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Title:  Mauritania Human Rights Practices, 1995
Author:  U.S. Department of State 
Date:  March 1996  
 
 
 

                               MAURITANIA 
 
 
Mauritania is an Islamic republic.  The 1991 Constitution provides for a 
civilian government composed of a dominant executive branch, a Senate 
and National Assembly, and an independent judiciary.  President Maaouya 
Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya has governed since 1984, first as head of a military 
junta, and since the 1992 election as head of a civilian government.  
President Taya won 62 percent of the vote in the four-way presidential 
contest, which was widely regarded as fraudulent.  Most opposition 
parties boycotted the subsequent parliamentary elections.  The President 
and the Government have strong military support. 
 
The Government maintains order with regular armed forces, the National 
Guard, the Gendarmerie (a specialized corps of paramilitary police), and 
the police.  The Ministry of Defense directs the armed forces and 
Gendarmerie; the Ministry of Interior directs the National Guard and 
police.  The armed forces are responsible for national defense.  The 
National Guard performs police functions throughout the country in areas 
in which city police are not present.  The Gendarmerie is a paramilitary 
group responsible for maintenance of civil order in and outside 
metropolitan areas.  Some members of the security forces committed human 
rights abuses. 
 
Mauritania, with a population of 2.2 million, has a generally market-
oriented economy based on subsistence farming, herding, and a small 
commercial sector.  Drought, desertification, insect infestation, rapid 
urbanization, extensive unemployment, pervasive poverty, and a 
burdensome foreign debt handicap the economy.  Inadequate recent 
rainfall has contributed to urbanization, further straining government 
finances.  Annual per capita national income is estimated at $560.  
Mauritania receives foreign assistance from various bilateral and 
multilateral sources each year. 
 
The Government's human rights record improved, but problems remain in 
certain areas.  During January riots in Nouakchott, The authorities 
detained and subsequently released opposition leaders and forcibly broke 
up peaceful demonstrations to protest the detentions.  Although in the 
case of the pro-Iraqi Baathists rounded up in October, the Government 
held public trials and defendants were represented by attorney, there 
were credible reports that the police tortured approximately a dozen 
persons during pretrial detention.  According to credible sources, the 
trial was marred by abuses, including the conviction of some defendants 
on questionable evidence.  The December convictions of Baathists for 
membership in an illegal political organization were subsequently 
overturned on appeal, and the persons released.  The Government in 
November took an important step to resolve a serious abuse from the 
1989-91 period, in which approximately 70,000 Mauritanians were expelled 
or fled, by authorizing the Mauritanian Red Crescent Association, with 
the technical assistance of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, to 
assist the returnees from the refugee camps in Senegal.  The Government 
has yet to address fully another major abuse from the 1989-91 period, 
when some 503 members of the military were killed, tortured and maimed, 
almost entirely from the Halpulaar ethnic group.  In 1993 the Parliament 
passed an amnesty bill to preclude legal pursuit of those responsible.  
The Government has, however, compensated, but not apologized to most 
survivors and families of those killed.  Democratic institutions are 
still rudimentary, and the Government circumscribes citizens' right to 
change their government. 
 
Ethnic tensions persist, and many members of the Halpulaar, Soninke, and 
Wolof ethnic groups are underrepresented and feel excluded from 
effective political representation. 
 
Although the Government has instituted some judicial reforms, the 
executive continues to influence the judiciary, and in practice the 
right to a fair trial continues to be restricted.  Police often used 
brutal methods, arbitrary arrest, and prolonged--and often 
incommunicado--detention.  Prison conditions are harsh and unhealthy.  
The Government continued to restrict political activity, seize 
publications and limit freedom of religion.  Societal discrimination 
against women continues and female genital mutilation remains a serious 
concern. 
 
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS 
 
Section 1   Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom 
from: 
 
   a.   Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing 
 
There were no reports of political killings, but two persons are known 
to have died while in police custody.  A Ghanaian arrested in June died 
after less than 24 hours in police custody; police stated that the cause 
of death was a drug overdose but would not allow an autopsy.  Credible 
observers believe that police mistreatment was the cause of death. 
 
