Encouraging Signs for Human Rights in Mauritania

"I am now happy because thanks to ABA ROLI my children can finally go to school, study for exams and freely travel without fear of being arrested."—Marieme Modo Lo,a Mauritanian returnee (pictured right), was able to obtain legal identity for her children with help from ABA ROLI’s community-based paralegals

Until recently, the government of Mauritania has shown little interest at best and hostility at worst towards human rights and towards civil society organizations that work to protect them. However, in the past few years ABA ROLI has seen an encouraging shift in this attitude. It remains unclear if there was a single motivating factor for this change, but the recent review conducted by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination may have had a role.

The review conducted by the Committee included several recommendations that called for the government to take active measures to protect the rights of marginalized populations—especially those born and kept in slavery. Following the Review process and the publication of the recommendations, ABA ROLI met with Isselkou Ould Ahmed Izid Bih, Mauritania’s former Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation—an opening that was previously unthinkable. The minister  affirmed that his country welcomes the support of organizations working to address human rights challenges including those related to slavery, asserting that “Mauritanian authorities are open to discussing all human rights issues, particularly with organizations like ABA ROLI, provided that information exchanged is based on fact and free from political biases.”

ABA ROLI has worked in Mauritania since 2015 to promote the social and political rights of marginalized groups and to expand their public and political participation. It has been an uphill battle and we have encountered several roadblocks, many of which have been laid by the government itself. This new attitude on the part of the government is a step in the right direction on the part of the government. ABA ROLI’s Mauritania Country Director Axel Etoundi, who met with Minister Izid Bih, observed, “ABA ROLI has witnessed the recent change in Mauritanian authorities’ attitude and they deserve to be recognized.”

The improving human rights situation in Mauritania will allow ABA ROLI to build upon and expand the programs it implements today to combat slavery and to strengthen civil society. ABA ROLI has supported public institutions like a social integration center in Kiffa which targets street children, children who lack access to education, and children from marginalized groups. With the new opening space for civic engagement, ABA ROLI looks forward to exploring opportunities for further cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation and to continue promoting human rights and strengthening the rule of law in Mauritania.