Mauritania News and Reports

Also see:
More About Coup

0 The situation of homosexuals, including treatment by government authorities 1/04

1 Status of homosexuality: illegal 1/05

1a Mauritania: Fight against AIDS slow to take root in port city of Nouadhibou 4/05

2 AIDS "caravan of hope" travels river valley to break taboos 5/05

3 Mauritanian government, NGOs discuss human rights 7/08

3a Mauritanian President Abdellahi ousted in military coup 8/08 (background story)

4 Politicians Back Mauritania Coup 8/08 (background story)

5 Mauritania may lower airfare to counter tourism decline 9/08 (background story)

6 Interview with Mauritanian filmmaker Abderahmane Ould Ahmed Salem 12/08

7 Mauritanian human rights groups denounce torture 12/08 (background story)

8 West African youth festival opens in Mauritania 12/08 (background story)

9 Mauritania to provide former refugees with civil status documents 1/09

10 Mauritanian NGO denounces persistent slavery 8/09 (background story)

11 Terrorists kidnap Italian couple in Mauritania 12/09 (non-gay background story)

12 European tour operator resumes Mauritania charters 12/09

13 Mauritanian Islamic leaders ban genital mutilation 1/10

13a Nations pledge movement on LGBT issues at UN 3/11

14 Female genital mutilation persists in Mauritania 4/11

15 AIDS funding returns to Mauritania 8/11

16 Former Mauritanian slaves live in squalor 8/11

17 Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic Secures Asylum… 10/11

06 January 2004 –

Mauritania: The situation of homosexuals, including their treatment by government authorities
; whether there is a law on homosexuality; if so, whether that law is enforced (1999-January 2004)
Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Ottawa

Several concurring sources published between 1999 and 2003 indicate that homosexuality is illegal in Mauritania (Independent 8 July 2003; AFP 5 Apr. 2000; ILGA 23 Apr. 1999; Afrol n.d.) and that the practice of homosexuality is punishable by death under the Penal Code (CNS News 19 Dec. 2003; Wockner News 24 Nov. 2003; Independent 8 July 2003; Mirror 21 Apr. 2003; AI 29 Mar. 2002; Contemporary Women’s Issues Oct. 2000; ILGA 23 Apr. 1999).

No information on the enforcement of the law or the treatment of homosexuals by government authorities could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

Mauritania 2005 –

Status of homosexuality: illegal

Age of consent: NA
Laws covering homosexual activity: Sub-Article 331.3 of the Penal Code of the Federation of French West Africa, of which Mauritania was part before independence in 1960, allowed a maximum imprisonment of three years and a fine of one million francs for sexual acts with a person of the same sex under the age of 21. This Code was enacted in 1947 and retained under Article 60 of the Mauritanian Constitution. (Arno Schmitt and Jehoeda Sofer – "Sexuality and Eroticism Among Males in Moslem Societies") [Presumably this is superceded by the application of Sharia law] ILGA Some sources say that the death penalty applies if sodomy is committed

Background information and government attitudes: It appears that Shari’a law has been introduced. "Even in smaller countries like Yemen and Mauritania, homosexual behavior has become an offense punishable by death" (West & Green – Sociolegal Control of Homosexuality) Like many of its African counterparts, the Mauritanian regime is a hybrid, combining democratic and authoritarian traits. On the one hand, Mauritania embarked upon a path of political liberalization in 1991, after 31 years of single-party and military rule. The 1991 constitution provided for a pluralist political regime and for the official recognition of universal human rights. For the first time since the year of independence (1960), the country has held an uninterrupted cycle of multiparty elections at the municipal, legislative, and presidential levels.

Independent newspapers have flourished, allowing for an unprecedented degree of public criticism of the government. New actors (i.e., local and transnational nongovernmental organizations [NGOs]) have entered the political field. In addition, the state’s violent repression of non-Arabic-speaking minorities (Haalpulaar, Sooninke, and Wolof), which peaked in the 1989-1990 period, has been receding since the mid-1990s. In 2004, under pressure from international organizations, the Mauritanian government and civil society groups approved a "National Plan of Action for Human Rights," which the United Nations Development Program describes as "the most comprehensive document on the human rights situation in Mauritania to date."

On the other hand, beyond these formal democratic reforms lies another reality. Ancien régime elites have maintained their privileged positions at the top of the state and have co-opted many opposition activists. They have successfully perpetuated authoritarian practices and skilfully manipulated the liberalization reforms. For instance, although elections have been organized on a regular basis, the regime has never put itself at risk: The incumbent president, who came to power through a coup in 1984, won all three presidential elections since 1992 in a process generally seen as unfair. Illustrative of such a process, in the most recent presidential election, in November 2003, security forces arrested the president’s most serious opponent on the day before the election and again two days after. The government also cracked down on alleged Islamist leaders and organizations, while simultaneously harassing, arresting, and jailing opposition leaders and disbanding opposition parties. For their part, the presidential party and its smaller allies controlled 100 percent of the seats in the National Assembly in 1992, 99 percent in 1996, and 87 percent in 2001.

From Freedom House’s Countries at the Crossroads: 2005 A Survey of Democratic Governance

April 1, 2005 – United Nations International Regional Information Network

Mauritania: Fight against AIDS slow to take root in port city of Nouadhibou
(No mention of homosexual contact)

Nouadhibou – Nouadhibou, one of the busiest ports in northwest Africa, in the desert north of Mauritania, is a crossroads for fishermen, mine workers and clandestine migrants heading towards Europe, but efforts to combat AIDS in this melting pot of humanity are still in their infancy. The government’s National Council to Fight AIDS (CNLS) only established a presence in this city of 100,000 people last year and Nouadhibou has yet to open its first AIDS testing centre. Open discussion about AIDS within the town’s socially conservative community is difficult. And social taboos against sex outside marriage in Mauritania’s staunchly Islamic society mean that condoms are handed out furtively by groups of activists, rather than being sold openly in shops and pharmacies.