In December a National Guard patrol fatally beat an army officer who 
protested to them their rough treatment of students in Aleg who were 
protesting price increases.  The officer subsequently collapsed at guard 
headquarters and died en route to the hospital.  Informed sources 
confirmed that beating was the cause of death. 
 
Extrajudicial killings from past years, primarily of African-
Mauritanians, remained unresolved.  The principal example of such 
killing involves the 1990-91 deaths while in  military custody of 503 
largely Halpulaar and Soninke military personnel and civilians detained 
in the investigation of an alleged coup attempt.  The military has not 
released the results of its 1991 internal investigation, and in 1993 the 
National Assembly passed an amnesty law which prevents any charges from 
being brought against members of the armed forces, security forces, or 
other citizens involved in the abuses committed between January 1990 and 
April 1992.  In June 1993, the Government passed a law granting 
compensation to relatives of those who were killed.  In July 1993 the 
Government began to pay compensation to widows and families of those 
killed. 
 
The Government's failure to bring to justice officials who committed 
extrajudicial killings and other abuses has contributed to widespread 
popular dissatisfaction with the judicial system. 
 
   b.   Disappearance 
 
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. 
 
   c.   Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or 
Punishment 
 
The law prohibits torture and other forms of cruel or inhuman 
punishment, but the police continue on occasion to beat criminal 
suspects while in custody.  Police used excessive force to break up 
peaceful demonstrations or disperse crowds.  There were credible reports 
that a dozen or so of the 72 suspected pro-Iraqi Baathist sympathizers 
arrested in October were tortured by police during pretrial detention.  
Authorities rarely tried or punished persons suspected of committing 
such abuses.  In July the Government suspended special security measures 
in the Guidimaka area and reduced security forces, resulting in fewer 
abuses.  Later in July two army officers received unspecified sanctions 
for their failure to observe the new and more strict rules of conduct. 
 
Prison conditions are harsh and do not meet minimum humanitarian 
standards.  There is severe overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and 
inadequate food and medical treatment.  The independent press reported 
the suspicious death in May of an inmate in Rosso; authorities cited 
natural causes, although witnesses claimed to have evidence of 
mistreatment.  There was also a report of a detainee's death (see 
Section l.a.).  The central prison in Nouakchott, which was built for a 
prison population of 200 men, now houses more than 700.  Observers 
report better conditions at the women's prison and children's detention 
center in Nouakchott.  A French nongovernmental organization (NGO), 
Pharmaciens sans Frontieres, which was asked in 1994 by the Government 
to coordinate international assistance for a large-scale project to 
improve overall prison conditions, has completed its plans  and is 
soliciting international assistance.  To ease overcrowding, the 
Government plans to construct a new prison in Akjoujt. 
 
   d.   Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile 
 
The Constitution provides for due process and the presumption of 
innocence until proven guilty by an established tribunal.  It stipulates 
that authorities cannot arrest, detain, prosecute, or punish anyone 
except as provided for under the law.  Actual application of these 
safeguards continued to vary widely from case to case. 
 
The law requires that courts review the legality of a person's detention 
within 48 hours of arrest.  The police may extend the period for another 
48 hours, and a prosecutor or court may detain persons for up to 30 days 
in national security cases.  During the October crackdown against 
Baathist elements, the authorities held suspects incommunicado and 
without access to counsel in prearraignment detention for 14 days.  They 
were subsequently released on appeal. 
 
Only after the prosecutor submits charges can a suspect contact an 
attorney.  There were credible reports that police detained other 
persons incommunicado for extended periods without charge.  In January, 
following rioting in Nouakchott that was sparked by increases in bread 
prices, the authorities detained eight opposition political leaders for 
2 weeks, holding them incommunicado in the interior of the country. 
 
Pretrial detention is extensive, and approximately 50 percent of the 
prison population has not been tried.  In one case, six individuals 
arrested in 1992 for the murder of a shopkeeper in the Southern town of 
Sory-Male were tried in 1995 after 3 years of pretrial detention; three 
defendants were found guilty and three were acquitted of the charges.  
Some indicted prisoners are released before trial without explanation; 
familial, tribal, or political connections may explain some of these 
cases.  There is a provision for granting bail, but it is rarely used. 
 
