Experts of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances Commend Mauritania on Prospective Bill Criminalising Enforced Disappearance, Ask Questions on the State’s Cooperation with Civil Society and Reparations for Alleged “Passif Humanitaire” Era Abuses
The Committee on Enforced Disappearances today considered Mauritania's initial report on its implementation of the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Committee Experts welcomed a prospective bill criminalising enforced disappearance, while raising questions regarding the State’s cooperation with civil society and reparations for alleged disappearances and other abuses occurring during the “passif humanitaire” era.
Olivier de Frouville, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said that the report had reached the Committee with a delay of seven years. He welcomed a prospective bill aiming to transpose the Convention into national law. He asked for additional information on the bill, including a timetable for implementation.
Mr. de Frouville also said the State’s process for consulting with civil society organisations mattered. Had the State party established procedures for such consultations? Did it sufficiently include civil society at least in the early stages of drafting bills? There were claims that some organisations did not take part in consultations on the digital platform established for that purpose.
Matar Diop, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said the 1980s and 1990s in particular had been marked by unrest that led to tragic results. Some civil society organisations referred to this period as a period of “passif humanitaire” (humanitarian liability) for the State. The Amnesty Law of 14 June, 1993, in its first article, granted full amnesty to the members of the armed and security forces for the events which took place from 1989 onwards. Had the National Human Rights Commissioner received complaints regarding passif humanitaire before or after the adoption of the Convention? Reliable sources had indicated that around 500 people had been forcibly disappeared during the era. How did the State party aim to resolve this legacy?
Cheikh Ahmedou Sidi, Commissioner for Human Rights, Humanitarian Action and Relations with Civil Society and head of the delegation, introducing the report, said administrative measures taken by Mauritania regarding implementation of the Convention included Decree 1326, which operationalised the Convention in Mauritania and could be invoked in any court. The law to combat torture established the national mechanism to prevent torture. Laws had also been adopted that prohibited trafficking and introduced the obligation to protect the victims of trafficking.
Mr. Ahmedou Sidi said the State party’s report was prepared by a multidisciplinary committee. It had benefited from extensive consultations with numerous stakeholders, including civil society members. Reforms to Government processes enabled the closer participation of civil society organisations.
Mohamed El Habib Bal, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Mauritania to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that there was no legal definition of enforced disappearance in Mauritania. The State party would consider either developing the law on torture or establishing a separate law on enforced disappearances. There was a very strong political will to do so.
Mr. Ahmedou Sidi said a number of measures had been put in place in the context of passif humanitaire. An independent, interministerial commission was put in place to identify, describe and address all remains and offer guidance to victims’ families. Also, basic infrastructure had been built, including schools, dams and other projects. All this work had further been strengthened by the President of the Republic’s efforts to heal the wounds remaining from these events. Mr. Bal added that the interministerial commission represented one symbol of the State’s will to address enforced disappearance. The commission was established at the President’s initiative. Channels between the victims and the State were open.
Mr. Ahmedou Sidi, in closing remarks, assured the Committee that their concerns and observations would be fully addressed by the State. The Committee’s recommendations would be incorporated into the follow-up mechanism of treaty body recommendations. All persons would be protected from enforced disappearance. Capacities would be strengthened to implement policies, programmes and plans of actions for the purposes of promoting and protecting human rights.
Carmen Rosa Villa Quintana, Committee Chairperson, in closing remarks, reminded of the importance of the dialogue to encourage cooperation in implementing the Convention worldwide. Work with the victims of enforced disappearance was necessary, and the Committee remained available to assist Mauritania in that regard.
The delegation of Mauritania consisted of representatives of the Presidency and the Prime Ministry; the Ministry of Justice; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Ministry of the Interior and Decentralization; the Ministry of Public Service, Labor and Modernization of Administration; the General Directorate of National Security; the Ministry of Social Action, Children and the Family; the Commission for Human Rights, Humanitarian Action and Relations with Civil Society; and the Permanent Mission of Mauritania to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will issue its concluding observations on the report of Mauritania at the end of its twenty-fifth session, which concludes on 29 September. Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here, while webcasts of the public meetings can be found here. The programme of work of the Committee’s twenty-fifth session and other documents related to the session can be found here.
