Senegal centers on 
their demands that the Mauritanian Government repatriate them 
en masse and acknowledge having expelled its own citizens, 
issue the refugees identity papers before their return, return 
their land, animals, and other personal goods, and pay 
compensation for their losses.  Toward the latter part of the 
year, the Government began meeting with the U.N. High 
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to discuss conditions for 
repatriation.  However, the Government has so far failed to set 
up clear administrative, much less judicial, procedures for 
expellees wishing to obtain confirmation of their citizenship 
and associated rights.  The Taya Government has always 
maintained that most persons who fled or were expelled in the 
wake of the 1989 crisis were, in fact, Senegalese nationals and 
that their Mauritanian identity documents were fraudulent.  
However, certification of identity was problematic because 
security forces had destroyed or confiscated many of the 
deportees' identity documents during the 1989-90 expulsions.  

At year's end, the UNHCR was beginning to arrange for the 
gradual return to Mali of some of the over 46,000 Tuareg and 
Maur refugees residing in camps in southeastern Mauritania.  
These refugees had fled to Mauritania in 1991-92 following 
conflict between Tuareg factions and government forces in 
Mali's northern regions.

Section 3  Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens 
           to Change Their Government

Citizens have not been able to exercise their Constitutional 
right to change their government through free and fair 
elections.  The 1992 multiparty election of a civilian 
President ended 14 years of military rule, but the elections 
were considered by international observers and the opposition 
to have been marred by fraud.  Moreover, the military continued 
to provide strong support to the regime, and some previous 
Military Council members, in addition to President Taya, 
remained in positions of power within the armed forces and 
elsewhere in the Government.  For example, the President of the 
National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, was a former 
army colonel.  As the major opposition parties, including the 
Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), boycotted the 1992 
legislative elections, the President's party, the PRDS, has 
near-total control of the National Assembly, 106 seats out of 

The opposition political parties announced that they would 
participate in the municipal elections scheduled for early 
1994.  In preparation for these elections, the Government met 
with leaders of the major opposition parties and updated the 
voter registration rolls.

Although the PRDS enjoys the advantages of incumbency, it 
nonetheless faces strong opposition in a number of 
constituencies, including the capital city, other major towns, 
and in some southern border areas.  The main opposition party, 
the UFD, draws its support particularly from the 
African-Mauritanian community as well as from Maurs opposed to 
Taya and his group and a significant percentage of the Haratine 
class.  Only a few of the other parties have a wide popular 
following, though a recently created centrist party will run 
candidates for municipal office in a number of constituencies.  

Women have the right to vote, although few are active in 
political parties.  There were five women in senior government 
positions:  Counselor to the President, the Assistant Director 
of the President's Cabinet, the Secretary of State for the 
Condition of Women (raised to Cabinet level in 1993), and the 
Secretaries General of the Ministries of Commerce and of 
Justice.  There is one elected woman Senator belonging to the 
ruling party, the PRDS, and one elected town mayor.  There is 
only 1 female senator in a Parliament totaling 132 members.

While there are black Mauritanians in senior positions in the 
Government, they are underrepresented.  Of the 17 Ministers in 
Prime Minister Sidi Mohamed Ould Boubacar's Cabinet, 3 are 
black Maurs, 1 is Pulaar, and 1 Soninke.  The other ministers 
are white Maurs.

Section 4  Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
           Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 
           of Human Rights

The only officially recognized human rights organization within 
the country, the Mauritanian League for Human Rights (HRL), was 
increasingly active on behalf of human rights.  The League, 
through its newspaper and press statements, did not criticize 
the President or top officials directly, but it openly 
criticized the amnesty law granting immunity from prosecution 
for those guilty of violations dating from the 1990-91 period.  

The Government continued to withhold recognition from the 
Mauritanian Human Rights Association (HRA), which applied for a 
permit in 1991, and two women's rights groups that were active 
in 1993:  the Support Committee, for assistance to the wives 
and orphans of victims of the 1990-91 military purge; and the 
Collective of Families Separated by Deportation, which 
represented the spouses (mainly female) and children of persons 
who were deported to Senegal during the 1989 crisis.  
Nevertheless, the Government allowed these associations to 

The HRA was extremely active in pursuing its agenda, 
specifically in providing information to the press and in 
sponsoring seminars.  The Government has still not processed 
the applications for recognition from the HRA and many other 
institutions, partly out of suspicion toward NGO activities in 
general and partly to keep potential opposition groups on a 
short leash.