But Nouadhibou, situated on the border with Moroccan-ruled Western Sahara, is overflowing with uprooted people and single men and women seeking to improve their fortunes. Even many of those who are married are a long way from their husbands or wives at home and are easily tempted into prostitution or casual affairs. Local officials reckon that 20 percent of the population consists of migrants from other West African countries, who have got stuck in Nouadhibou while waiting for a fishing boat to take them clandestinely to the Canary Islands or a truck to take them further north across the desert to northern Morocco, from where they could attempt the much shorter sea crossing to mainland Spain.

About 1 percent of the population of Nouadhibou is HIV positive, according to a sentinel survey of pregnant women tested in maternity clinics in 2001. That is low by African standards, but nearly twice the official prevalance figure of 0.57 percent for Mauritania as a whole. Nonetheless awareness and prevention campaigns are still very limited in scope, according to local AIDS activists. Local people living with AIDS must travel nearly 500 km south to the capital Nouakchott to obtain antiretroviral (ARV) therapy to improve their health and prolong their lives, they noted. And the awareness of AIDS among fishermen, many of whom spend up to 45 days at sea on ocean-going trawlers between trips ashore remains extremely low.

Mauritania may be a huge and sparsely populated desert, but its coastal waters are rich in fish.
Most of the nation’s deep-sea fishing fleet is based in Nouadhibou, which is situated in a huge bay protected from northerly and westerly gales and from the huge waves that often roll in from the Atlantic Ocean. But fishing activity comes to a government-imposed halt for two months of the year during the fish breeding season. That is when the fishermen come ashore for a long holiday and are most at risk of catching HIV. “ We are particularly worried by the upsurge of marriages during the two month-long closed season for fishing in September and October,” explained Abdoulaye Ba, who works for an AIDS control campaign in Nouadhibou run by two non-governmental organisations (NGOs); Adid and the Africa 70 Network. “ There is a boom in weddings during this period, but these tend to be unions between husbands and wives who don’t know each other very well and this obviously presents us with a high-risk situation,” Ba said.

Passing migrants settle down
Formerly known as Port-Etienne in its French colonial past, Nouadhibou is one of the busiest ports in northwest Africa.
The harbour not only hosts a large fishing fleet, it also exports iron ore, brought by train from the mines of Fderik and Zouerat, 600 km inland. The fact that Nouadhibou is within a few days sailing by fishing boat from the Canary Islands attracts many Africans seeking to to make a fresh start in Europe by the back door.

However, the dreams of many of them have faded and they have settled down in Nouadhibou to take jobs in the local fish processing plants and other service industries. Many of the migrants are from countries far to the south and are Christian. They constitute a community apart from the staunchly Muslim Mauritanians, many of whom are fair-skinned and more Arab than black in appearance. “ We have to reach these people and ensure that we do not stigmatise anyone by talking about AIDS,” explained Salamata Sow, the regional delegate of CNLS. “I was able to meet them thanks to the church priest during a mass. He is considered as a leader of public opinion among them and was able to introduce me to the leaders of their community”.

One health worker who prefered to remain anonymous said a recent study showed that the sex workers in Nouadhibou came from more than 10 different countries, including Senegal, Ghana and Morocco and were living in all areas of the town. “ Some came here to find work on the basis of the city’s reputation as an economic dynamo. Others just wait to get on a boat,” explained Djibril Diallo, an AIDS awareness trainer with the organisation SOS Pair Educateur. There are no cinemas or nightclubs in Nouadhibou, so entertainment once the sun goes down becomes a private matter.
The town has a reputation within Mauritania for loose morals. Humanitarian workers say this is a compelling reason to take solid action against HIV/AIDS there to prevent it from becoming a much bigger problem in the country as a whole.

A rash of billboards on Nouadhibou’s sandy streets warning people about the dangers of AIDS shows that an information campaign is already on. Cooperation between the United Nation Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Lutherian World Federation led to an AIDS awareness campaign being conducted among 50 sex workers in Nouadhibou in 2003. The partnership also trained 30 local teachers and held meetings with 63 imams to discuss the dangers of AIDS and ways of controlling the disease.

Fishermen want information
But Sow, the local head of the government campaign against AIDS, said she recently realised that the awareness message was still not reaching the fishermen. “ During our last visit to the port in December, we were bombarded with questions and had to spend six hours answering them instead of the two we had planned,” Sow said. “ Some of them had never heard about AIDS,” she added. Sow pointed out that there was also a need to inform fish sellers and other women working in the port about the pandemic.

Government officials play down suggestions that CNLS has tended to neglect Nouadhibou, despite the town’s large number of population groups that are highly vulnerable to AIDS. “ We might have faced some difficulties when we started our project, but Nouadhibou is a priority because of its socio-economical importance, its cosmopolitan population and its particular geographical situation,” said SNLS executive secretary, Doctor Abdallah Ould Horma. Sow took up her job as the head of CNLS activities in Nouadhibou in October 2004 and the town’s first public AIDS testing centre is due to open in September. “ We must face the problem on a long-term basis,” explained Doctor Djahfar Cherfaoui, the chief medical officer of Société nationale industrielle et minière (SNIM), the state-run company which runs the local iron mining industry.

SNIM, which has 1,500 employees, is Nouadhibou’s largest employer and a major contributor to Mauritania’s export earnings. The company set up a committee to fight AIDS within its labour force in 2002 and has trained 12 percent as peer educators to inform their colleagues about the disease. Free condoms are distributed at the pharmacy of the company hospital, but voluntary testing for AIDS among its employes is still rare. Most of the tests that are performed are simply carried out to confirm cases of AIDS that are already suspected. Cherfaoui stressed that the SNIM’s own efforts had to form part of a wider campaign against AIDS if they were to be successful. “ We will have wasted our time increasing awareness among our 1,500 workers if nothing is done about the other vulnerable population groups in the town, such as the fishermen," he said.

Sow of the CNLS made a special plea for female condoms to be made freely available, especially to Nouadhibou’s large community of sex workers. “ We lack feminine condoms which have been requested by the prostitutes," She said. "They prefer to use them rather than male condoms." Male condoms are available, but since it is difficult and embarrassing for most Mauritanians to buy them openly in chemist’s shops, a more discreet and informal distritution network has been set up. “Youngsters are ashamed. That’s why I started to supply them with the help of an NGO," said Moustapha, the young manager of an internet café in Nouadhibou. "It is easier for them to come to me.”

