The United Nations human rights office today expressed “deep concern” over judicial proceedings under way in Mauritania against members of two civil society groups, including the anti-slavery Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement, who have been held since November last year after a demonstration in the southwest of the country.
Three men, including former presidential candidate Biram Dah Abeid, are serving out two-year sentences on charges that include “illegal assembly,” “refusal to carry out orders given by the administrative authorities” and for belonging to an “unregistered organization” – although the last charge was dropped in Dah Abeid’s case, even though he is the president of the IRA.
Spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Rupert Colville said in Geneva today that: “The prosecutorial decision to charge these men under this offence appears to be arbitrary and unjustified.”
The three men are appealing the verdict, but they remain in detention pending appeal.
“We are deeply concerned at the severity of the sentences against Dah Abeid and his colleagues,” Mr. Colville said.
Another three remain in detention in Nouakchott – pending a verdict that is expected to be delivered on Thursday.
In a report issued in December, OHCHR in Mauritania urged the authorities to conduct an independent investigation into the events of 11 November 2014, including the behaviour of security forces.
“Regrettably, such an investigation has yet to be set up, in spite of concerns that our office has repeatedly expressed to the authorities on possible violations of the right to peaceful assembly and to freedom of association,” maintained Mr. Colville.
OHCHR urges the Mauritania Government to immediately conduct such an investigation, and to release all those detained for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and to freedom of association.
Mr. Colville said: “We call on Mauritania to ensure that those involved in the judicial process, including prosecutors, carry out their work in line with international human rights norms and standards.”
He added that the Office has also, in its engagement with the Government, encouraged a review of existing legislation on the rights to peaceful assembly and association, to ensure conformity with international human rights law.