Mauritania Democracy and Rights

Democracy and rights

In Mauritania, abbreviated as MRT by Abbreviationfinder, the democratic deficiencies are great. Politics is dominated by a single power-bearing party and the military has great political influence. Violations of human rights are common, including slavery.

Mauritania has a long history of dictatorship. Since independence in 1960, the country has usually been ruled by military regimes. The current president, Mohammed Ould Abdelaziz, also took power in a military coup in 2008.

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According to the constitution, multi-party systems should prevail, but politics is largely dominated by the regime’s power party Union for the Republic (UPR). Most opposition parties chose to boycott the parliamentary elections in 2013 and the presidential elections in 2014, as they saw no preconditions for a free and fair election (in the 2018 parliamentary elections, however, the opposition voted). Accusations of widespread electoral fraud have occurred and elections have been postponed.

There are several violent Islamist groups in the country, including the regional al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim). Since 2005, Islamic attacks against military posts, embassies and tourists have become increasingly common, weakening democracy. The military’s continued influence over politics also means a democratic shortcoming.

Violations of political rights are common. Slavery opponents, regime critics and human rights activists are exposed to threats, violence and harassment mainly from the security service. They risk prosecution for exercising the right to participate in peaceful demonstrations. Freedom of assembly and association is restricted by the authorities. Foreign human rights activists are not allowed to enter the country.

One fifth of the people who are eligible for election in national and municipal elections must be women. In the National Assembly, one of four members is a woman. Politics is largely dominated by the peoples group, while the haratins are underrepresented (see Population and Languages).

Transparency International places Mauritania among the fourth most corrupt countries in the world. In its index of corruption in 180 countries, Mauritania in 2019 was ranked 137th (see full list here). It was still seven investments better than the year before.

Freedom of expression and media

Freedom of the press and expression is guaranteed in the Mauritanian constitution, but since 2014 media freedom has decreased dramatically in the country, according to Reporters Without Borders. In November 2017, a new law was introduced which means that the death penalty can be punished for blasphemy and apostasy (to fall away from the right faith). Already in January 2014, a blogger was sentenced to death for apostasy. After many legal trips, his sentence was converted to two years in prison.

Reporters Without Borders placed Mauritania as 97th country out of 180 in its Index of Press Freedom in the World 2020 (see full list here). There was a sharp decline with 25 investments compared to 2018 and a total of 49 investments worse than 2016.

Media workers are largely devoted to self-censorship in order to avoid harassment by the authorities. Newspapers risk being shut down if the authorities find that they have defamed Islam or threatened the state. Other sensitive topics concern the military, the widespread corruption and slavery, which is widespread despite being formally banned (see Population and Languages). Foreign journalists are also prevented from reporting on slavery. In March 2018, a foreign journalist was expelled who examined slavery. The same thing had happened the year before.

The authorities also make use of financial pressure to quell malicious media. In October 2017, the authorities closed five privately owned TV and radio stations, which, according to the tax authorities, were lagging behind with the tax payments.

Prior to 2014, Mauritanian media experienced a period of thawing weather. In 2006, the right to source protection was introduced into the law and newspapers were given the right to publish without prior censorship. In the same year, a new independent audit authority was established. In 2011, both prison sentences for slander and the state monopoly on etheric media were abolished.

The Internet is not directly controlled by the state, but bloggers are exposed to threats, violence and harassment mainly from the security service. Only a limited proportion of the population has access to the network.

Judicial system and legal security

The legal system is based on French tradition, but Islamic Sharia law is applied in, among other things, civil family law. The courts are politically controlled even though measures have been taken to increase the independence of the judiciary vis-à-vis the holders of power. In lower courts there is a large shortage of educated judges and lawyers, which reduces the legal security of citizens.

Slavery has been formally prohibited since 1981, but in reality it exists to a large extent. In 2015, the legislation was further tightened, including a broader definition of slavery and longer sentences. Few judgments have been sentenced, but in March 2018, three people between 10 and 20 years were sentenced to prison for slavery, something that the slavery opponents saw as an important breakthrough.

Regime critics, suspected terrorists and other persons can be arbitrarily taken into police interrogation and detained for a long time without prosecution being brought. Trials can go out in time. Abuse and torture in detention and prisons are common. The prisons are overcrowded, the hygiene poor and the prisoners getting too little nutrition. The death penalty is sentenced but, according to Amnesty International, has not been enforced in the last decade.