Many local AIDS activists are concerned about the imminent opening of a new tarred road linking Nouakchott to Nouadhibou. Its inauguration later this year will complete the final link in a new trans-Sahara highway, running down the West African coast from Tangiers in Morocco to Dakar in Senegal. The new 470 km road will boost trade and economic activity, but also the number of travellers circulating between Mauritania, Morocco and Senegal. Local NGOs and the CNLS are already preparing for the opening of this new transport corridor. They are looking to set up a series of new AIDS awareness campaigns targetted at truckers overland adventurers.

12 May 2005 – United Nations International Regional Information Network (IRIN)

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

AIDS "caravan of hope" travels river valley to break taboos
: The "caravan of hope" educates and entertains audiences on HIV/AIDS

Tiguent, Mauritania – This is a road show with a difference – a West African "caravan of hope" raising awareness about HIV/AIDS through evenings of entertainment that are wowing the crowds in Mauritania.

The mobile state-of-the-art theatre, a truck equipped with a powerful sound system and giant screen, has just ended the first stage of a 2005 HIV/AIDS tour of the Senegal River Valley in southern Mauritania. Nedwa, the Mauritanian organisation that runs the podium-cum-lorry, hopes the tour will trigger dialogue about the pandemic across the Mauritanian countryside and help break down taboos about HIV/AIDS. At the end of April, the road-show drove into Tiguent, a small town on the road linking Nouakchott, the Mauritanian capital, to Rosso on the southern river border with Senegal. Onboard were 25 people, essentially entertainers from across the region, preparing for the nightfall performance of "Special HIV".

As day broke over the town, a car equipped with a loud speaker cruised the streets to announce the evening show. By evening, a crowd had flocked under the spotlights, sitting on the ground or standing and clapping their hands. That night, Mauritanian singer Cheikh Ould Elabyad, a look-alike of Algerian pop star Khaled who is popular in Arab-speaking Tiguent, had a star role. The locals already knew his songs "Stop AIDS" and "Protect yourselves against AIDS".

In Tiguent – as well as in other river valley towns such as Mbagne, Rosso, Bogué and Kaedi – the show has attracted big crowds of up to 7,000 spectators an evening. " Our dream has come true," said Jon Shadid, co-founder of the initiative. "We never thought AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases would keep people listening for four hours at a time."

Local Languages to get messages across
The evening schedule in hand, Pape Diallo, who coordinates the entertainers, carefully watches the spectators and reworks the show if necessary according to crowd response. " Every evening, we need to assess the public’s reaction to know what will interest them," Diallo explained. "Priorities and interests are different depending on populations. Adaptation is essential to get the message through."

The show uses music, locally-produced short fiction movies, and sketches by entertainers
from SOS Peer Educators of Nouakchott. Sometimes provoking the audience, sometimes gay and sometimes grave, the entertainers explain the transmission and prevention of the virus, go over the taboos and the issue of responsibility, while also tackling sexually transmitted infections.

At times, they might invite a doctor up on stage to reinforce the message, or ask an authority such as the Hakem (county administrative leader) or the mayor to play host to give the evening more weight. Entertainers speak local languages in order to reach their objectives. "Even if we see only one Maur, or one Pulaar, we should talk to him. Therefore we summarise the message in his language," said Soya Watt, one of the educators on the caravan.

Raising awareness is the best method of prevention
Built in Cote d’Ivoire, the podium-cum-lorry arrived in Mauritania in 2003 and was sent travelling inland last year. This year it plans to visit three more regions and stage 54 shows compared with 36 on the previous tour.
Three new short movies have been produced and 200,000 basic information folders are to be distributed to the public during the 2005 tour.

Funded by the US organisation World Vision, the lorry is run by Nedwa while the inland tour and the project has financial support from the national secretariat of the fight against AIDS (SENLS), World Vision, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and other local partners. " We select a geographical area, like this tour on the river valley," explained Gibril Sy, president of SOS Peer Educators, the association that trained the entertainers. "It allows us to travel with the same team for two weeks to harmonise messages."

In Mbagne, on the banks of the Senegal River, the Pulaar singer Mousa Sarr, clad in yellow, performed songs against AIDS. He knew the local customs and the right words to touch people as he is from Kaedi, just a few kilometres from the fishing village. " Once we feel that the public has understood, we as entertainers get hotter," said Aminata Ly, one of the performers. "If we hear people talk about AIDS the next morning, that’s satisfying. That’s positive feedback."

Mauritania’s HIV prevalence rate is officially estimated at 0.6 percent, but according to many humanitarian organisations it could be much higher in this country where few statistics are available. " Mauritanians often have many sexual partners and if we do nothing, HIV prevalence will explode in the country," Shadid insisted. "The best prevention is raising awareness."

Fostering dialogue between generational groups

Breaking taboos is another aim of the road show. " We’re obliged to centre our message around abstinence, fidelity or the unreliability of your partner, depending on the public," said Ly. "We’ve been accused of inciting people to indulge in sexual promiscuity simply because we advocated condom use." " We talk about it as one last resort," Diallo, the coordinator of the caravan, explained.

In Mbagne for instance, the public is very conservative and "you need to be able to talk to all generations at the same time and incite them to exchange views," caravan educator Watt explained. Condom use, for example, remains a touchy issue. "Instead of talking about condoms, we choose to show its use on film with two young people who intend to have sex for example," one of the entertainers said. Abdulaye Ndiagne, a college boy who attended the show in Mbagne, said such subjects were taboo in the region. "In Halpulaar society, I can’t even talk in front the elders, left alone discuss sexuality."

" Many youngsters don’t know how to use condoms," Ndiagne added. "They tear the wrapping package with their teeth or don’t look at the expiry date." Distributing condoms is not part of this trip. "We can’t plan to distribute condoms in public," Sy explained. "However, we’re trying to set up a network of relays and peer educators in every town for a more efficient distribution."

The absence of medical staff on the caravan is a deliberate choice, according to entertainers. " It’s important that trained communicators deliver the message," Watt said. "To conceive sketches about AIDS is not a doctor’s job. He may not find the right words to make people laugh."