In July the Government created a post of mediator or 
"Ombudsman" to assist citizens with problems they may have with 
government institutions.  Requests for assistance must go 
through Members of Parliament.  There have been no reports as 
yet of the mediator's effectiveness.

Representatives of the Government as well as delegates from the 
League for Human Rights, the Association of Mauritanians in 
Senegal, and the Committee of Solidarity with the Victims of 
Repression in Mauritania all attended a March meeting in Banjul 
of the International Commission of Jurists, where they openly 
aired their differences on the human rights situation in 
Mauritania.  During a subsequent visit to Mauritania, members 
of the International Commission of Jurists met with government 
officials, human rights monitors, and others to discuss the 
human rights situation in Mauritania.

However, the Government was selective in its approach to 
international organizations.  It cooperated with the 
International Labor Organization (ILO) (see Section 6.a.), 
Amnesty International, and the ICRC (see Section 1.c.).  The 
Government refused to permit a visit by Africa Watch, a 
U.S.-based human rights group which has published articles 
highly critical of the Government's human rights record.

Section 5  Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, 
           Disability, Language, or Social Status

The 1991 Constitution's first article provides for equality 
before the law for all citizens, regardless of race, national 
origin, sex, or social status, and prohibits racially or 
ethnically based propaganda.  In practice, the Government 
operates under a hierarchy of unwritten rules where 
constitutional and other legally mandated rights, protections, 
and benefits are often accorded on the basis of racial or 
tribal affiliation, social status, and political influence.


Women have legal rights to property, divorce and child custody 
and, among the more modern and urbanized population, these 
rights are observed.  In theory, both marriage and divorce can 
take place without a woman's consent.  Polygyny exists as 
sanctioned by the teachings of Islam; a woman does not have the 
right to refuse her husbands's wish to be polygynous.  In fact, 
such practices are increasingly rare.

Women are also subjected to domestic violence, including wife 
beating.  In recognition of this and to mark International 
Women's Day, the United Nations Development Program sponsored a 
roundtable on violence against women.  A large turnout included 
government representatives and, for the first time, all types 
of physical and psychological abuse against women were publicly 
aired.  The police and judiciary occasionally intervene in 
domestic disputes, but women in traditional society usually do 
not attempt legal redress, preferring to turn to family and 
ethnic groups to resolve domestic disputes.

There are no legal restrictions on education for women, 
although the number of women attending university remained 
low.  The Government has been instrumental in opening up new 
employment opportunities for women in areas traditionally 
reserved for men, such as hospital work.  By law, men and women 
must receive equal pay for equal work; and while far from 
universally applied in practice, the two largest employers, the 
civil service and the State Mining Company, SNIM, respect this 
law.  In the modern (wage) sector, women also receive generous 
family benefits, including 3 months of maternity leave.  Once 
they return to work after giving birth, they are allowed 1 hour 
of leave per day to nurse their child.  


Children's rights are subsumed under the general provisions of 
law dealing with other civil rights.  Government policy 
concentrates on the desperate economic conditions which a 
serous threat to children in this young population.  Although 
child labor laws exist, they are not enforced and are seen as 
irrelevant by some in this tradition-bound society.  Children 
often perform significant labor in support of their families' 

Female genital mutilation (circumcision), which has been 
condemned by international health experts as damaging to both 
physical and psychological health, is performed at an early age 
and is still widely practiced.  Evidence indicates, however, 
that the incidence is diminishing in the modern, urbanized 
sector.  Of the country's main population groups--Maurs and 
Africans--all except the Wolofs in the African group practice 
genital mutilation.  Some groups practice infibulation, the 
most severe form of mutilation.  The Government has not 
attempted to interfere with these traditional practices, but it 
permits some government health workers to educate midwives on 
the health dangers of the practice and of the fact that Islam 
does not require it.

     National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Mauritania is situated geographically and culturally on the 
divide between traditionally nomadic Arabic-speaking 
(Hassaniya) Maurs of the north and sedentary black African 
cultivators and herders who historically lived along the 
Senegal river in the south.  Though culturally homogeneous, the 
Maurs are divided among numerous tribal groups and are racially 
distinguished as white (Beydane) or black (Haratine, literally 
"one who has been freed").  The southern black Africans 
represent three main ethnic groups--the Halpulaar, the Wolof, 
and the Soninke.  The interaction of these groups produces 
complex cultural diversity as well as ethnic tensions.

