The first Mauritanian constitution was promulgated on May 20, 1961 and remained in effect until 1978 when it was suspended by a military coup that overthrew the first Mauritanian President, Lawyer Al-Mukhtar Ould Daddah. Several military coups occurred between 1978 and 1984, and several constitutional charters were promulgated accordingly. On July 20, 1991 a permanent constitution was approved by public referendum. The Military Council for Justice and Democracy staged on August 2, 2005 a bloodless coup against President Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya and removed him from power. The council issued a constitutional charter on August 6, 2005 that retained the provisions of the 1991 constitution relating to individual and collective liberties, and to other states' rights and concessions. The council also committed itself to establishing a true and transparent democracy during a transitional period that does not exceed two years. During that period good governance institutions would be built and a return to constitutional rule would occur through a democratic series that include: conducting a referendum on a new permanent constitution on June 25, 2006; municipal and legislative elections on November 19, 2006; senate elections on January 21, 2007; and presidential election on March 11, 2007.
A draft constitutional law that entails re-adoption of the 1991 constitution after amending some of its provisions was offered to a public referendum on June 25, 2006 and received the approval of 66.94% of voters. The goal of constitutional amendments was to guarantee circulation of power through amending the following articles:
(1) Article 26(clause 1): Reducing the president's term in office from 6 to 5 years;
(2) Article 26 (clause 3): setting the maximum age limit for presidential candidates at 75 years;
(3) Article 28: The president's term in office cannot be renewed more than once;
(4) Article 99: placing the president's term (its duration and renew ability) on the list of constitutional provisions that could not be amended.
Constitutional principles affirm that the state guarantees freedom of opinion, thought, expression, assembly and association for all citizens. The state adheres to democratic principles set by the International Declaration of Human Rights. The state abides by the provisions of the 1991 constitution pertaining to Islam and to individual and collective liberties.
The Mauritanian parliament passed a law on August 8, 2007 that punishes all those who practice acts of slavery that still exist in some regions of Mauritania, although slavery was legally and formally abolished in 1981. The new law punishes those who practice slavery with 5-10 years in prison. It also prohibits any cultural or artistic production that glorifies slavery, and punishes those responsible with 2 years in prison. The law also makes any authorities that do not implement this law liable to punishment.
The Constitutional Council consists of 6 members who serve a 9-year term that is non-renewable. However, one third of the council's members are replaced every 3 years. The Council carries the following responsibilities: watching over the validity of presidential election, hearing complaints relating to those elections and announcing voting results; looking after referendum processes and settling any disputes over the validity of election of members of legislative councils. Moreover, it examines organizational laws and determines their constitutional compatibility.