Occasional reports of arbitrary arrests and intimidation committed by 
security forces continued, particularly in communities along the Senegal 
River, but the extent of abuses declined. 
 
   e.   Denial of Fair Public Trial 
 
Although the Constitution provides for the independence of the 
judiciary, in practice the executive branch exercises significant 
control and influence over the judiciary, which is only nominally 
independent.  The Ministry of Justice appoints judges and subjects the 
courts to pressure in reaching  verdicts.  In addition to government 
influence over verdicts, the judicial system's fairness is limited by 
poorly educated and poorly trained judges who are susceptible to tribal, 
social, and financial pressures.  Moreover, Islamic law (Shari'a), 
tribal relations, and personal connections continue to dominate some 
judicial decisions, particularly concerning personal status issues such 
as inheritance and divorce. 
 
The formal judicial system includes a system of lower, middle, and upper 
level courts, each with specific jurisdictions.  Bridging the 
traditional and modern systems of justice are 43 department-level 
tribunals staffed by Qadis, traditional Islamic magistrates trained 
primarily in Koranic law.  Mauritanians seeking legal redress in civil 
matters must address themselves to one of these tribunals, which operate 
on the basis of both Shari'a and secular legal codes.  Three regional 
courts of appeal handle challenges to decisions at the department and 
regional levels.  Nominally independent, the Supreme Court is headed by 
a magistrate appointed 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, composed of three 
members named by the President, two by the National Assembly president, 
and one by the Senate president.  Annual review of judicial decisions is 
undertaken by the Supreme Council of the Magistrature, over which the 
President presides; the President and senior vice president of the 
Supreme Court, the Minister of Justice, three magistrates, and 
representatives from the Senate and National Assembly are members of 
this Council.  This year the Government began work to codify laws and 
establish a court of arbitration. 
 
In theory, all defendants, regardless of the court or their ability to 
pay, have the legal right to representation by counsel during the 
proceedings, which are open to the public.  There is no provision for 
public defenders for those unable to pay for their own counsel.  The law 
provides that defendants may confront witnesses, present evidence, and 
appeal their sentences, but in practice, these rights are not regularly 
applied. 
 
Because Shari'a is practiced, courts do not treat women as equals of 
men:  for example, the testimony of two women is necessary to equal that 
of one man.  In addition, in awarding an indemnity to the family of a 
woman who has been killed, the courts grant only half the amount they 
would award for a man's death.  In addition, there are no female 
magistrates. 
 
According to legal sources, the 10 persons convicted and serving prison 
terms in connection with the December Baathist trial may be regarded as 
political prisoners because their conviction on questionable evidence 
suggested political  considerations played a role.  The December 
convictions of Baathists for membership in an illegal political 
organization were subsequently overturned on appeal, and the persons 
released. 
 
   f.   Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 
Correspondence 
 
The law requires judicial warrants in order to execute home searches, 
but the authorities often ignore this requirement.  During the detention 
of opposition politicians following the January bread riots, authorities 
searched some opposition parties' offices without warrants.  During the 
anti-Baathist crackdown, authorities conducted searches without warrants 
of offices of the Baathist Party and of a party member. 
 
Government surveillance of dissidents and the political opposition is 
believed to continue, although the extent to which the Government used 
informants is unknown. 
 
Section 2   Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: 
 
   a.   Freedom of Speech and Press 
 
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, but the 
Government continues to restrict these rights through prepublication 
press censorship by the Interior Ministry.  NGO's and the privately 
owned press openly criticized the Government and its leaders.  
Antigovernment tracts, newsletters, and petitions circulate widely in 
Nouakchott and other towns. 
 