During the colonial period, the French administered what is now 
Mauritania as part of French West Africa through reliance on 
the more settled black Africans who dominated the economy and 
civil service.  This situation dramatically shifted following 
the partition of West Africa and the creation of an independent 
Mauritania.  Northern Maurs dominated the newly established 
government and modern economic sectors centered in the capital 
of Nouakchott and initially coexisted with, but had little 
interaction with, the traditional nonmarket economies in the 
far reaches of the country.

Also, 20 years of severe drought, desertification, and 
urbanization have ended the centuries-old nomadic way of life.  
Maurs have pressed further south into the more fertile river 
area, exacerbating tensions between farmers and herders, and 
between ethnic groups.  The tensions surfaced dramatically in 
the mass expulsions of African-Mauritanians in 1989-90.  Black 
Africans charge that the Government's 1983 land reform law is 
being misused to allow Maurs to encroach on fertile land in the 
Senegal river valley that traditionally has been the preserve 
of black Africans.

The tensions have also been exacerbated by successive 
government regimes--both civil and military--vigorously 
pursuing a policy of "Arabization" of the schools and the work 
force, which has the effect of serious discrimination against 
non-Hassaniya-speaking African-Mauritanians.  Consequently, 
white Maurs now hold the majority of top positions in 
Government, state enterprises, business, and religious 
institutions.  African-Mauritanians and black Maurs are 
likewise underrepresented in the senior ranks of other key 
institutions, such as the military and security forces.  Many 
Africans and human rights groups contend that this situation is 
a result of ethnic and linguistic discrimination.

Taken together, the black Maurs and Africans outnumber the 
white Maurs by a considerable majority.  No precise figures are 
available, as the Government has not released the results of 
the last census taken in 1988.  This racial majority, however, 
is by no means cohesive as there is little cultural identity or 
political cohesion between the Haratines, who identify with the 
Arab/Berber tribal culture of the north, and the southern 
African ethnic groups.

Although relations between ethnic groups have improved since 
the explosion of ethnic violence in April 1989, tension and 
bitterness persist.  The Government's subsequent extrajudicial 
expulsions and reprisals by the security forces were clearly 
based on ethnicity.  There are reports that the Government has 
begun to rehire some African-Mauritanians summarily dismissed 
from their jobs during the 1989 crisis.  

     People with Disabilities

The Government has no legislation or regulations providing 
preference in employment or education for disabled persons, and 
has been able to afford only limited facilities easing access 
for the disabled.  There is no legislation mandating 

Section 6  Worker Rights

     a.  The Right of Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of association and the 
right of citizens to join any political or labor organization.  
All workers except members of the military and police are free 
to associate in and establish unions at the local and national 
levels.  However, many restrictive military decrees are still 
nominally in effect which circumscribe these and other 
constitutional rights.  In 1993 the Goverment cooperated with 
the International Labor Organization (ILO) in preparing a 
revision of its current Labor Code to bring it into closer 
conformity with international standards.  The revised code is 
expected to be completed and passed into law in 1994.

Prior to 1993, the government-controlled labor central, the 
Union of Mauritanian Workers (UTM), consisting of 36 unions, 
was the only labor confederation allowed by law.  It remains 
the major worker confederation and is still close to the 
Government and the PRDS.  A 1993 amendment to the Labor Code 
repealed provisions restricting trade union pluralism, and new 
confederations have developed to rival the UTM.  In particular, 
the General Confederation of Mauritanian Workers (CGTM) is 
competing actively with the UTM, which is still viewed by many 
workers as a tool of the Government.  The CGTM, though not 
formally aligned with a political party, favors the Union of 
Democratic Forces, the major opposition political party.  
Another group of workers organized the Confederation of the 
Free Syndicates of Mauritania (CSLM) which declared itself free 
from politics, with its only concern being worker rights.  
Although they were permitted to function, neither of the two 
newly organized confederations had received recognition from 
the Government by year's end.  The CGTM made a formal protest 
charging that its affiliates were being harassed by local 
government leaders.

The UTM participates in regional labor organizations, but 
international trade union activity is minimal.

Most workers are engaged in subsistence agriculture (informal 
sector) and animal husbandry and only a small number, 20 
percent, are employed in the wage sector.  However, close to 90 
percent of industrial and commercial workers in Mauritania are 
members of unions.  Some trade union leaders expressed concern 
that, given the small size of the formal sector in the economy, 
the increased competition among unions for members could 
fragment and weaken labor's bargaining strength.

