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Protectors or Pretenders? - Government Human Rights Commissions in Africa, HRW Report 2001




International Standards: The Paris Principles

Important Factors

Examining the Record in Africa

Innovative and Positive Contributions by Commissions

Regional Iniatives

The Role Of The International Community





Origin and Mandate

    The Commissariat aux Droits de l'Homme à la Lutte contre la Pauvreté et à l'Insertion [the Commission on Human Rights, the Fight Against Poverty and Social Inclusion] was created on July 2, 1998 by a decree issued by the prime minister. It is one of the most recent human rights commission to have been created in Francophone West Africa. It is also the commission with the broadest stated mandate in that it explicitly includes economic and social rights and social integration (insertion in French).

    Mauritania is an Islamic Republic dominated by a strong presidency. The 1991 constitution provides for a civilian government composed of a dominant executive branch, a senate and a national assembly. President Maaouya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya has governed since 1984, for fourteen years as head of a miliary junta, and since a 1992 multiparty election as head of a civilian government. In December 1997, Taya was reelected president in an election widely regarded as fraudulent, receiving over 90 percent of the vote. Although there have been some improvements from the past, the government's human rights record generally remains poor. State institutions are regularly subjected to interference from the executive branch. Reports of police brutality and press censorship continue, and prison conditions remain harsh. An amnesty bill was passed in 1993 exonerating those responsible for widespread extrajudicial killings, torture and abuse that occurred against members of southern ethnic groups between 1989 to 1991. Although officially outlawed, slavery and voluntary servitude persists, with many former slaves continuing to work for their former masters.

    The government continues to constrain and harass the political opposition and human rights NGO community, including through the denial of official registration. In 1998, three prominent human rights activists were held incommunicado for four days for allegedly collaborating in the making of a French television network program to document allegations that slavery persists in Mauritania. Two of the three arrested were charged with acting on behalf of organizations not officially recognized by the government and convicted to thirteen months imprisonment. One of the defense lawyers, another leading human rights activist, was also arrested. Following widespread criticism of the sentences, the human rights activists were pardoned by President Taya.

    The creation of the Commission on Human Rights, the Fight Against Poverty and Social Inclusion seems to have been motivated by the wish to address broad societal inequalities, including economic disparities. When asked to situate the creation of the commission in the Mauritanian context, Koita Bamariem, the director of human rights promotion in the commission, pointed to the country's social and economic inequities as the key motivation in this decision. He also cited the absence of any other economic and social body in the government as a reason for the creation of the commission: "because it was necessary to adopt a more consolidated approach to economic and social issues, such as water policy or the need for universal education, in order to resolve the problems of poverty which is the most egregious of human rights violations."150

    Article 2 of the decree founding the Commission on Human Rights, the Fight Against Poverty and Social Inclusion has as its general mission "the conception, promotion, and implementation of a national policy on human rights, the fight against poverty, and social inclusion."151 Article 3 specifies that the commission should develop research plans "in collaboration" or "in conjunction" with other government departments. The ties between the human rights commission and other government structures are further reinforced by the fact that under the law, the commissioner has "the rank and prerogatives of a Minister."

    More specifically, the commission is mandated to:

1) In matters of human rights:

117. take all appropriate measures to ensure the promotion and dissemination of human rights principles and values;

118. strengthen dialogue and collaboration with national human rights associations;

119. develop cooperation and exchange with regional and international organizations, as well as with international nongovernmental human rights groups; and

120. issue an annual report on the human rights situation.

2) With respect to fighting poverty and to promoting social inclusion:

121. promote, in collaboration with other departments, a national policy aimed at eradicating poverty through the use and equitable dissemination of basic social services;

122. ensure the integration of vulnerable groups in the process of development and promote individual and collective development approaches, fully using their human and material resources.152

Human Rights Watch World Report 2001

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