All newspapers and political parties must register with the Ministry of 
the Interior.  Although the Government did not refuse to register any 
journal, it permanently banned publication of two allegedly pro-Baathist 
Arabic language weekly newspapers, Akhbar Al-Usbou and Al-Ufuq Al-Arabi.  
Twenty-nine independent privately owned newspapers were published this 
year, many on an irregular basis.  For the most part, these journals are 
weeklies, published in Arabic or French, and reach only a limited 
audience.  However, the country's first independent daily, Mauritanie 
Nouvelles, began publication in September. 
 
The Ministry of the Interior reviews all newspaper copy prior to 
publication.  The Press Law provides that the Minister of the Interior 
can stop publication of material discrediting Islam or threatening 
national security.  Although the Ministry did not excise material from 
journals or otherwise censor individual articles, the authorities seized 
14 individual issues of various journals; by comparison, in 1994 at 
least 20 individual issues were seized.  In some cases, the Government 
explained its action, by claiming that certain newspapers which  it 
seized contained false allegations concerning neighboring countries 
which could impinge on national security.  In other instances, the 
Government provided no specific reason for the seizures.  The Government 
has expressed its willingness to work with the independent press on 
revision of the restrictive Press Law, with a view to circumscribing 
government censure and increasing press autonomy. 
 
The electronic media (radio and television) and two of the country's 
three daily newspapers, Horizon and Chaab, are government owned and 
operated.  Radio is the most important medium in reaching the public, 
and the official media strongly support government policies.  Although 
the radio is required by law to provide equal broadcast time to all 
political parties during electoral campaigns, which it did during the 
1994 municipal elections, opposition parties' access to the radio is 
sharply limited at other times. 
 
The country's one university is government funded and operated.  
Academic freedom is generally respected, and there were no cases in 
which the government prevented professors from pursuing their research 
interests, from publication, or censored their lectures. 
 
   b.   Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association 
 
The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, and 
for the most part the Government respects this right, although there 
were occasions when it restricted public gatherings.  The law requires 
that all recognized political parties and NGO's apply to the local 
prefect for permission for large meetings or assemblies.  Permission is 
generally freely and objectively granted, although on a few occasions 
the prefect denied permission for opposition gatherings.  In January, 
security forces forcibly dispersed peaceful marches and demonstrations 
held following the bread riots to protest the detention of opposition 
leaders.  In March police prevented the opposition Union for Democracy 
and Progress (UDP) from using vans to bring supporters to a rally, and 
prevented the party from publicizing the event.  Also in March, the 
authorities denied another opposition party, the Union of Democratic 
Forces/New Era (UDF-EN) access to radio and television to publicize a 
rally. 
 
The number of political parties, labor confederations, and NGO's 
continued to increase.  Some 20 political parties and a wide array of 
NGO's, many of them highly critical of the Government, met openly, 
issued public statements, and chose their own leadership.  The 
Government recognized a number of newly formed NGO's.  It has not yet 
granted some NGO's official standing but allowed them to operate.  It 
has not yet recognized, for example, the Mauritanian Association for 
Human Rights, claiming that it appeals to specific ethnic groups,  
namely the African-Mauritanian community, and is a potentially divisive 
force.  However, the Government allows the association to function. 
 
   c.   Freedom of Religion 
 
Mauritania is an Islamic republic, and the law provides that all 
citizens are Sunni Muslims and prohibited from converting to another 
religion.  The Government prohibits proselytizing by non-Muslims.  
Christian churches have been established in Nouakchott, Atar, Zourat, 
Nouadhibou, and Rosso.  The expatriate community of Christians and the 
few Mauritanian citizens who are considered Christians from birth 
practice their religion openly and freely in these churches.  
Mauritanian Muslims freely attend Christian weddings and funerals when 
invited and on occasion have performed the formal witness role at 
Catholic weddings.  The possession of bibles and other Christian 
religious materials in private homes is not illegal.  There have been no 
reports in recent years of Mauritanians being harassed for possessing 
non-Islamic religious materials or for showing interest in obtaining 
information on Christianity. 
 
   d.   Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, 
Emigration, and Repatriation 
 
The Constitution provides for freedom of movement and residence within 
all parts of the territory, and guarantees the freedom to enter and 
leave.  Historically there were few restrictions on travel in 
Mauritania's traditional nomadic society.  With urbanization and 
automobile travel, the Government set up regular road checkpoints where 
the Gendarmerie checks papers of travelers.  The Government also imposed 
a nighttime curfew for 8 days in Nouakchott and other cities in response 
to the bread riots.  The number of curfews in the Senegal border region 
was significantly lower than in previous years, reflecting gradual 
normalization in the area and reduction in the frequency of cross-border 
raids.  There were no reported cases of persons being denied passports 
for political reasons. 
 