2008 July 21 –

Mauritanian government, NGOs discuss human rights

A training workshop opened on Sunday (July 20th) in Nouakchott to focus on the dialogue between human rights organisations and Mauritanian authorities, PANA reported. As part of the democratic process, a National Commission of Human Rights was established in Mauritania in 2006.

2008 August 06 –

Mauritanian President Abdellahi ousted in military coup
(non-gay background story)

A military coup led by General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz has ousted Mauritanian President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdellahi from power and created a Council of State to govern the country. Mauritanians are divided over the move, while the international community condemned the overthrow of democracy. Mohamed Ould Khayar, Mohamed Yahya Ould Abdel Wedoud and Mohamed Ould Khattat contributed to this report for Magharebia – 06/08/08

Mauritanians awoke Wednesday morning (August 6th) to a radio broadcast announcing a presidential decree dismissing the chiefs of staff of the army, the Presidential Guard, the National Guard and the Gendarmerie. An hour later, acting on orders from General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz, the head of the Presidential Guard, a group of soldiers arrived at the presidential headquarters and took away President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdellahi. "There are armed guards outside our lounge and kitchen," the president’s daughter Amal Mint Cheikh Abdellahi told Radio France Internationale.

Prime Minister Yahya Ould Ahmed Waghf was also seized. "The military suddenly turned against the President and took things into their own hands," said presidential spokesman Ahmed Ba. No gunshots or violence were reported during the operation, which was carried out under the leadership of General Abdelaziz and Generals Mohamed Ould Ghazouani and Félix Négri. Radio and television broadcasts were briefly shut down. When service was restored, the military broadcast a looped recording of "Communiqué Number One", which described President Abdellahi’s dismissal of the military officials as "null and void" and announced the creation of a Council of State to rule the country.

The coup follows months of conflict between Parliament and the president, culminating on Monday in the mass resignation of a majority of MPs from the ruling National Pact for Democracy and Development (PNDD). Some political observers have called the MPs’ walkout a "constitutional, democratic coup" expressing dissatisfaction with the president and his policies since coming to power one and a half years ago. "The democratic coup in the country took place days before the military coup," political analyst Mohammed Yahzih Ould Bab Ahmed told Magharebia. "The President lost the parliamentary majority which was supporting his programme, and which introduced the vote of confidence against the previous government. It was about to do the same with the current government, although most of its ministers support Parliament. Therefore, the President had only two options: either disband Parliament or to fire the generals who were accused of supporting the MPs."

"Neither option was in his favour," said the analyst. Mohammed Mukhtar Ould Zamil, a MP supporting the coup, accused President Abdellahi of "distancing himself from the consultation approach" by refusing to hold an emergency session on "reinforcing democracy". "It was the National Army which brought democracy, and it is the Army which protects democracy today in light of the political deadlock which started some time ago," Ould Zamil said.

Mohamed Ould Maouloud, President of the Union of the Forces of Progress party, told reporters that "the military took with their left hand what they had given with their right hand." He considered the coup "a disaster for the Mauritanian people, who waited a long time for freedom and democracy." Mohamed Ould Kerballi, a member of the national council of the majority Adil party told Magharebia: "The president has lost his authority to such an extent that he has turned his back on all his political supporters." In the street, public opinion was divided on why the coup took place, and whether it was a positive development for Mauritania.

Many Mauritanians were not surprised by the military action.
Newsagent Melainine Ould Cheick said: "Since the president declared on Al Jazeera that he was being supported by the military during the presidential election, I don’t see how he can complain if… he recognises that they were the ones who worked his victory."

Nurse Aminata Bâ offered an additional bit of analysis.
"The deposed president sorted out the problem of the black Mauritanian refugees… He was even prepared to try the military officers implicated in the ethnic purges and punishments suffered by black Mauritanian military officers. Perhaps this is the reason behind him being deposed by the military."

Passer-by Said Ahmed supported the change.
"So far, the president hasn’t been able to make any economic, social or political reforms," Ahmed told Magharebia. "The president tried to disrupt the work of Parliament more than once, and has actually threatened to disband it; something that would have brought Mauritania back to the pre-change era before August 3rd, 2005."

Communications specialist El Weli Ould Sidi Haiba agreed.
"The fact that [President Abdellahi] has been trying to prevent a senatorial inquiry concerning public money received by his wife’s foundation has set a dangerous precedent. Similarly, the obstacles he has put in the way of a majority vote from MPs to set up a High Court of Justice with the power to judge him have been seen as a way of seizing power."

Mohamed Salem, a market trader in fabrics, denounced the putsch.
"I’m against coups; I’m ashamed that my country has been recognised by the international community as heading down the right road, but now it is being seen as a country where coups take place." The African Union issued a statement condemning the coup and demanding "the restoration of constitutional legality".

The European Commission said it is "very concerned by the situation in Mauritania, which puts into question the remarkable democratic progress in this country". US State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos called the Abdellahi government "a constitutional government, democratically elected, and we condemn the act". The capital was calm throughout the day on Wednesday. Soldiers were positioned close to the presidential headquarters and around the radio and television stations, and the people of Nouakchott went about their daily business.

Public demonstrations in support of the coup are expected to be organised on Thursday.

August 14, 2008 – BBC NEWS

Politicians Back Mauritania Coup
(non-gay background story)

The new military ruler in Mauritania has been boosted by support from many of the country’s politicians.
More than two-thirds of the members of parliament, and the same proportion of senators, have put their names to a statement supporting last week’s coup.
The new junta has appointed the north-west African nation’s ambassador to the EU as its prime minister.
The coup, which drew widespread international criticism, has been given a mixed reception domestically.
The country’s first democratically elected president was toppled in the takeover.

Mauritania has seen more than 10 coup attempts, several of them successful, over the last three decades.
At least 67 of the country’s 95 parliament members and 37 out of 56 senators have put their names to the statement supporting General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz’s takeover.

The politicians said the army had merely done its duty in removing President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, who they accused of acting anti-constitutionally. They called on the international community to accept the undemocratic change of power in the interests of the stability of the country.