Although Mauritanian law grants workers the right to strike, 
strikes rarely occur because of government pressure.  The law 
also stipulates that tripartite arbitration committees composed 
of union, business, and government representatives may impose 
binding arbitration that automatically terminates any strike.  
In practice, strikes are rare and appear to consist of brief, 
wildcat strikes by small groups of workers.  In December the 
independent press reported a several-hour work stoppage in 
Nouakchott by bus drivers protesting the hiring of foreigners 
by the government-owned bus company.

The ILO continues to criticize the Government for violation of 
worker rights, noting in particular charges of forced labor.  
In July the United States Trade Representative announced that 
Mauritania's eligibility for United States Government 
Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) benefits had been 
revoked for failure to respect freedom of association and to 
take steps to eliminate forced labor, including slavery.

     b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

By law, unions are free to organize workers without government 
or employer interference.  Genuine collective bargaining does 
not exist, however, because of the Government's heavy-handed 
role in shaping labor relations.  Wages and other benefits are 
decided informally among individual unions (all controlled by 
the UTM until 1993), employers, and the Government.

There are laws providing workers protection against antiunion 
discrimination.  Technically, employees or employers may bring 
labor disputes to three-person labor courts that are overseen 
jointly by the Ministries of Justice and Labor, but human 
rights groups charge that labor courts are controlled by the 
Government's race-based political program.

There are no export processing zones.

     c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Although slavery has been officially abolished several 
times--most recently in 1980--the legacy of slavery remains 
pervasive, particularly in its economic and psychological 
manifestations.  Tens of thousands of persons whose ancestors 
were slaves still occupy positions of servitude and near 
servitude.  Many of these are freed slaves (Haratine) who, 
because of economic necessity, have either stayed with, or 
returned to, their former masters.  The most common situation 
involves Haratine who live independently but continue, from a 
sense of fear and duty, to perform unpaid labor for their 
former masters.

Anedoctal accounts indicate that there still may be individuals 
forcibly held against their will in urban areas as well as in 
isolated communities.  Their numbers are difficult to quantify, 
although credible reports indicate that there are from 30,000 
to 90,000 people living in slavery.  In the freer political 
arena of 1993, a movement, entitled, El Hor (literally "the 
free man") developed an agenda to eradicate the vestiges of 
slavery and the associated mentality among former slaves.  
According to the independent press, the Government recently 
intervened to return to her family a young girl who had been 
kidnaped and held in bondage as an unpaid herder.

     d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Education is not compulsory, and only a small percentage of 
children regularly attend government schools.  The law 
specifies that no child may be employed under the age of 13 in 
the agricultural sector without the permission of the Minister 
of Labor, nor under the age of 15 in the nonagricultural 
sector.  The law provides that employed children aged 14 to 16 
should receive 70 percent of the minimum wage, and those from 
17 to 18 should receive 90 percent of the minimum wage.  In 
practice, the Labor Ministry's few inspectors provide only 
limited enforcement of child labor laws.

Young children in the countryside commonly pursue herding, 
cultivation, fishing, and other significant labor in support of 
their families' activities.  In keeping with longstanding 
tradition, many children serve apprenticeships in small 
industries and in the informal sector.  In Nouakchott and other 
large towns, youths in their early teens typically work as 
mechanics, blacksmiths, furniture makers, plumbers, and 
electricians.  They can also be found in shops, gas stations, 
and laundry establishments, in private homes as domestics, and 
on the streets as petty vendors.  The phenomenon of young 
workers is likely to increase, as urbanization proceeds apace.

     e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

The guaranteed minimum wage for adults was raised following a 
devaluation of the national currency in October 1992.  It still 
barely enables the average family to meet its minimum needs. 
The minimum wage is currently set by decree at $67 (ougiya 
8,300) per month or approximately $700 per year; per capita 
gross domestic product is $520.

The standard, legal, nonagricultural workweek cannot exceed 
either 40 hours or 6 days without overtime compensation, which 
is paid at rates that are graduated according to the number of 
supplemental hours worked.

Enforcement of the labor laws is the responsibility of the 
Labor Inspectorate of the Ministry of Labor, but in practice 
the Directorate is limited by the shortage of qualified 
personnel.  Likewise, although the Government sets health and 
safety standards, which are theoretically enforced by the 
Ministry of Labor, enforcement of these standards is 

[end of document]


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