Of the approximately 70,000 African-Mauritanians who were expelled by 
Mauritania or fled to Senegal during the 1989-1990 crisis, an estimated 
20,000 have returned.  However, the estimated 65,000 refugees currently 
in refugee settlements in Senegal include 15,000 children born there 
since 1989.  Results of a census conducted by the United Nations High 
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in July have yet to be released.  Many 
of the 15,000 Mauritanian Halpulaar who took refuge in Mali during the 
crisis have integrated into the population, and the UNHCR discontinued 
at the end of 1994 the limited assistance it had been providing to them. 
 
According to the UNHCR, the Government is making satisfactory efforts to 
assist refugees returning from Senegal.  Authorities are issuing 
identification cards to some, and returning land, houses, and even 
personal property when it can be located and identified.  Many whole 
villages have returned.  Many individuals have returned without formally 
leaving the refugee camps, to which they return periodically for free 
food and medical care. 
 
Section 3   Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens to 
Change Their Government 
 
The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their 
government, but the Government circumscribes it in practice.  The 1992 
multiparty election of a civilian president ended 14 years of military 
rule, but both the opposition and international observers concluded that 
the elections were fraudulent.  Following the elections, the military 
continued to provide strong support to the regime, and some members of 
the former Military Council, in addition to President Taya, remained in 
positions of power within the Government and armed forces. 
 
Because the major opposition parties, including the UDF-EN, boycotted 
the 1992 National Assembly elections, the President's party, the 
Republican, Democratic and Social Party (PRDS), dominates the General 
Assembly, holding 66 of 79 seats.  The PRDS and opposition political 
parties, as well as independent candidates, participated in the 1994 
Senate elections, and PRDS candidates won all but 1 of the 18 seats at 
stake.  Both the opposition and the government parties committed fraud 
during 1994 elections for Municipal Councils, which in turn elect 
Senators. 
 
Women have the right to vote, and are active in election campaigns, 
although few are in positions of political leadership.  There are seven 
women in senior government positions, including one Cabinet member and 
one mayor; there are no women members of the National Assembly.  
Halpulaars, Soninkes, and Wolofs are underrepresented in senior 
government positions.  Of the Government's 24 ministerial posts, 2 
incumbents are Haratine, 3 Halpulaar, and 1 Soninke; the remainder are 
either white (Moors) or of mixed white Moor/Haratine ethnicity (see 
Section 5.). 
 
Section 4   Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights 
 
There is an increasing number of human rights organizations.  The oldest 
is the Mauritanian League for Human Rights, an independent but 
government-recognized body.  The League has occasionally played a 
mediating role between the Government and  representatives of the 
refugees in Senegal and victims of the 1990-91 military purge.  A second 
and as yet unrecognized organization, the Mauritanian Human Rights 
Association (AMDH), while not affiliated with the opposition, has many 
opposition members.  It has been more critical of the Government than 
the League, particularly on the unresolved abuses of the 1989-91 period.  
The AMDH called on the Government to be more forthcoming in addressing 
the vestiges of slavery (see Section 6.c.). 
 
Various other organizations were established to address human rights 
issues.  The pan-African organization Gerddes-Africa, or International 
Study and Research Group on Democracy and Economic and Social 
Development in Africa, established a branch in Mauritania.  Two other 
groups, SOS-Esclaves and the National Committee for the Struggle Against 
the Vestiges of Slavery in Mauritania focus their efforts on overcoming 
the country's vestiges of slavery.  The Committee of Solidarity with the 
Victims of Repression in Mauritania is concerned with the plight of the 
1989 expellees.  The Committee of the Widows focuses on the victims of 
the 1990-91 military purge and their families, and in August, the 
victims formed a new group, the Collective of Survivors.  In September 
the Consultative Group for the Return of the Refugees was founded to 
promote the return of the remaining Mauritanian refugees in Senegal.  
These groups function openly, but their activities are somewhat 
circumscribed because they are not officially recognized (see Section 
2.b.). 
 