The military junta has named Moulaye Ould Mohamed Laghdaf, its ambassador to the EU in Brussels, as its new prime minister, reported the state AMI news agency. Mr Laghdaf will be charged with "forming a transitional government", an unidentified source quoted by the AFP news agency said.

Gen Mohamed Abdelaziz has promised to hold fresh presidential elections in the oil-producing African nation but has given no timeframe.

The international community has reacted strongly against the coup. The African Union suspended Mauritania, and the United States and France froze some aid programmes. On Wednesday, the African affairs minister in neighbouring Algeria told a delegate from Mauritania that the country should return to the constitutional system.
Some nine political parties in Mauritania have expressed opposition to the coup.

They have held rallies to call for the return of the ousted President Abdallahi, who was taken captive during the military takeover. On Wednesday, dozens of women were reportedly dispersed by teargas as they protested against the country’s new military rulers in Nouakchott.

But the show of support by the parliamentarians will go some way to boosting the credibility of the coup leader, General Abdelaziz, says the BBC’s James Copnall in the capital, Nouakchott.
It makes it clear most politicians back the coup leaders, he says.

Some believe the former president’s inability to deal with rising food prices and the persistent allegations of corruption against his wife made him unfit for office. Others are clearly carrying favour with the new military leadership, our correspondent adds.

The statement said that MPs and others had tried but failed to "diminish the stubbornness of the former president, who only listened to his courtesans."
General Abdelaziz has been holding meetings with a number of high-profile politicians, as he attempts to form a new government, a further attempt to increase his legitimacy.

2008 September 29 –

Mauritania may lower airfare to counter tourism decline

Mauritanian tourism dropped sharply during the 2007-2008 season, following a series of terrorist attacks, PANA quoted official sources as saying Saturday (September 27th) on the occasion of World Tourism Day. The number of visitors will not exceed 5,000—a 50% decrease from last year. The Ministry of Handicrafts and Tourism may reduce the price of air travel, in collaboration with a subsidiary of Air France, tourism officials said.

26 December 08 –

Interview with Mauritanian filmmaker Abderahmane Ould Ahmed Salem

The next generation of Mauritanian movie directors is learning cinema art at the Filmmakers House in Nouakchott. Founder Abderahmane Ould Ahmed Salem recently talked with Magharebia about his program, Maghreb cinema in general and filmmaking as a tool for change.

by Mohamed Wedoud for Magharebia in Nouakchott
Mauritania offers an unusual training opportunity for young people aspiring to a career in cinema. Magharebia met with filmmaker Abderahmane Ould Ahmed Salem, who runs the Mauritanian Filmmakers House, about his work ushering future filmmakers through the door of the "seventh art" and how movies help bridge cultural divides and offer an alternative to religious extremism.

Magharebia: How did a native Mauritanian enter the world of cinema, especially in this conservative and traditional society?

Abderahmane Ould Ahmed Salem: My story with the cinema started when I was a child living in a popular neighborhood in the capital of Nouakchott. At that time, i.e. the 1970s, the Indian and Chinese cinemas were at the peak of their invasion of this country. I used to go to the cinema to escape from the dullness of everyday life and the lack of fun and enjoyment. That interest later turned into love, even though I didn’t understand the language and even the rules of cinema work. Yet, that love grew and was translated into a love for motion pictures as a means of getting to know the "others" and to get closer to them.

I’ve been through various stages. At that time, I would return to the countryside to show my friends a cinematic show in the form of intermittent pictures that were close to what were called "shadow plays" in the ancient theatre.

As to the problems I faced in this Bedouin society, between sharia regarding the cinema and the Bedouin apprehension of all static things, there were significant problems. This is because the society wasn’t dealing with a stable creative entity. However, Mauritanians started to react to the cinema when they started seeing themselves through it. For example, in one of the traveling screen shows organized by the Filmmakers House in Walat, one of the historical cities in the eastern part of Mauritania, a film that was shot in that city was screened. The people of Walat had not seen it since it was filmed back in 1952. We noticed how strong and striking the picture was.

Magharebia: Based on your long experience in this field, can the cinema be used to combat extremism among young people?

Ahmed Salem: We are in a society where young people are surrounded by many risks. Our young people, who account for more than 60% of the population in this country, are suffering from marginalisation and the lack of opportunity to achieve what they aspire to. Young people don’t know the "other" because they were not given the chance. They just completely receive the imported picture without possessing the necessary abilities to discern between what is good and what is bad. The cinema alone can’t give those young people a magic solution.

Now, with programs targeting youth, we are working on two pivots: the first is to train young people to use a machine through which they can present a certain film reflecting their opinions without a need for political forum to do so; the second is that we train them to read the pictures. In this way, they become able to discern between the good and bad images. In addition to this, we create opportunities for young people to meet. Everyone meets, regardless of their race, language or financial conditions.

Religious extremism among young people in the Maghreb region as a whole–which I know quite well–is the result of a number of things. The most prominent of these is the fact that the scholars and preachers have not been able to give us the true picture of religion. Religion has so far been projected…as bans and taboos that have nothing to do with everyday life, not even with the religion itself sometimes.

Religion didn’t come to enslave people but to serve them. Those people weren’t able to present religion to us in its shining, spiritual and open form. Therefore, it has been so far loaded thus far with bans, takfir, disturbance, etc. The second thing is that the people who present religion were not able to move from the stage of worship to the stage of work. As a result, religion was presented to us in the form of worship only and not in the form of a lifestyle, such as good manners, a smile in the face of guests, care of the poor, etc. Unfortunately, this image was not prominent in religious education in our Maghreb region in general.

Young people, of course, love all that is banned. Therefore, we shouldn’t present them with banned things before incentives.

Magharebia: To what extent can the cinema be a tool for change?

Ahmed Salem: Art in general is not required to change, but to raise issues. Painters, musicians, playwrights and filmmakers are required to raise certain issues, and this in itself can spark a debate, and this debate can lead to change.

Magharebia: When and how did you have the idea of establishing the Filmmakers House?