The Committee will next meet in public on Wednesday, 13 September at 3 p.m. to consider the second report on additional information of Mexico (CED/C/MEX/AI/2).
The Committee has before it the initial report of Mauritania (CED/C/MRT/1).
Presentation of Report
CHEIKH AHMEDOU SIDI, Commissioner for Human Rights, Humanitarian Action and Relations with Civil Society and head of the delegation, assured the Committee of Mauritania’s support of its efforts. The report was prepared by a multidisciplinary committee. It had benefited from extensive consultations with numerous stakeholders, including civil society members.
Administrative measures taken by Mauritania regarding implementation of the Convention included Decree 1326, which operationalised the Convention in Mauritania and could be invoked in any court. The State had taken both quantitative and qualitative measures to promote human rights. The law to combat torture established the national mechanism to prevent torture. A 2016 law defined the composition of the National Human Rights Commission; law 017 on protection and a law adopted in 2022 prohibiting trafficking and introduced the obligation to protect the victims of trafficking. Mauritania was also preparing a law to protect women from domestic and family violence.
The State party had set up a commission on social cohesion, and an authority for protecting personal data, and a commission to end trafficking and smuggling. Mauritania had adopted a national strategy ensuring access to justice covering the period from 2019 to 2022. It also prepared a strategy to ensure that citizens were more aware of their human rights in conjunction with the National Human Rights Commission. The State had established a digital portal for the submission of complaints, ensuring that all actions of the law enforcement or police officers were subject to oversight. The right to physical integrity was guaranteed by the Constitution. Various reforms had been taken to improve the state of detention centres. A law had been put in place to reform the prison system and bring it in line with global standards.
Mauritania was party to a large number of treaties that addressed extradition, such as the Arab League conventions on mutual legal assistance and extradition among the Maghreb States. Bilateral judicial cooperation agreements also existed with France, Mali and Spain, among others. Also, the country was part of the West African network that facilitated mutual legal assistance. Mauritania was combating torture, having adopted a law that prohibited torture and included a legal definition of torture.
Despite challenges and difficulties which made it hard to guarantee economic and other rights, social justice was a priority for the State party. Thanks to the implementation of the Committee’s recommendations, the status of human rights had been upgraded in the State. Mauritania would work hand in hand with the Committee regarding further steps to implement the Convention.
Questions by Committee Experts
OLIVIER DE FROUVILLE, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, welcomed the knowledgeable delegation of Mauritania. The report had reached the Committee with a delay of seven years. The effective implementation of the Convention was the common goal of the Committee and the State party. Currently, there was no specific law on enforced disappearance in Mauritania, but there was a law that established precedent in the domain of combating torture. There was no doubt that enforced disappearance constituted torture, but they were two separate crimes nevertheless. These two should not be confused. The law on torture was an encouraging precedent, but the Committee was concerned that it was rarely implemented. During the dialogue, the Committee would focus on both legislation and what happened in practice.
One issue of concern to the Committee was the State party’s commitment to accept the Committee’s competence with regard to relevant articles of the Convention, which addressed the Committee’s competence to receive and consider communications from or on behalf of individuals and States parties.
Another issue concerned the National Human Rights Commission. The Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions had previously brought down its grading of the Commission to “B” grade, but had recently recommended that its “A” grading be restored. The observations made by the Global Alliance in 2018 thus did appear to have had some effect. However, as the Commission had not recently published any reports, it was difficult to learn about its activities or budget. The situation was not very clear, and more information from the State party was needed.
The State party had stated that it had consulted with civil society when preparing the report. Who took part in these consultations and how did they function? Apparently some organisations were excluded from this process.
Were there any court rulings that directly invoked or applied the Convention? How did Mauritania disseminate the Convention? It should be disseminated further towards the judiciary and its officials.
MATAR DIOP, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, welcomed the Mauritanian delegation and the Commissioner. The multisectoral delegation raised expectations regarding the dialogue. Mauritania ratified the Convention in July 2012, and the initial report was submitted in December 2020. Subsequently, the list of issues was sent to the State party in the following months, to which the State party replied in 2023.
