GENEVA (19 October 2016) – A group of United Nations human rights experts * today expressed serious concern that Mauritanian activists imprisoned for their alleged role in a protest against evictions forced to Nouakchott, are targeted by the government for their anti-slavery advocate.
The human rights activists were sentenced in August to prison terms ranging from three to fifteen years. The date of the appeal hearing will be fixed over the weekend by the Court of Appeal Nouadhibou.
Thirteen of the militants are members of the Initiative for the resurgence of the abolitionist movement (IRA), the main organization of Mauritanian civil society fighting against slavery. The militants have consistently denied any involvement in the protests against forced evictions, during which several people, including policemen, were injured.
“The Mauritanian government is hostile to all groups in civil society who criticize its policies and is particularly hostile to groups such as the IRA, whose members are from the Haratine minority, and working to promote the end of slavery, “stressed the expert, recalling that the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, visited Mauritania in May and met with some members of the IRA.
“The conviction of activists fits a pattern of repression of dissent from the ruling party in a country where an ethnic minority dominates the other two major ethnic groups,” noted the experts. “We are concerned that the IRA has also been the target of reprisals by the government because of their meeting with the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights during his visit in the country” .
The trial, held in August was marred by serious violations of fair trial and other violations of human rights. Credible evidence for the proposition that IRA members were tortured during their detention, the family members and supporters of the accused were attacked by police when they tried to attend the trial but also that procedural irregularities were registered during the legal proceedings.
“We received information indicating that the overall process failed to respect the most basic guarantees of a fair trial and due process, including the right to have adequate access to a lawyer “experts said human rights.
These procedural irregularities appear to have persisted during the appeal phase. The appeal process was recently transferred from the Nouakchott Court of Appeal to the Court of Appeal of Nouadhibou, about 500 kilometers from the capital. Members of the imprisoned IRA were transferred on September 28th in Nouakchott in a detention center in Zouerate, about 700 kilometers from Nouakchott to seventeen hour drive from Nouadhibou.
“There seems to be no legal basis and no justification for the transfer of detainees,” they stressed. “This is yet another indication that these prosecutions are politically motivated and designed to stifle the groups and individuals that promote human rights and who oppose government policies.”
“We urge the authorities to ensure that the militants are transferred to Nouakchott and given a fair trial by a competent, independent and impartial in accordance with international human rights law,” stressed the expert. They also expressed concern about the serious health condition of some prisoners, recalling the obligation of Mauritania to protect the right to health of detainees and to provide urgent and adequate medical care needed regardless of status legal.
“It is essential to ensure that human rights activists can exercise their rights and fundamental freedoms without intimidation or fear of reprisal. The anti-slavery activism can not be a crime, “stressed the expert. “The government of Mauritania must review its criminal legislation to comply with its international obligation to respect and protect the right to freedom of opinion and expression.”
UN independent experts have been in contact with the Mauritanian government to clarify this situation.
(*) Experts: Mr. Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Mr. Sètondji Roland Adjovi, Chairman of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Mr. Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association; Mr. Dainius Puras, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Mónica Pinto, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; Juan E. Méndez, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
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