Ahmed Salem: The idea of the Filmmakers House was finalised in my mind only in 2002. However, before that time, I was always looking for a way to create a space where the ideas of young people could be presented and received. That was an old dream that I had had for some time. I tried a number of other means, such as the written press, theatre, scouting and informatics, but this was just an attempt to look for a space to meet.

The cinema came to me only after working with renowned director Abdul Rahman Sissako on his film Fe Entezar al Saada (Awaiting Happiness). I told him about my intention to work in the cinema field, and he found me a scholarship to study cinema in France. When I returned in 2002, I established the Filmmakers House. My aim was to share knowledge with other young people who weren’t lucky enough to realise their cinema dreams. I trained many young people and the House became a big institution, employing 35 full-time employees and more than 200 collaborators, with a department for production and branches in all areas of the capital.

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Magharebia: Finally, what is your opinion about the future of cinema, not just in Mauritania, but in the Maghreb region as a whole?

Ahmed Salem: There are different levels of cinema in the Arab Maghreb. I’ll start with Mauritania. Abderrahmane Sissako, Mohammed Salek, Mohammed Hend….produced their films in the West, but remained attached to their native Mauritania.

As to the future of cinema, it hinges on two things: the presence of a true, permanent political will and people who can reconsider things and not just look at immediate interests.

I would like also to say that any creative work that doesn’t find freedom can’t be born. If it is actually born, it would be through a Caesarean operation, and if it manages to live, it would be disabled. Creative works of art should be free. Anyway, I’m optimistic about the future of cinema in our Maghreb region.

2008 December 11 –

Mauritanian human rights groups denounce torture
(non-gay background story)

At a press conference on Wednesday (December 10th), the Forum of Human Rights Organisations (FONADH), a leading coalition of some twenty Mauritanian human rights NGOs, denounced the continued practice of torture and slavery in the country and demanded the immediate adoption of punitive measures against perpetrators, PANA reported.

2008 December 29 –

West African youth festival opens in Mauritania
(non-gay background story)

Young people from West African countries arrived on Friday (December 26th) in the Mauritanian town of Selibaby, 700km south-east of Nouakchott, for the 22nd Week of Brotherhood and Friendship festival. Each year, the event gathers young people for cultural and sporting events, including football, basketball, volleyball and petanque competitions, theatre and music performances, and conferences on youth issues.

2009 January 15 –

Mauritania to provide former refugees with civil status documents

Mauritania began an operation on Wednesday (January 14th) to issue civil registration documents to Mauritanian refugees repatriated from Senegal, AMI reported. The operation in the southern port regions of Trarza and Brakna will cover nearly 7,000 people.

2009 August 24 – Magharebia

Mauritanian NGO denounces persistent slavery

Mauritania‘s ethnic black H’ratines continue to be victimised by slavery in some regions of the country, a Mauritanian NGO asserted at a Nouakchott forum on Sunday (August 23rd). The Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA) made the claims at an event marking the anniversary of the 1791 slave revolution of Haiti, Journal Tahalil reported. Mauritania criminalised slavery in 2006.

December 12, 2009 – Magharebia

Terrorists kidnap Italian couple in Mauritania

Terrorists presumed to be from al-Qaeda’s Sahel wing kidnapped two Italian nationals and their Ivoirien driver on Friday night (December 18th) in the Mauritanian town of Mneyssiratt, some 900 km east of Nouakchott, Journal Tahalil reported. "Passengers on a minibus heading towards the Malian border were kidnapped by armed men. Their bus remained on site, bearing visible bullet holes," a security source was quoted as saying. Italian state television identified the victims as a 65-year-old man and his 39-year-old wife.

The incident marks the second abduction of westerners in Mauritania within one month. Al-Qaeda Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for kidnapping three Spanish humanitarian workers on the Nouadhibou-Nouakchott road on November 29th. The two men and one woman are allegedly being held at AQIM training camps in northern Mali.

2009 December 12 – Magharebia

European tour operator resumes Mauritania charters

Some 100 international tourists arrived in the Mauritanian desert city of Atar from Paris on Sunday (December 20th), marking the first trip organised by French tour operator Point Afrique in more than one year, AFP reported. The company suspended operations in 2008, citing the murder of a French family near Aleg, the cancellation of the Paris-Dakar rally and the beheading of 11 Mauritanian soldiers in Aklet Tourine. The president of the tour company, Maurice Freund, was quoted as saying that despite the recent kidnappings in the country, "travellers are not threatened in the Adrar region".

2010 January 15 – Magharebia

Mauritanian Islamic leaders ban genital mutilation

by Mohamed Yahya Ould Abdel Wedoud for Magharebia in Nouakchott
Thirty-four renowned Mauritanian religious and national figures this week signed a fatwa banning female genital mutilation (FGM), a practice that remains widespread in some parts of the country.
The fatwa, whose authors convened in Nouakchott on Monday and Tuesday (January 11th-12th), states that FGM "has been proven by experts to be detrimental, immediately or subsequently. Hence, such a practice, as is performed domestically, is hereby prohibited, on account of the harm it gives rise to".

The authors cited the work of Islamic legal expert Ibn al-Hajj as support for their assertion that "[s]uch practices were not present in the Maghreb countries over the past centuries". FGM is "not an instinctive habit, according to the Malkis; therefore, it was abandoned in northern and western regions of the country," added the authors, who were meeting in a seminar organised by the Forum of Islamic Thought. Mauritanian Islamic leaders, the association of ulema and government officials all took part in the event.

"The meeting was important. Lots of arrangements had to be made, since the topic is sensitive and vital," Dr. Sheikh Ould Zein Ould Imam, the forum’s secretary general and professor of jurisprudence at the University of Nouakchott, told Magharebia in the capital on Thursday. "There’s no doubt that the fatwa will substantially curb [FGM], since it removes the religious mask such practices were hiding behind," the professor said. "We do need, however, a media campaign to highlight the fatwa, explain it and expound upon its religious and social significance."

Many of the women that Magharebia met in the capital on Thursday applauded the seminar’s outcome. "I believe that convening an Islamic seminar in Nouakchott these days to discuss [FGM] is a gigantic step, because it has smashed the religious taboo shrouding that phenomenon," said Alia, 24, a student. "Using religion to justify harm is nothing but systematic ideological terrorism."