The head of delegation stated that Mauritanian authorities had not recorded any instance of enforced disappearances since the adoption of the Convention. Had there been any cases of enforced disappearances before ratification of the Convention? This was a crime of a continuing nature. The 1980s and 1990s in particular had been marked by unrest in the country. That unrest led to tragic results. Some civil society organisations referred to this period as a period of passif humanitaire (humanitarian liability) for the State.
The Amnesty Law of 14 June, 1993, in its first article, granted full amnesty to the members of the armed and security forces for the events which took place from 1989 onwards. Article 2 stated that any complaint pertaining to that period would be archived. Had the National Human Rights Commissioner received complaints regarding passif humanitaire before or after the adoption of the Convention? How did the State party aim to resolve this legacy? How did the Constitution provide protection, especially in times of emergency? The State party had committed to adopting a law which criminalised enforced disappearance in line with the relevant articles of the Convention. Would Mauritania adopt a definition of enforced disappearance in its legislation? Ten years on from the adoption of the Convention, what were the obstacles impeding Mauritania from criminalising enforced disappearance? There were certain provisions criminalising abduction and other offences. Which of these offences were used to prosecute the crime of enforced disappearance? What would be the minimum and the maximum sentences for the crime in the Criminal Code, considering that it was a crime against humanity? How would legal provisions take into account the seriousness of the offence?
Had there been any complaints under Article 2 of the Convention regarding non-State actors? What would be the punishments handed down for these offences? Would the death penalty be applicable given the seriousness of the offences?
If an official claimed that he had followed orders in committing enforced disappearance, he would be exempt from the penalty, which would be only applicable for higher-ranking officers. According to Mauritania’s Criminal Code, in cases of arbitrary acts which went against civil rights and the Constitution, the perpetrator would “lose their civil rights.” Was this a suitable punishment for such a serious offence?
Mr. Diop said the report noted that no act nor instruction from any civil or military authority could be invoked to justify the crime of enforced disappearance. Was this compatible with the Convention?
OLIVIER DE FROUVILLE, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, raised concerns regarding the statute of limitations. How was the statute and the Amnesty Law compatible?
Only the act on combating torture included an extraterritorial aspect. Did the State party aim to adopt universal jurisdiction when it came to enforced disappearance as well? Was there inter-State cooperation concerning enforced disappearance? The State could not arbitrarily stop public proceedings. It needed to respect Article 15 of the Convention.
Mr. de Frouville also raised concerns about access to justice and protection for women victims of a crime. When it came to enforced disappearance, victims were often women. Would a witness protection system be adopted?
Responses by the Delegation
CHEIKH AHMEDOU SIDI, Commissioner for Human Rights, Humanitarian Action and Relations with Civil Society and head of the delegation, apologised for the delay in reporting, which he said was due to the inter-ministerial committee taking time to function.
The delegation said the National Human Rights Commission was an independent body with varied roles. A law of July 2017 regulated it. The institution was a keystone of the national human rights protection system. It ensured that domestic law was harmonised with relevant international legislation, and it cooperated with the United Nations’ human rights institutions. The Commission enjoyed “A” status from the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions. It provided advice on relevant law in the domain of human rights, conducted training in that regard, and contributed to awareness raising. It encouraged the Government to ratify the relevant human rights instruments and took part in reporting activities. It tackled specific issues such as the rights of women and persons with disability. It informed the public through press releases, and could request the assistance of relevant institutions in the human rights domain. Some members of the Commission were representatives of trade unions and non-governmental organisations.
Enforced disappearance constituted a serious crime, although there was currently no relevant law addressing it in the State. It needed to be a stand-alone crime. The law on torture was the most appropriate to address any situation of enforced disappearance, as it considered enforced disappearance as a crime against humanity. Police custody in cases of terrorism differed from that of other offences. In January 2023, a report on the subject was issued, constituting a roadmap for reforming the justice section. Some criminal laws were overlapping.
There had not been any reported cases of enforced disappearance. However, other international conventions had been invoked and applied in different rulings. In one case, the judicial ruling opted to apply the conventions of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights rather than national law. The crime of torture also encompassed secret detention. A 2015 act defined secret detention as an aggravating circumstance, an act of torture and a crime against humanity. There were no enduring or continuous cases of enforced disappearance. Legislation determined when the statute of limitations could be waived. Prosecution proceedings were initiated by the complaint themselves. In cases of abduction, the withdrawal of the complaint would not suspend the proceedings.