A delegation from the Interafrican Union for Human Rights made a 7-day 
visit to Mauritania in July; representatives of Freedom House also 
visited.  Government officials met with both groups, which reported that 
authorities had allowed them to meet with whomever they wished.  There 
were no reports of harassment or reprisal against Mauritanian 
interlocutors during or following the visits.  In previous years, the 
Government and the Human Rights Watch/Africa, which has published 
articles strongly critical of the Government's human rights record, 
could not agree on the terms for a visit.  The organization sought 
written government guarantees concerning freedom of movement and 
unimpeded access to citizens; the Government would only give verbal 
assurances. 
 
Section 5  Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,             
Disability, Language, or Social Status 
 
The Constitution 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 often favors individuals on the basis of ethnic and tribal 
affiliation, social status, and political ties.  Discrimination against 
women is endemic, although the situation is improving. 
 
    Women 
 
Traditional forms of mistreatment of women continue, mostly in isolated 
rural communities, but these practices appear to be on the decline.  
Such mistreatment consists of forced feeding of adolescent girls 
(gavage) and female genital mutilation (see below.) 
 
Human rights monitors and women lawyers report that physical 
mistreatment of women by their husbands is limited.  The police and 
judiciary occasionally intervene in domestic abuses, but women in 
traditional society usually do not seek legal redress, relying instead 
upon family and ethnic group members to resolve domestic disputes. 
 
Women have legal rights to property and child custody, and, among the 
more modern and urbanized population, these rights are recognized.  In 
theory, marriage and divorce do not require the woman's consent.  
Polygyny exists and, as sanctioned by the teachings of Islam, a woman 
does not have the right to refuse her husband's wish to marry additional 
wives.  However, it is common in Moor society for a woman to obtain, at 
the time of marriage, a contractual agreement that stipulates that her 
husband must grant her a divorce if he chooses an additional wife.  In 
practice, polygyny and arranged marriages are increasingly rare, 
particularly among the Moor population.  Women also frequently initiate 
a divorce. 
 
There are no legal restrictions on the education of women, and 
increasing numbers of women attend university. 
 
The Government seeks to open new employment opportunities for women in 
areas which are traditionally filled by men, such as health care, 
communications, police, and customs services. 
 
The law provides that men and women receive equal pay for equal work.  
While not universally applied in practice, the two largest employers, 
the civil service and state mining company, respect this law.  In the 
modern wage sector, women also receive generous family benefits, 
including 3 months of maternity leave. 
 
   Children 
 
The Government does not require attendance at school and a lack of 
financial resources limits available educational opportunities.  The law 
makes special provisions for the protection of children's welfare, and 
the Government has programs to care for abandoned children.  These 
programs are, however, hampered by inadequate funding.  The Government 
relies on foreign donors in such areas as child immunization.  Moreover, 
it does not enforce existing child labor laws, and children perform a 
significant amount of labor in support of  family activities.  There are 
isolated but credible press reports of parents agreeing, in exchange for 
money, to send their young children to work in foreign countries.  The 
most common cases are of boys aged 8 to 10 years sent to work as 
"jockeys" or herders in the United Arab Emirates or Qatar. 
 
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is widely condemned by international 
health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health.  
It is performed most often on young girls and continues among all ethnic 
groups except the Wolof.  Reportedly, 95 percent of Soninke and 
Halpulaar women undergo FGM, as do 30 percent of Moor women.  For the 
most part, the least severe form of excision is practiced, although some 
groups practice infibulation, the most severe form of FGM.  Evidence 
indicates that the practice of FGM is decreasing in the modern urban 
sector.  The Government does not attempt to interfere with these 
practices, although public health workers try to educate women to the 
dangers of FGM and to the fact that FGM is not a requirement of Islam. 
 