"That workshop, which we all followed, has substantially contributed to containing a danger that threatens women in a socially conservative country like this one," she added.

Some women told Magharebia that the recent change was actually long overdue. "Where were those imams for the past decades, when [FGM] killed dozens of girls each year?" asked Alia’s friend Miriam, a 30-year-old housewife who was circumcised at an early age. "Were the imams and circumcision victims on two different planets? Personally speaking, I find no answer to those questions."

"All I am trying to say is that we needed that circumcision-prohibiting fatwa a long time ago," she added. "I was victimised by that brutal custom when I was seven, and it left an indelible psychological scar."

In his opening address at the seminar on Monday, the secretary general of the Ministry of Social Affairs, Mohamed Ould Ely Telmoudy, said it was necessary to arrive at a commonly-agreed on medical opinion that highlights the hazards of FGM, in collaboration with international organizations such as UNICEF. "FGM is one of the harmful customs that victimise Mauritanian women, especially in Brakna, Gorgol, Assaba, and Hodh Ech Chargui, where FGM is practiced against 72% of the local women," he added.

"We used to hear – from time to time – about some individual fatwas prohibiting circumcision," sociologist Mukhtar Ould Waled told Magharebia. "This time, however, we have a collective fatwa presented by 34 eminent religious scholars."

"[FGM] is a social phenomenon whose religious cloak we need to unravel," added Waled. "Only then can it become penetrable and destructible. The present event is a clear signal that circumcision can be totally eradicated in the future."

March 29, 2011 – Bay Windows

Nations pledge movement on LGBT issues at UN Human Rights Council

by Rex Wockner – Bay Windows Contributor
As the United Nations Human Rights Council continued its periodic review sessions on various nations, several developments took place this month. Mongolia’s representatives accepted recommendations that the nation address issues of violence against LGBT people. Panama accepted a recommendation to synchronize its national laws with the norms of "The Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in Relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity," which were drawn up at a 2006 meeting in Indonesia by human-rights experts from around the world. Honduras agreed to review its national laws to ensure that LGBT human rights are not abridged. And Jamaica agreed to provide enforcement officials with sensitivity training on matters of sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV.

At the same time, representatives of four nations — Lebanon, Malawi, Maldives, and Mauritania — rejected recommendations that they decriminalize gay sex. In January at the Human Rights Council, São Tomé and Príncipe said it will legalize gay sex by June, and Nauru said it also plans to decriminalize homosexuality. The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review officially analyzes the human-rights record of each of the 192 U.N. member nations on a rotating basis once every four years, and urges reviewed nations to protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

2011 April 08 – Magharebia

Female genital mutilation persists in Mauritania

In an effort to press the Mauritanian government into banning female genital mutilation (FGM), human rights activists, educators and religious leaders met in Nouakchott for a three-day forum that ended on Wednesday (April 6th). A 2005 draft law was debated last year in the National Assembly. "We are still waiting for this bill to be validated," said forum speaker Aissata Niang. With regard to the religious aspect of the practice, Mohamed Vall Ould Haye from the Association of Mauritanian Imams pointed out, "Nowhere in the Koran is the practice of excision mentioned. It is a sunnah and therefore not compulsory."

Last year, Mauritanian Islamic leaders and the association of ulema signed a fatwa against FGM. According to the UN, 65 percent of Mauritanian girls have been subject to FGM. In some areas, the number is 72 percent.

2011 August 09 – Magharebia

AIDS funding returns to Mauritania

by Jemal Oumar for Magharebia in Nouakchott
After a two-year freeze on funding, efforts to fight HIV/AIDS are recommencing in Mauritania. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS decided to return to operations after questions of corruption and mismanagement of funds by Mauritania and other African partners were addressed in talks with the government.
"After the Fund stopped its support to Mauritania in March 2009, we noticed that the condition of patients in Mauritania started to deteriorate," said Mauritanian UNAIDS co-ordinator Dr Elhadj Ould Abdellahi in a statement to Magharebia.

This prompted us to contact all UN agencies and the regional office, and we sent a mission representing the government and a number of organisations and partners to evaluate the condition of Mauritania," he added. "However," Ould Abdellahi said, "the return of support [to] Mauritania was conditional on the reimbursement of amounts that were embezzled in the past, the prosecution of people responsible, and the restructuring of the Co-ordination to Combat AIDS."

According to recent statistics, there are 14,000 Mauritanians living with HIV, Ould Abdellahi said, with women representing roughly 7%. The UN has an intensive agenda to stop the spread of the disease by 2015. Mohamed Ould Moloud, a member of the Executive Secretariat for Fighting AIDS, has lived with the disease since 2002. Speaking on behalf of Mauritanian AIDS patients, he expressed appreciation for the work the UN and the Fund have done.

"The amount of funding brought by the Global Fund for the next two or three years – some $12 million – will bring actors back to combating the disease through awareness-raising and sensitisation efforts," he said. Ould Moloud told Magharebia it was difficult to give accurate statistics on the issue of AIDS in Mauritania. "However, we’re recording about 40 infected people a month, and the total number registered with us is about 3,600, 1,800 of whom receive the three-drug combination treatment." He added that during the two-year freeze in funding, his group lost 1,200 tons of medicine and access to regular treatment. We just can’t live without the medicines that we need to face this disease, which undermines our immune systems," said fellow AIDS patient Fatimata Ball. "As people living with AIDS, we pay the price of the previous years in which the Fund stopped its support."

Moulay Mehdi Ould Moulay Zeine, who runs another Mauritanian NGO to assist HIV/AIDS patients, told Magharebia: "Many non-governmental organisations that are active in combating AIDS were greatly affected by the suspension of support, and some of them were completely paralysed. We hope that these organisations will resume their vital role because society needs them. According to 2010 statistics," Ould Moulay Zeine said, "the rate of AIDS in Mauritania is about 0.71%. However, the open and free awareness-raising campaigns we are conducting aim to maintain the same level or keep it under 1%."