The report was drafted in an inclusive manner, and disseminated through a digital platform. Reforms to Government processes enabled the closer participation of civil society organisations in preparation of the report. The Mauritanian Government conducted a study several years ago that identified areas of domestic legislation that needed to be harmonised with the Convention. A national strategy promoting and protecting human rights was being drafted by the Government. A future law on enforced disappearance would include the definition of enforced disappearance and other aspects prescribed by the Convention.
A 1952 law and the Constitution prevented public emergencies from being used to justify enforced or other disappearance. The 1952 law predated national independence. In “states of exception,” special powers were needed to curtail any individual freedoms. When there was a state of exception, the administration could not fully follow the rule of law. “States of siege” were decreed by the President for 30 days. There is a rigorous framework regarding implementation.
Statistics on religion and ethnicity were not collected in Mauritania. In 2022, the country had to deal with six cases brought to its attention by the working groupWorking Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances, two of which had been resolved. This reflected the country’s willingness to address the issue. Domestic law would be amended to harmonise it with international human rights conventions. One part of the Convention’s definition of enforced disappearance would be incorporated in the relevant legal acts.
Article 6 of the Convention, which addressed the criminal responsibility of perpetrating officers and higher-ranking officials who issued orders, was applicable for crimes of torture and enforced disappearance. The individual responsibility for the perpetrator of the act was clear and unavoidable. Other articles foresaw that public officials could be suspended, subjected to disciplinary proceedings. This could even occur prior to the ruling.
At least one case of enforced disappearance had resulted in legal actions. Secret detention constituted a crime against humanity. It was the closest offence in the Criminal Code to the Convention. When establishing extraterritorial jurisdiction, the judiciary took into account the relevant provisions of the Convention and national law. If there were aggravating circumstances, there was a 12 to 24 month extension to the sentence. In case of injury to a person at the hands of a Government official, a 30 year sentence applied; in case of death, a life sentence applied. No person should be punished for not obeying an order to commit an act contrary to the law regarding torture or detention.
CHEIKH AHMEDOU SIDI, Commissioner for Human Rights, Humanitarian Action and Relations with Civil Society and head of the delegation, said the State party wanted to see the Amnesty Law adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly. At the end of 1990, more than 30,000 Mauritanian refugees returned from Senegal. They benefited from a swift repatriation programme, receiving remuneration. A tripartite agreement between Mauritania, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Senegal established a mechanism to monitor and coordinate these persons’ reintegration into Mauritanian society. “Forgiveness Day,” celebrated on 25 March, was established in 2009. The repatriation process was concluded in 2012 in the presence of António Guterres, who was the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees at the time. More than 1,500 state officials were able to recover their rights. Also, basic infrastructure had been built, including schools, dams and other projects. All this work had further been strengthened by the President of the Republic’s efforts to heal the wounds remaining from previous events. The President was committed to the healing process. Nine meetings regarding this process had been held, and one was pending. The healing process was underway.
Questions by Committee Experts
MATAR DIOP, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said the need for social cohesion was evident. In 2019, when the report was being prepared, passif humanitaire still existed, as did impunity for Government officials, which still burdened the country. The Government needed to give civil society organisations the opportunity to continue raising concerns over the State’s troubled past. It could not be fully addressed solely by adopting legislative acts. Ongoing crimes had been committed. Beyond a doubt, there were victims of enforced disappearance, and those who sought their close ones. Their right to reparation and justice should not be denied through implementation of the Amnesty Law. The death penalty and corporal punishment were contrary to United Nations principles. Was the sentence of forced labour a form of corporal punishment?
OLIVIER DE FROUVILLE, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, referred to the statement of the Ministry of Justice on the national human rights strategy, specifically regarding the prospective bill aiming to transpose the Convention into the national law. Mr. de Frouville welcomed this bill, asking for additional information, including a timetable for implementation. The State’s process for consulting with civil society organisations mattered. Had it established conditions for such consultations? Was it sufficiently inclusive of civil society, at least in the early stages of drafting bills? There were claims that some organisations did not take part in consultations on the digital platform established for that purpose. The delegation had stated that it was sufficient for the law on torture to apply to secret detention. Article 13, for instance, does not explicitly lay down this connection. It was a very different charge compared to enforced disappearance, which had a much broader scope. Mauritanians who left the country also constituted an issue that needed to be addressed.
