Mauritania, pronounced mawr ih TAY nee uh, is a country in western Africa. It stretches eastward from the Atlantic coast into the Sahara. Arabic-speaking people called Moors make up most of the population. Black Africans form a large minority group. About 99 percent of the people are Muslims.

US warned Mauritania’s ‘total failure’ on slavery should rule out trade benefits

US labour unions cite Mauritania’s unwillingness to act on slavery as Trump administration is urged to deny country duty-free exports

The Guardian

August 25, 2017

The routine abuse of thousands of enslaved Mauritanians, including rape, beatings and unpaid labour, should prevent the African republic from receiving US trade benefits, American labour unions have said.

Mauritania, which has one of the highest rates of modern-day slavery in the world and has been roundly criticised for its poor human rights record, is currently on a list of countries that benefit from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa). The act, designed to promote the economic development of countries that can show they uphold human rights and meet labour standards, enables African countries to export goods duty-free to US markets.

The US trade union AFL-CIO, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, this week called on the US trade representative to remove Mauritania from the roster of approved countries.

“The government of Mauritania routinely fails to conduct investigations into cases of slavery, rarely pursues prosecutions for those responsible for the practice and fails to ensure access to remedy or otherwise support victims,” the union wrote in a petition, adding that the state harasses and imprisons anti-slavery activists and will not publicly acknowledge the continued existence of slavery.

“This represents a total failure to take any meaningful steps to establish freedom from forced labour,” said the petition.

Mauritania abolished slavery in 1981, the last country in the world to do so, but only made it a crime in 2007. Since then, campaigners say the government has passed a handful of inefficient reforms and failed to properly address the issue.

Although the union says it is unlikely the US will immediately remove Mauritania from the Agoa list, Celeste Drake, trade and globalisation policy specialist at the AFL-CIO, said the petition should “put Mauritania on watch”.

The petition adds to the mounting pressure facing the Mauritanian government. In June, the International Labor Organisation (ILO) warned that slavery continues “on a widespread basis, despite numerous discussions”. For the past three years, the country has been under review by the ILO over its failure to act.

Last year, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights concluded that Tadamoun, the agency set up to address the consequences of slavery and poverty in Mauritania, had taken “a very low profile” in tackling the problem.

Jeroen Beirnaert, human and trade union rights coordinator at the International Trade Union Confederation, which has supported the petition, said the government had done little to enforce its anti-slavery law. Beirnaert said there had been only two known slavery convictions, with the sentences handed out too lenient.

“It took decades to actually have a conviction let alone compensation for any victims,” he said. “One issue we have with the agency [Tadamoun] is that it doesn’t involve any of the former slaves. It’s run by the white Moor community there, and it focuses a lot on a poverty alleviation mandate and doesn’t really address the slavery issues.”

Sarah Mathewson, Africa programme manager at Anti-Slavery International, said the Mauritanian government is sensitive to criticism and that further bad publicity won’t be welcomed. “They do seem to take initiatives and actions against slavery and forced labour practices in response to [negative] publicity,” she said. “They’ll set up a commission or a new government agency or introduce a new law or policy.”

Mathewson added that such initiatives are never serious attempts to tackle the issue, but “window dressing” that distracts the international community.

The government is balancing demands for reform with the need to retain its grip on power, she said: “They also have to balance the pressures of their own power base and the social and economic privileges that slave ownership entails for them, and how intrinsically linked it is to their own hold on power.”

Mauritania agrees to adopt roadmap to eradicate slavery

UN envoy on modern-day slavery says plan will include number of economic projects to help victims out of trade.
First Published: 2014-02-28
Middle East Online

NOUAKCHOTT - The United Nations envoy on modern-day slavery said on Thursday Mauritania had agreed to adopt a roadmap for eradicating the trade, which campaigners say remains widespread in the west African nation.

The country was the last in the world to abolish slavery, in 1981, and since 2012 its practice has been officially designated a crime, but campaigners say the government has failed in the past to acknowledge the extent of the trade, with no official data available.

Gulnara Shahinian, the UN's Special Rapporteur on contemporary slavery, announced as she ended a four-day visit that Mauritania would adopt a roadmap on March 6 which had been prepared with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

She said the plan was "an important step in eradicating slavery in the country" and would include "a number of economic projects" to help victims out of the trade.

Shahinian added she was "satisfied with the action of the government, which has taken important steps towards the eradication of slavery" since her last visit in 2009.

Forced labour is a particularly sensitive issue in Mauritania, where anti-slavery charities are very active, especially SOS Slaves and the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Struggle against Slavery (IRSS), which supports victims in court.

Shahinian told reporters she had obtained a commitment from the government to appoint lawyers specifically trained to represent slaves in the courts, however, rather than leaving the work to charities.

