See also:
» 16.04.2010 - Mauritanian students protest Arabisation
» 04.11.2009 - Slavery still persists in Mauritania
» 14.11.2007 - Mauritanians await repatriation
» 09.06.2007 - Joy after Mauritania acquittal of 24 "Islamists"
» 05.03.2007 - Racism haunts Mauritania elections
» 02.12.2005 - "Slavery still casts shadow over Mauritania"
» 15.02.2005 - Fate of Mauritania's stateless still disputed
» 12.06.2003 - "Slavery and torture" for Mauritanian employees

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Human rights | Gender - Women

Little progress in fighting slavery, FGM in Mauritania

afrol News, 3 September - A Mauritanian human rights committee, after a three-year delay, finally has been enable to report on the progress in the fight against slavery, female genital mutilation (FGM) and racial discrimination in the country. While the Committee mapped grave problems, authorities in Mauritania keep denying there are any matters of concern.

The Mauritanian Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) this week, after a delay of three years, was enabled to presents its seventh report on human rights in the country. It concluded on ongoing grave problems regarding slavery, female genital mutilation (FGM) and racial discrimination in Mauritania.

The CERD report was presented at a conference in Geneva, Switzerland, in the presence of representatives from the global International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Mauritanian government. FIDH at the meeting praised the government of Mauritania for finally letting the CERD report being finalised. Apart from that, the government mostly was strongly criticised for its poor record in fighting human rights violations.

While the CERD representatives presenting the new report emphasised on the ongoing and widespread practice of slavery and discrimination against Mauritania's black population minority, government representatives categorically denied all these allegations. Mauritania was living up to its commitments to the international convention on the elimination of all the forms of racial discrimination, the government claimed.

Against the government denials, a block of national and international human rights groups pressured for policy changes at the Geneva meeting. FIDH was supported by the Mauritanian Association for Human Rights (AMDH) and the international group SOS Slavery in alleging that slavery was still a widespread problem in Mauritania.

The human rights groups claim that Mauritanian authorities are not implementing a 1981 law that outlaws slavery. According to FIDH, "this law was not followed up by decrees for its application" and "no penal provision represses slavery expressly." Thus, the practice of slavery still prevailed in Mauritania.

The CERD report had urgently recommended that government embarked on "a vast information campaign" designed at sensitising the public at large, but also religious leaders in particular. Further, authorities should criminalise slavery by including it in the country's penal code and start sensitising courts. These recommendations were supported by the other human rights groups present at the meeting.

Also regarding racial discrimination, the human rights groups insisted Nouakchott authorities were misled when claiming there were no problems. Black Mauritanians, the groups held, were still being victimised by the ruling majority Arab-Berber population. The black population still was strongly underrepresented in the army, the police force, the administration, the government and other state institutions.

The CERD report concluded there was still not an "equal right of all to reach public office." Ensuring an effective representation of all components of the Mauritanian population, the Committee and the human rights groups pointed out, was an obligation of the government. The government representatives however denied there existed any state practice of discrimination.

The practice of female genital mutilations (FGM) was pinpointed as the third principal violation of human rights victimising large parts of the population. FGM is only practised by some of Mauritania's minority peoples, especially in the south, but among these cultures, almost every girl is subjected to the very harmful practice.

While the Mauritanian government generally is said to have a positive record on promoting women's rights, fighting FGM is no priority. To the contrary, the government representatives "tried to justify these practices before the Committee in the name of cultural relativism," according to FIDH. The practice of FGM is prevalent among some of Mauritania's black peoples, not among the ruling Arab/Berber majority. CERD urged the government to "put an end to these practices."

Additionally, CERD and the human rights groups urged the Nouakchott government to "adopt concrete measures to support the return of the black Mauritanian refugees remaining in Mali and Senegal, just as their full and whole rehabilitation into Mauritanian society." Racial riots and a border clash with Senegal in 1989 caused tens of thousands of black Mauritanians to flee while others were victims of land seizures. Few have returned.

Finally, the government was urged to upgrade the country's minority languages in a bid to fight discrimination. In particular, the southern minorities - the Fulani, Soninké and Wolof - needed their languages included into the education system. Also the Berber language, however, needed to be upgraded and the Berber people's history should be included in textbooks. Presently, there is a focus on Arab history and Arabic language.

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