A Committee Expert requested clarification regarding the concept of an “ongoing crime”, which, according to the delegation, continued up to a point when the crime ended. Crimes could only end after the facts had been clarified. Ratifying Article 31 of the Convention would yield positive results, as it would enable another State to intervene. The Expert commended the State party for considering ratification. Mauritanian citizens who were victims outside their country could also be protected. Did the Law on Reconciliation address the concept of an “ongoing crime”?
Another Expert commended Mauritania for ratifying the Convention. The challenges that prevented Mauritania from implementing the Convention needed to be addressed. How could the Convention be applied, considering that there was no legal text addressing enforced disappearance in Mauritanian criminal law? Judges could not be legislators. According to the civil society organisations, there was a significant number of missing persons. Why were these cases not before the courts?
Responses by the Delegation
CHEIKH AHMEDOU SIDI, Commissioner for Human Rights, Humanitarian Action and Relations with Civil Society and head of the delegation, expressed sincere condolences to the Moroccan nation, which was suffering from the effects of the recent earthquake. The five-year human rights strategy would soon be adopted and implemented. This strategy addressed the full spectrum of human rights.
MOHAMED EL HABIB BAL, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Mauritania to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that there was no legal definition of enforced disappearance. The State party would consider either developing the law on torture or establishing a separate law on enforced disappearances. There was a very strong political will to do so. The interministerial commission dealing with the legacy of passif humanitaire represented one symbol in that regard. The commission was established at the President’s initiative. Channels between the victims and the State were open. He believed that the Committee’s recommendations would be considered and beneficial to Mauritania.
The delegation said that the police and the prosecutor would cooperate to apply Article 12 of the Convention and investigate enforced disappearances. The implementing regulations need to be adopted as soon as possible.
Mauritania had a de facto moratorium on the death penalty spanning several decades. The death sentence, in practice, often implied life imprisonment. Forced labour imposed by the State did not amount to corporal punishment. Legislation on forced labour would be harmonised with international norms once the justice system was reformed. The offence of secret detention was not time-bound; the statute of limitations did not apply.
Regarding the disappearance of two Mauritanian journalists abroad, there was limited information available, although bilateral communication with other countries was continuing. Regarding the unfortunate cases of Mauritanians who were abducted and murdered in Mali, a joint investigation committee had been established.
Questions by Committee Experts
OLIVIER DE FROUVILLE, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, called for more statistics on complaints and cases of enforced disappearances. Three specific cases, relatively recent, concerned forms of secret detention. They involved violations of Article 17 of the Convention. In the first case, a person died in detention after being subjected to physical violence. He was not informed of his right to legal counsel, and his family was not informed of his detention. The Prosecutor was not informed of the decision to keep him in police custody. Had there been any prosecutions in that regard or reparations for the victims? The second case from 2012 referred to 14 persons convicted on terrorism charges. Associations of family members had attempted to find information regarding their place of detention, which remained unknown for a long time. This case was well known and was asked about by other committees as well. The persons involved were placed in administrative detention. What was the applicable legal framework to this case? How was it possible that nobody could obtain information regarding their status? The third case referred to a secret detention in Nouakchott in the headquarters of the national detention centre. This case also came under the scope of articles of the Convention. How had the State responded to these cases? What reparations had been offered?
The Amnesty Law predated the ratification of the Convention by several years, and it was reportedly incoherent and incompatible with it. Some issues still burdened the country as a result of past issues. Amnesties could have affected enforced disappearances. Some countries, like Chile, were asked to investigate aspects like illegal detention centres during dictatorship eras. What measures were being taken to address the issues surrounding the passif humanitaire? Reliable sources had indicated that around 500 people had been forcibly disappeared during the era. What measures had been adopted by the State party to address this? Also, what measures were taken to address instances of executions? What had been done to support families to access the remains of their family members?
The State party needed to ensure that there was no undue influence over courts, and there was nothing to undermine the independence of investigative authorities. In the report, safeguards to ensure the independence of investigations and fair trials were mentioned. However, reports were received that people who were involved in crimes during the past decades had been appointed to high positions. Could the delegation comment on that? The Committee took note of the report of the National Human Rights Commission for 2021 to 2022, which contained a number of criticisms about the working of the judicial system, specifically regarding the security of tenure for judges.