   People with Disabilities 
 
The law does not specifically provide for people with disabilities, and 
the Government does not mandate preference in employment or education or 
public accessibility for disabled persons.  It does, however, provide 
some rehabilitation and other assistance for the disabled. 
 
   National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities 
 
Ethnic and cultural tension and discrimination arise from the geographic 
and cultural line between traditionally nomadic Arabic-speaking 
(Hassaniya) Moor herders and African-Mauritanian sedentary cultivators 
of the Halpulaar, Soninke, and Wolof ethnic groups in the south.  
Although culturally homogeneous, the Moors are divided among numerous 
tribal groups and are racially distinguished as White Moors and Black 
Moors.  The majority of what are known as Black Moors are Haratine, 
literally "one who has been freed," although some Black Moor families 
were never enslaved.  The Halpulaar (the largest African-Mauritanian 
group), the Wolof, and the Soninke ethnic groups are concentrated in the 
south.  "White" Moors, large numbers of whom are dark-skinned after 
centuries of intermarriage with members of Sub-Saharan African groups, 
dominate positions in government, business, and the clergy.  The 
Halpulaar, Soninke, and Wolof ethnic groups are underrepresented in the 
military and security sectors.   
 
Ethnic tensions surfaced dramatically in the mass expulsions of African-
Mauritanians in 1989-90 and the purge of Afro-Mauritanians from the 
military in 1991.  Not all have regained their positions. 
 
The Constitution designates Arabic along with Pulaar, Soninke, and Wolof 
as Mauritania's national languages.  Successive government regimes--both 
civil and military--have pursued various policies of "Arabization" in 
the schools and in the workplace, which non-Arabic-speaking ethnic 
groups have protested. 
 
Overt tensions between ethnic groups have lessened since the explosive 
ethnic violence of 1989 to 1991, when the Government conducted 
extrajudicial expulsions and purges of the security forces clearly based 
on ethnicity.  Nevertheless, some hostility and bitterness persist 
between ethnic groups and there is little cultural identity or political 
cohesion among them. 
 
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. 
 
Prior to the 1993 amendment of the Labor Code, which repealed provisions 
restricting trade union pluralism, the government-controlled labor 
central, the Union of Mauritanian Workers (UTM), was the only labor 
confederation allowed by law.  Since 1993 two new labor confederations 
have formed and the UTM, which many workers still view as closely allied 
with the Government and the PRDS, has lost ground to these.  The 
Government recognized a new confederation in 1994, the General 
Confederation of Mauritanian Workers (CGTM).  The CGTM is not affiliated 
with any political party, although most of its members favor the 
opposition; it gained considerably in strength during the year.  In 1994 
it organized some new locals, largely from the heretofore unorganized 
self-employed workers, and has since attracted a number of member unions 
from the UTM.  The CGTM has protested what it characterized as 
preferential treatment of the UTM by the Government.  A third labor 
confederation, the Free Confederation of Mauritanian Workers, formed in 
March, has not yet been recognized by the Government, but it is allowed 
to function. 
 
International trade union activity is minimal, but unions are free to 
affiliate with international bodies.  The UTM participated in regional 
labor organizations, and the CGTM was accepted as a member of the Ghana-
based United Organization of African Workers. 
 
The bulk of the labor force is in the informal sector, with most workers 
engaged in subsistence agriculture and animal  husbandry; only 25 
percent are employed in the wage sector.  However, nearly 90 percent of 
the industrial and commercial workers are organized.  The law provides 
workers with the right to strike, and there were several strikes and 
partial work stoppages.  In August CGTM-affiliated striking workers in a 
road construction firm were successful in efforts to improve their 
health benefits.  Most strikes were settled quickly due to limited 
worker and union resources and government pressure.  Moreover, the law 
provides for tripartite arbitration committees composed of union, 
business, and government representatives.  Once all parties agree to 
arbitration, the committee may impose binding arbitration that 
automatically terminates any strike. 
 