2011 August 14 – Magharebia

Former Mauritanian slaves live in squalor
– While slavery is illegal in Mauritania today, those once affected by the practice are still living through difficult circumstances.

by Mohamed Yahya Ould Abdel Wedoud and Jemal Oumar for Magharebia in Nouakchott
Mauritania criminalised slavery in 2007, but the effects of the practice continue to linger. Many former slaves are often left with little to no property and no source of income. The Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA) announced August 4th that a new case of slavery was discovered in the capital. A young girl was being held, even though the country abolished slavery in 1981. The owner was summoned to a police commission, but was released, together with the girl, after 24 hours of detention.

The move prompted IRA head Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid and scores of his supporters to protest opposite the police commission and to clash with police who responded with tear gas and batons to disperse them. At least 11 people, including the IRA head himself, were injured. Nine activists were later indicted by a Mauritanian court for an unauthorised protest. "Since my childhood, I used to live with my masters in one of the eastern cities of the country where I was working as a maid," said Mbarke Mint Mahmoud, a 50-year-old mother of five, living in dire poverty in a Nouakchott slum. "However, in the beginning of 2007, the family of my masters abandoned me under the pretext that the state no longer accepted the possession of salves and that they may be punished under the law."

Mint Mahmoud recalled her dark memories from the various poor neighbourhoods in Nouakchott. "I engaged in different manual work so as to win a living, no more and no less. For the time being, I don’t own a piece of land where I can live, and I don’t have a salary or anything else," she said. "The future doesn’t mean anything to me," she concluded while sitting at the door of an eroded cottage witness to years of deprivation and desperation. "Life is difficult and I expect it to be even more difficult in the days ahead given the high prices and the spread of unemployment."

Social analyst Mohamed Ould Salek said that Mint Mahmoud’s case was just one of "hundreds of former Mauritanian slaves who found themselves trapped between the hammer of past slavery and anvil of indifference on the part of state and society". Mohamed Lemine Ould Mahmoudi was once imprisoned for reporting on right of a young slave to be emancipated. He served more than a month in a Rosso jail, but he continues to cover a practice that he said "is still ongoing in Mauritania".

"Yet, it is certainly not with the same degree of severity as compared to the past before rights groups co-ordinated their efforts to combat it," Ould Mahmoudi added. He said it was important to move beyond generalising entire ethnicities. "For example, we can’t just talk about the ethnicity of the so-called Bedyane and say that all the members of that ethnicity practice slavery," he said. What remains of slavery now are only residues, according to Mohamed Ould Louli, a social researcher. He said that cases of slavery were rare, accusing some of exaggeration.

Slavery does not exist in its traditional form in cities or other areas where there is awareness, according to Sidi Ould Mohamed Ould Younes, an economic researcher and writer. Instead, he said that "slavery has turned from direct ownership to economic dependency". "Therefore, I believe that the resolution of this problem can’t be made in isolation of the reasons that make it continue in the first place, i.e. absence of the state, awareness, education, law enforcement, universal education, and dealing with the consequences of the economic situation," he concluded. "All of these things are factors that can put an end to it."

October 25, 2011 – Columbia Law School

Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic Secures Asylum for Gay Mauritanian Refugee

New York — Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic has won asylum in the United States for Ahmed A., a gay man who feared persecution because of his sexual orientation if he had been forced to return to his native Mauritania. The grant of asylum, issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, highlights the perils for gay people who live in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, a country in West Africa. In Mauritania, homosexuality is punishable by death—both by the government and by the powerful tribal communities that regulate Mauritanian society.

Mauritania is one of five countries in the world—along with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Yemen—that impose the death penalty for being gay. In addition, 76 countries prosecuted people based on their sexual orientation as of last year, underscoring the global reach of the practice of state persecution of gay people. “For nearly 40 years, our client, Ahmed, never felt free,” explains Jane Kim ’11, a clinic student who worked on the case. “His entire life, he changed his behavior to avoid suspicions, beatings, and death by his father, his tribe, and by the Mauritanian government for being gay, for being himself. He lived a private life, trusting very few.”

Last year, Ahmed fled for the United States, terrified for his life. He was referred to Columbia’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic by Immigration Equality, a national organization focused on immigration rights for GLBT and HIV-positive individuals.
Seven clinic students—Kim ’11, Elyce Matthews ’11, Jeffrey Yuen LL.M. ’11, Andrea Johnson ’12, Meghna Rajadhyaksha LL.M. ’11, Hillary Schneller ’12, and MiRi Song ’12—assisted Ahmed in applying for asylum. The students spent several months conducting interviews, drafting affidavits, researching country conditions, contacting experts, and preparing the client for his interview with a U.S. government asylum officer.

“One of the difficulties in confronting Mauritania’s violently homophobic law is that reported instances of state or tribal execution are not published,” explains Matthews. “The Mauritanian government and the country’s powerful tribal system often cover up their execution of GLBT individuals, recording other causes of death.” The students relied on reports by the U.S. government and non-governmental organizations, in addition to the testimony of experts, to document Mauritania’s severe laws and the harsh treatment of and lack of protection for gay people in the country.

“As being gay and assisting gay individuals is forbidden in Mauritania, we faced challenges in collecting corroborating letters from Ahmed’s family and friends,” adds Yuen. “Fortunately, we were able to find several experts who could attest to the dangerous conditions for gay people in Mauritania and to the particular facts of Ahmed’s case.”

In April, the students also accompanied their client to the asylum office in Rosedale, New York, for his interview. After Ahmed’s interview, he and the students were told to expect a decision in his case in two weeks. Six months later, his asylum grant arrived. “With policy meetings ongoing in Washington, D.C., to step up efforts to protect the thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers persecuted each year for their sexual orientation and gender identity, we are all very relieved to see the U.S. government’s protections for gay asylum-seekers in action,” says Kim.

Columbia Law School’s Sexuality & Gender Law Clinic addresses cutting-edge issues in sexuality and gender law through litigation, legislation, public policy analysis, and other forms of advocacy. Under the guidance of Professor Suzanne Goldberg, clinic students have worked on a wide range of projects, from constitutional litigation to legislative advocacy to immigration cases, to serve both individual and organizational clients in cases involving issues of sexuality and gender law.

For more information, please visit. To contact Professor Suzanne B. Goldberg: call (212) 854- 0411 or email.