MATAR DIOP, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked how the State ensured that enforced detention was covered by extradition treaties with other countries, given that enforced disappearance was not criminalised. What were the possible obstacles in that regard? When it came to mutual legal assistance, what were the limits of domestic law, leading to situations where the country would refuse cooperation with another country. How did the laws on combating torture and on human trafficking meet the criteria of article 16 of the Convention, particularly the criteria for assessing risks and diplomatic assurances of the hosting State regarding extraditions? How were diplomatic assurances of the hosting State checked? Would it be possible to appeal an extradition decision? Which authorities heard appeals?
Article 17 of the Convention stressed that nobody should be held in secret detention. All persons deprived of their liberty had the right to contact their family members and legal counsel. According to one law, access to a lawyer was guaranteed from the moment of arrest, whereas according to another law, this access was available after 48 hours, in case of persons accused of ordinary crimes, and 72 hours for drug-related crimes. Access to a lawyer was granted following the prosecutor’s decision and was monitored by a police officer. It was also possible to keep somebody in police custody for 45 days before being brought to the judge. Also, the law stipulated that the right to a lawyer was excluded for offences against State security. Was the State party going to bring these provisions in line with the Convention?
Was it possible for these persons to question the lawfulness of such decisions? Did the administrative and legal authorities have access to information regarding the detentions? Was there a detention registration unit or system? The report stated that the places of deprivation of liberty were submitted to the control of the competent authorities and provided for international visits. Which were the international organisations that could visit these centres? Likewise, the registers did not communicate with one another, so digitisation would make it much easier for the whole system to be better integrated. More information was needed regarding the training of the staff involved in overseeing persons who were detained.
OLIVIER DE FROUVILLE, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said the State party specified that there were “hotline numbers” for the civilian population that also covered disappearances. In some cases, search proceedings had been triggered. How did these proceedings take place, which institutions were involved, and which protocols were followed? How did this search unit operate for the Mali case of disappeared persons, in cooperation with the authorities in that country? Were the families of the victims involved in the searches? If persons had died, how many remains had been returned to family members?
It would be very important to have genetic databases with DNA samples from the families concerned; was such a database envisaged? The definition of the victim in legislation was pursuant to the Convention, but the form of reparation and the procedure for obtaining it were unclear. Relevant provisions seemed to focus on compensation, and did not seem to take into account the scope of the damage. There were many important elements of reparation that needed to be addressed. Compensation could not replace the need for justice and truth. What measures did the State party envisage to approach this issue?
The legal status of the disappeared represented one of the key issues. As in many other countries, there was no specific system for the certification of absence. It was not always possible to locate the body of a missing person. A certificate of absence would allow relatives to access certain rights in the absence of a certificate of death. The Expert called for more information on the legal status and rights of the families of the disappeared.
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said that the State party had investigated the complaint of torture at a police station in Nouakchott. The competent prosecution service conveyed the complaint to a second local police station in Nouakchott in order to investigate. During the questioning of a man, some abuse was committed, including acts of torture, leading to his death. All the victim’s family’s rights were respected during judicial proceedings. They were assisted by legal counsel and given access to the results of the autopsy, which indicated torture. Eight individuals from the police were arrested and prosecuted. All the presumed perpetrators remained in detention. A hearing was expected, and the case was being handled normally. This was an unfortunate incident. The State had done everything in its power. It had asked the National Human Rights Commission and the United Nations to investigate, and had implemented these bodies’ recommendations. It had strengthened projects to ensure fundamental safeguards for persons deprived of liberty. Training was also conducted for this purpose. Likewise, autopsies were conducted systematically when security forces were involved. As there was a shortage of forensic doctors, medical students were encouraged to step in instead. The State would do everything it could to prevent an incident like this from occurring again.
The 14 persons convicted of terrorism in 2012 were transferred to a prison in Ouadane. The governor of the prison regularly exchanged correspondence between the detainees and their families. The place of detention was very remote. In 2016, they were brought back to Nouakchott, allowing for communication with their families. All requests of family members had been granted. It was not up to the prison’s management system to register children who had not been registered at birth. There was no problem with the civil registration of people being held in prison.