The Government did not petition the United States for reconsideration of 
Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) trade privileges.  The United 
States revoked GSP benefits in July 1993 for failure to respect freedom 
of association or to take steps to eliminate forced labor, including 
vestiges of slavery (see Section 6.c.). 
 
   b.   The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively 
 
The law provides that unions may freely organize workers without 
government or employer interference.  Wages and other benefits are 
generally decided informally among individual unions, employers, and the 
Government.  However, the Government plays a dominant role in the wage 
negotiations and in practice limits collective bargaining. 
 
Laws provide workers protection against antiunion discrimination and 
employees or employers may bring labor disputes to three-person labor 
courts that are overseen jointly by the Ministries of Justice and Labor. 
 
There are no export processing zones. 
 
   c.   Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor 
 
Mauritania has officially abolished slavery several times, most recently 
in 1980.  Nevertheless, the legacy of slavery remains in its economic 
and psychological manifestations, and there are reports of persons 
continuing to live in conditions of involuntary servitude.  Tens of 
thousands of persons whose ancestors were slaves still occupy positions 
of servitude and near-servitude, although such practices as coercive 
slavery and commerce in slaves appear to have virtually disappeared.  In 
most cases, those remaining in a situation of unpaid or poorly paid 
servitude do so for lack of better alternatives, or lack of knowledge 
about their own status. 
 
Some freed slaves (Haratine) have either stayed with, or returned to, 
their former masters and continue to provide labor  in exchange for 
room, board, and other basic necessities.  Others live independently but 
continue in a symbiotic relationship with their former masters, 
performing occasional paid or unpaid labor in exchange for food, 
clothing, and medical care.  There are no reliable statistics for the 
number of Haratines who continue to work for the same families for which 
they worked before the emancipation of 1980, whether as paid or unpaid 
labor.  Reports of cases of involuntary servitude are rare and 
unconfirmed. 
 
Inheritance disputes between Haratines and the descendants of their 
former masters arose several times and were adjudicated in court.  While 
most such disputes are decided in accordance with the law and rule that 
the descendants of the former slaves should inherit their property, the 
independent press reported one case in which a magistrate (Qadi) in Nema 
in 1994 ruled in favor of the former master; the implementation of this 
ruling was blocked in 1995 while the former slave's descendants 
appealed.  In another instance, the Supreme Council of the Magistrature 
removed a magistrate from the bench because he ruled, contrary to the 
law, that a former master, rather than the former slave's descendants, 
should inherit the possessions of an ex-slave. 
 
The El Hor (literally "The Free Man") Movement continued to pursue its 
agenda to eradicate the vestiges of slavery and its associated mentality 
among former slaves and slave holders.  Two new NGO's, SOS-Esclaves and 
the more moderate National Committee for the Struggle Against the 
Vestiges of Slavery in Mauritania, were established in 1995 to promote 
former slaves' rights. 
 
   d.   Minimum Age for Employment of Children 
 
Education is not compulsory, and for financial reasons, 30 percent or 
more of school-age children do not regularly attend government schools.  
Labor law specifies that no child under the age of 13 may be employed 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 of age 14 to 16 should receive 70 percent of the 
minimum wage, and those from age 17 to 18 should receive 90 percent of 
the minimum wage.  The Labor Ministry's few inspectors provide only 
limited enforcement of child labor laws (see Section 5). 
 
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. 
 
    e.   Acceptable Conditions of Work 
 
The minimum wage for adults is approximately $67 (Ouguiya 8,300) per 
month and has not been raised since October 1992.  It is difficult for 
the average family to meet its minimum needs and maintain a decent 
standard of living at this salary.  The standard, legal, nonagricultural 
workweek may not 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.  The Labor Directorate of the 
Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcement of the labor laws, but 
in practice inadequate funding limits the effectiveness of the 
Directorate's enforcement. 
 
The Ministry of Labor is also responsible for enforcing safety standards 
but does so inconsistently, due to inadequate funding.  In principle 
workers can remove themselves from hazardous conditions without risking 
loss of employment; in practice, they cannot. 

(###)


[end of document]

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