Mauritania has acceded to six of the seven major United Nations conventions on human rights, namely: the two International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights; on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (2004), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1988), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (2001) the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (2004), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1991), and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (2007). Mauritania also ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in Armed Conflicts (2007).
Mauritania has also acceded to the eight International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions on human rights, namely: the two conventions (87 and 98) on Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining (1961 and 2001 respectively), the two conventions (29 and 105) on Forced or Compulsory Labour (1961 and 1997 respectively), the two conventions (100 and 111) concerning the Elimination of Discrimination in Respect of Employment and Occupation (2001 and 1963 respectively) and the two conventions (138 and 182) pertaining to Forbidding the Employment of Children and Minors (2001).
Mauritania made reservations on certain provisions of the conventions it acceded to:
- The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: article (20) concerning the right of this convention's committee to ask state parties to examine the information it has received, write down their remarks on that information, conduct a secret investigation and visit the state in question. Another reservation on article (30/1) concerning arbitration and referral to the International Court of Justice in case of dispute over interpreting or implementing the convention.
- The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women: general reservation on any provisions that are contradictory to Islamic law (Shari'a) and to Mauritania's constitution.
- The Convention on the Rights of the Child: general reservation on provisions that contradict Islamic Shari'a.
Mauritania has agreed to the "Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam" issued in 1990 by foreign ministers of Muslim countries. The declaration is a guiding document that does not require ratification. Mauritania also acceded to the "Arab Charter of Human Rights/Amended" prepared by the Arab Summit in Tunisia in May 2004, but did not ratify it like most Arab states. It has acceded to the "African Charter for Human and Peoples' Rights (1986) and the protocol on establishing the "African Court for Human and Peoples Rights".
Human Rights Institutions
Mauritania has a national Human Rights institution and a number of Human Rights NGOs. The national Human Rights Committee was established as a national institution on May 2006. Mauritania has a number of governmental and non-governmental human rights organizations. At the governmental level, the "National Committee for Human Rights" was established in May 2006 as a public body that has administrative and financial independence. It plays the role of an advisory institution that provides guidance, mediation and assessment related to human rights issues. The committee consists of representatives of the government, civil society organizations and human rights organizations. At the level of non-governmental organizations, some NGOs work on all human rights issues, such as "The Mauritanian Association for Human Rights", "The Mauritanian Human Rights Society" and "The Mauritanian Observatory for Human Rights". The last NGO works towards expanding the arena of civil liberties in Mauritania; consolidating a culture of tolerance, political, cultural and racial pluralism; abandoning political violence and social oppression; eliminating residues of backwardness and building a society based on political and social justice. Other NGOs work on specific human rights issues, such as the "Rally for Protecting Women's Rights", and "The Hope Organization". The "Studies and Research Group on Democracy, Economic and Social Development" works on enhancing human rights. "SOS-Esclaves Organization" combats slavery in Mauritania.
Achievements on the Road to Good Governance
The Military Council for Justice and Democracy kept its pledge to transfer power to civilians and to enhance democracy. To fulfill its promise, the Council implemented the following measures:
1. It amended the constitution in a way that enhances the democratic track and assures circulation of power. The amendments affected 8 articles of the 1991 constitution (articles 26, 27, 28, 29, 99, 102, 103 and 104). The term of the President in office was limited to 2 terms of 5 years each. The President is forced to take oath that he would not revise the article related to his term in office. The president is forbidden from belonging to any political party. A referendum on constitutional amendments was conducted on June 25, 2006 that witnessed a high participation rate of 77% of eligible voters. The ministry of interior announced that the amendments were approved by 96.97% of votes, rejected by 1.24% and 1.61% of votes were cancelled. The referendum was observed by the Arab League, the African Union, the European Union who expressed their appreciation of the voting process.
2. On July 5, 2006 the Mauritanian Council of Ministers approved a set of amendments relating to the election system that established a national list of deputies that would be elected to the National Assembly by proportional representation. The amendments also strengthen proportional representation by making voting in electoral districts of more than 2 parliamentary seats take place by lists and by proportional representation in one round, then seats would be distributed on the basis of the electoral dividend. Women have the right to occupy 20% of municipal and parliamentary seats.
3. The government proposed a draft law pertaining to "containment of the opposition within a framework of legitimacy that guarantees peaceful transfer of power". The draft law aims at organizing political dealings between loyal and opposition groups in the future, after electing a President and forming a government. The draft law provides a hierarchical structure for political opposition that suggests choosing a leader for opposition groups who enjoys honorary and material privileges to be defined by a decree. The opposition leader submits an annual report to the President and other politicians on implementation of the law. The draft law suggests giving parliamentary opposition the same financial privileges given to the majority, and gives it the right to be informed of all issues related to national life. The government distributed the draft law to political parties and institutions to get their feed-back before it is submitted for approval.
4. Municipal elections were conducted on November 19, 2006 that entailed electing the members of 216 municipal councils. A total of 1222 party and independent lists contested the elections that witnessed unprecedented participation rate of 73%. Observers attributed high participation to citizens belief in the seriousness of elections and in impartially of the authorities, in addition to the absence of a ruling political party among the contestants. Elections were observed by African and international observers who attested to its fairness. On December 14, municipal councils were formed on the basis of the legal provisions which stipulates that any list that receives 15% of votes have the right to run for the position of a municipal mayor. This phase of elections witnessed very tense competition among political groups to win mayors' seats. The Independent Election Committee criticized the second phase because of material and moral pressures on municipal counselors to influence their voting.
5. Conduction parliamentary elections simultaneously with municipal elections. Voters had to elect the 95 members of the National Assembly (parliament) that include a newly introduced "national list" of 14 candidates who belong to political parties. These elections witnessed a high participation rate. The parties of the "Coalition of Forces of Democratic Change" won 41 seats, while independent candidates won 38 seats. Remaining seats went to other political parties. Women's representation in the new parliament amounted to 17%.
6. Senate elections took place on January 21, 2007. The senate is composed of 56 members who were elected by 3688 municipal counselors (members of local Councils). Mauritanians living abroad are represented by 3 senate members to be chosen by other senate members. The total number of competing lists was 170, of which 118 were lists of independents, 37 were party lists and 15 lists represented political coalitions and blocks. The first round witnessed 98% participation rate and the election of 37 members. The second round took place on February 4 with a similar participation rate, during which 16 members were elected. Final results showed that independents won 34 seats while the opposition won 14 seats. Observers confirmed that the elections were transparent and fair. However, the opposition criticized the "use of political money" to buy the votes of municipal counselors.
7. The last part of the series of transferring power to civilians and of democratic transition was that of conducting a pluralist presidential elections on March 19, 2007 in which 19 candidates who represented the whole political spectrum in the country contested the presidential position. The rate of voters participation was high. National, African and European observers monitored the elections that were transparent. Sidi Ould Shaikh Abdullah and Ahmad Ould Dadah received the highest proportion of votes in the first round. Re-run took place on March 25 in which Sidi Ould Shaikh Abdullah came on top.
8. The National Assembly unanimously adopted, on 8 August 2007, a law criminalizing slavery. The law imposes sentences ranging from 5 to 10 years in prison for persons convicted of acts of slavery.