The third person mentioned by the Expert was arrested and presumably held in detention. His arrest was lawful and all the rights were respected. He was arrested on 10 August on the grounds of defamation and corruption. The gendarmerie held the investigation while he was in police custody, which could last up to eight days on the basis of the relevant legal provision. On 31 August, he was charged with corruption by three investigative judges. Various courts, up to the Supreme Court, confirmed this. A committal order was issued against him. All his lawyers made the necessary appeals to defend their client. He was not the victim of arbitrary detention. He was freed and enjoyed civil rights.
The judiciary code ensured the security of tenure for judges. Only in extreme circumstances or upon judges’ explicit request could he or she be removed. There were less than 300 judges nationwide. Judges sometimes made requests for transfers for personal reasons. Mauritania was a big country with only four million inhabitants. One court did not have any judges. The State was working to ensure the security of tenure for judges, and that judges were present in all circuits. Regarding extradition and mutual legal assistance, bilateral assurances were provided following international legal instruments. According to the provisions of the competent law on criminal procedure, extradition was only possible if legal conditions were fulfilled. Ordinary crimes could not be considered as political offences. If Mauritanian courts had jurisdiction, the statute of limitations would come into play. The conditions of the States in which offences had been committed needed to be taken into account. According to a legal provision, there was a prohibition that the country was extradited to a country where the person could be subjected to torture. Both planned and unplanned visits to detention centres could take place, notably by the National Human Rights Commission and other national and international bodies like the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Some organisations had framework agreements with detention centres and visited them regularly, including an Italian non-governmental organisation.
The delegation said that in 2022, decrees were adopted establishing a law enabling the Geneva Convention and regulating the provision of international protection. The State had established an advisory commission in charge of refugees. This commission worked closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. There were no cases of secret detentions. There was a specific Government department that addressed matters regarding extradition. This department was in charge of forwarding documents via diplomatic channels. No person could be extradited unless there was an agreement regulating the area. A legislative amendment had been proposed to further regulate extraditions in accordance with international and other norms. There was no law in Mauritania that allowed secret detentions. Nobody could extradite a person accused of secret detention. If the person in question was a citizen and the offence was of political nature, the statute of limitations was elapsed either in Mauritania or abroad.
Several information and awareness raising campaigns had taken place already in the domain of human rights. Some official bulletins were published, and several workshops were organised for law enforcement officials in two major cities. Many benefited from these, including the judiciary, gendarmerie and other officers. The focus of the workshops was on Mauritania’s international commitments in the context of the Convention.
CHEIKH AHMEDOU SIDI, Commissioner for Human Rights, Humanitarian Action and Relations with Civil Society and head of the delegation, said Mauritania was currently in the business of implementing the Convention. A number of measures had been put in place in the context of passif humanitaire. An independent commission was put in place to identify, describe and address all remains and offer guidance to victims’ families in relation to the passif humanitaire period.
Questions by Committee Experts
MATAR DIOP, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked whether one could appeal expulsion decisions. Before which authority could appeals be lodged? Could appeals suspend expulsions?
OLIVIER DE FROUVILLE, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked how victims could participate in joint searches, particularly as part of the joint committee with Mali. There were allegations of reprisals against civil society organisations for holding demonstrations or allegedly withholding information. The Committee had received worrying allegations that families of the disappeared had their associations’ registrations refused for unspecified reasons, preventing them from organising memorial ceremonies. For instance, in 2017, 15 persons were arrested for trying to hold a celebration. There were also reports of persons being prevented from travelling, or appearing before international bodies. Also, questions were raised about the law regulating the freedom of association. Bearing in mind the precedents, it would be useful for the delegation to provide certain guarantees that there would be no state repression towards any individuals in that regard. The rapporteur on reprisals would follow the developments in that regard. Provisions and measures did exist to respond to allegations of the abduction of children, although it appeared that these did not apply for all the cases. A specific law, potential law on enforced disappearance, would be useful to cover this issue as well. Risks of abduction and removal of children, trafficking and smuggling could also be covered by such a law. The very low birth registration rate, particularly among refugee and asylum seeker children, posed an additional concern.