She praised the "political will displayed by the authorities" in introducing anti-slavery legislation but called for better enforcement of the law.

President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz is in the process of setting up a special tribunal to prosecute suspects accused of involvement in slavery and various social security programmes have helped former slaves in the past.

But the beneficiaries were never recognised as such, with schemes officially targeting other disadvantaged groups.

In March last year Mauritania announced the launch of its first government agency charged explicitly with helping former slaves.

"While the train is certainly in motion, much needs to be improved, but as long as the will is there, the rest will follow in time," Shahinian said.

The envoy, a lawyer with extensive experience as an expert consultant on children's rights, migration and trafficking, was appointed as the first Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery in 2008.

Her findings and recommendations will be presented at a session of the UN Human Rights Council in September.


Mauritania bomber injures 3 near French Embassy


August 8, 2009

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania — A suicide bomber killed himself outside the French Embassy on Saturday night, wounding two embassy guards and a woman in the street, police and witnesses said.

The man blew himself up around 7 p.m. (1900 GMT, 3 p.m. EDT), a policeman at the scene said. He confirmed witness accounts that the young man was dark-skinned and appeared young. He gave no other details. The policeman did not give his name, saying he was not allowed to talk to journalists.

Witnesses said the bomber's body was scattered in pieces on the street.

In France, the Foreign Ministry said it was informed of two people slightly injured in the attack, a ministry official said. He did not provide nationalities or say whether they were guards. There was no damage to the embassy and the official said it was too early to say whether it was the target of the attack.

The official wasn't authorized to speak publicly on the matter and asked not to be identified.

Extremist violence in Mauritania, a moderate Muslim nation in West Africa, has increased in recent years.

Earlier this month, a judge charged three men with murder in the slaying of an American teacher in Mauritania, and also charged them with aiding al-Qaida, which had claimed responsibility for the murder.

Mauritania's new president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who was sworn in three days before the bombing, said during his campaign that he would crack down on al-Qaida. He was elected in July after agreeing to elections after heading a coup in 2008.

The U.S. has expressed concern over the steady spread south from Algeria in recent years of al-Qaida's North Africa branch. While Washington never recognized Aziz's junta, it is keen to maintain Mauritania as a bulwark against the terror group and prevent the moderate Muslim nation from sliding toward extremism.


Thursday, August 4, 2005

Military junta overthrows Mauritania's president
Maaoya Sid'Ahmed Ould Taya seized power in a 1984 coup.

The Associated Press

NOUAKCHOTT, MAURITANIA – A military junta overthrew Mauritania's U.S.-allied president Wednesday, prompting celebrations in this oil-rich Islamic nation that has been looking to the West amid alleged threats from al-Qaida- linked militants.

The junta promised to yield to democratic rule within two years, but African leaders and the United States were quick to condemn the coup, saying that the days of authoritarianism and military rule must end across the continent.

President Maaoya Sid'Ahmed Ould Taya, who himself seized power in a 1984 coup and dealt ruthlessly with his opponents, was out of the country when presidential guardsmen cut broadcasts from the national radio and television stations and seized a building housing the army chief of staff headquarters.

Later, the junta named the national police chief, Col. Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, 55, as the country's new leader.

Its statement identified Vall as "president" of the military council that seized power.

Taya, who had allied his overwhelmingly Muslim nation with the United States in the war on terrorism, refused comment after arriving Wednesday in nearby Niger from Saudi Arabia, where he attended King Fahd's funeral.

The State Department joined the African Union in calling for the restoration of the government.

"We call for a peaceful return for order under the constitution and the established government of President Taya," State Department spokesman Tom Casey said in Washington.

The junta said it would exercise power for up to two years to allow time to put in place "open and transparent" democratic institutions.

Oil recently was discovered in reserves offshore, and Mauritania is expected to begin pumping crude for the first time early next year.

Hundreds of people celebrated the coup in the city center, saluting soldiers guarding the presidential palace, clapping and singing anti-Taya slogans in Arabic.

"It's the end of a long period of oppression and injustice," civil servant Fidi Kane said. "We are very delighted with this change of regime."

State television and radio were back on air by afternoon, with journalists reading the junta's statement repeatedly, interspersed with Quranic readings - normal in the Islamic nation.

Taya had survived several coup attempts, including one in 2003 that led to days of fighting in the capital.

After that, he jailed scores of members of Muslim fundamentalist groups and the army accused of plotting to overthrow him. His government also has accused opponents of training with al-Qaida-linked insurgents in Algeria.

A June 4 border raid by al-Qaida-linked insurgents sparked a gunbattle that killed 15 Mauritanian troops and nine attackers.