One Committee Expert asked when an “ongoing crime” concluded? Did the State apply the notion of an “ongoing crime” to acts regarding reconciliation? The principle of extraterritoriality included the principle of reciprocity.
Another Committee Expert said the protection of migrants and asylum seekers was especially important. Did Mauritania have a national asylum law that addressed enforced disappearance? In cases of enforced disappearance of asylum seekers, which procedures were followed, which authorities were involved, and which criteria were applied? Individual assessment was important.
CARMEN ROSA VILLA QUINTANA, Committee Chairperson, asked how the State appointed judges and prosecutors. Was there an oversight procedure which would exclude anyone involved in serious human rights violations in the past from being appointed to the National Assembly or judiciary, for instance? What steps were being taken to strengthen searches, investigations and the forensic medical service?
Responses by the Delegation
CHEIKH AHMEDOU SIDI, Commissioner for Human Rights, Humanitarian Action and Relations with Civil Society and head of the delegation, said the law on freedom of association adopted in 2021 regulated a digital platform for directly authorising requests to hold demonstrations. It was used to reduce the possibility of error. If officials did not refuse authorisation, it was issued automatically. The system was run by the National Human Rights Commission. The delegation was not aware of any refusals of authorisation. The intersectoral committee for drafting State reports would hold a meeting following the issuance of recommendations by the Committee to discuss ratification of Article 31 of the Convention.
The delegation stated that all prison facilities had a registry system. The State was running a pilot project to modernise this registry system. A digital management application was being implemented in large prison centres. The State was working with the courts in Nouakchott to modernise court records in the same way. The prison and court registers would benefit from being connected with institutional registers.
Mutual legal assistance could only be refused when there was a risk to public order or non-compatibility with domestic law. Registration of the children of asylum seekers was being addressed. Any child born in Mauritania had access to birth registration. The State was addressing the issue with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The relevant provision of the Code of Civil and Commercial Proceedings provided the right to seek remedy or appeal against any administrative proceedings. The statute of limitations ran from the moment the act was committed. Secret detentions were a crime against humanity and there was no statute of limitations. Reciprocity was always an element in mutual legal assistance. At times, legal assistance was provided purely on the basis of reciprocity. Judges were governed by the statutes of the magistracy. The Higher Council of the Magistracy monitored judges’ careers and guaranteed the security of their tenure. Judges were acting independently. Public prosecutors were also independent, only receiving the instructions in line with the Code of Criminal Proceedings.
Commissions would be put in place to encourage birth registration around the country. The State’s ambition was to register everybody by the end of 2023. A new decree on the right to asylum had been promulgated. Previous provisions had only mentioned refugees; there was a broader scope now. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees supported this effort. The decree would soon go before parliament. The statute of limitations started when the last offence was committed. Four DNA laboratories had been established and the genetic registry was being developed.
CHEIKH AHMEDOU SIDI, Commissioner for Human Rights, Humanitarian Action and Relations with Civil Society and head of the delegation, specified that they wanted to involve the whole population in the birth registration procedure.
A delegate stated that Mauritania was a party to numerous conventions concerning children and there was a protection system in place for children, which included the Children’s Parliament, the National Council for Children, and other bodies. The best interests of the child were a key consideration within the Child Protection Code. Its provisions also protected the right to keep the children within their families.
CHEIKH AHMEDOU SIDI, Commissioner for Human Rights, Humanitarian Action and Relations with Civil Society and head of the delegation, extended warmest thanks for the high-quality questions and comments, assuring the Committee that their concerns and observations would be fully addressed by the State. The Committee’s recommendations would be incorporated into the follow-up mechanism of treaty body recommendations, and forwarded to the intersectoral committee. All persons would be protected from enforced disappearance. Capacities would be strengthened to implement policies, programmes and plans of actions for the purposes of promoting and protecting human rights.
CARMEN ROSA VILLA QUINTANA, Committee Chairperson, thanked all persons who had contributed to the constructive dialogue. She reminded of the importance of the dialogue to encourage cooperation in implementing the Convention worldwide. Work with the victims of enforced disappearance was necessary and the Committee remained available to assist Mauritania in that regard. Finally, she also thanked the representatives of the victims and the civil society organisations for their engagement.
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