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Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights considers report of Mauritania

16 November 2012

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights this afternoon concluded its consideration of the initial report of Mauritania on that country’s implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Introducing the report, Mohamed Abdellahi Ould Kattra, Commissioner for Human Rights, Humanitarian Action and Relations with Civil Society of Mauritania, said that Mauritania had made significant progress in the area of economic, social and cultural rights since 2009. He noted the progress made in the eradication of poverty and that 10.3 per cent of gross domestic product was spent on expenditure for the poor in 2011. High maternal mortality and infant mortality rates persisted and the economic and social situation of persons with disabilities remained difficult, despite all efforts of the Government in their favour. Employment was one of the national priorities; the National Employment Strategy aimed to, among others, set up an overall favourable environment for job creation by setting up an appropriate legal framework and financing opportunities.

Committee Experts inquired about the legal system and framework in Mauritania and the implementation of the provisions of the Covenant in courts and asked about human rights training for judges, lawyers and magistrates, and about measures to combat discrimination and violence against women. The Special Rapporteur on slavery visited the country in 2009 and Experts wondered about the state of implementation of her recommendations which also included modification of the legal code to criminalize slavery. Health benefits seemed to be enjoyed by the richest 20 per cent of the population and had negligible impact on the poorest 40 per cent, and there seemed to be a regression in several areas of health despite the fact that the discovery of oil in recent years must have contributed significantly to the resources available for the health programmes.

In concluding remarks, Mr. Ould Kattra said that the Government was following the guidelines set by the President who had made human rights a strategic priority. The political will existed to promote human rights in the country but there were economic realities which created obstacles to moving ahead more quickly. This new political will was evident in the ratification of international human rights instruments and the submission of the reports of Mauritania to treaty bodies. Mauritania counted on the Committee to play an important role by calling for more support for the country.

In preliminary concluding remarks, Ariranga Govindasamy Pillay, Committee Chairperson and country rapporteur for the report, stressed the position of the Committee on one fundamental point, which was the obligation of States parties to the Covenant to respect the rights enshrined therein, particularly the rights of women, irrespective of the legal system of that State.

The delegation of Mauritania included representatives of the Commission for Human Rights, Humanitarian Action and Relations with Civil Society, legal advisors, the Director of Cultural Patrimony, the Director of Human Rights and the Permanent Mission of Mauritania to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 3 p.m. on Monday, 19 November, when it will meet with non-governmental organizations to brief it on the situation in Bulgaria and Iceland, whose reports will be reviewed next week. The Committee will also consider the situation in Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of the Congo next week in the absence of reports.

Report of Mauritania

The initial report of Mauritania can be read via the following link: E/C.12/MRT/1.

Presentation of the Report of Mauritania

MOHAMED ABDELLAHI OULD KATTRA, Commissioner for Human Rights, Humanitarian Action and Relations with Civil Society of Mauritania, reiterated the commitment of Mauritania to the consolidation of democracy, the promotion of human rights and the strengthening of the social cohesion. Mauritania had made significant progress in the area of economic, social and cultural rights since 2009, especially in eradicating poverty whereas 10.3 per cent of gross domestic product had been spent to help the poor in 2011. Progress had been made in the area of education as well, including in the number and quality of teachers, school coverage rates, and enrolment and stay in school rates, especially for girls.

In the area of health, the 2011 survey had indicated that high maternal mortality and infant mortality rates persisted. It was expected that the implementation of the Presidential initiative to speed up the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 would help in improving this situation. The Government accorded priority to employment and in its National Employment Strategy aimed to achieve the following objectives: include job creation in budgetary planning; strengthen competences of job seekers to enable them to find jobs; promote partnership with the private sector; and set up an overall favourable environment for job creation by setting up the appropriate legal framework and financing opportunities.

In recent years Mauritania had strengthened its commitment to improving the situation of women, children and persons with disabilities and in this regard it had set up an institutional mechanism to combat violence against women, which included: the Follow up Commission for the implementation of recommendations by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, various human rights committees in Government departments, and the creation of the National Sectoral Group for follow up. A national plan had been put in place to ensure that the 2009 recommendations and conclusions of the Committee on the Rights of the Child were implemented. Despite the efforts in favour of persons with disabilities, their economic and social situation remained difficult.

A plan was in place for the promotion of national identities of the people of Mauritania to ensure the enjoyment of individual cultures and to safeguard cultural heritage, particularly in cooperation with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The Government intended to make further investment in the fight against poverty, particularly through economic growth and the redistribution of benefits, in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goal related to poverty by 2015. Mauritania reiterated its commitment to the promotion and protection of the economic, social and cultural rights of its people especially in the context of the difficult world economic situation, and expressed its determination to cooperate with the Committee in building a constructive dialogue with the view to promote those rights in the country.

Questions by Experts

ARIRANGA GOVINDASAMY PILLAY, Committee Chairperson and Country Rapporteur for the Report of Mauritania, said that according to the Constitution, international law prevailed over the national law as soon as it was published in the Official Gazette; it appeared that the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights had never been published in the Gazette and thus was not a part of the positive law in the country. It had not been applied by judges and no case law had been created in this regard.

Another Expert noted that the Government had failed to establish a system of free legal aid as prescribed by the law and asked what were the reasons preventing the provision of free legal aid so that citizens could access the justice system. What was being done to combat the scourge of corruption?

The institution of Mediator ensured the resolution of disputes between citizens and public officials and institutions, and a Committee Expert asked for clarification concerning the direct access of citizens to the Mediator to bring complaints, and whether a Mediator could take up cases on his own initiative. With regard to the legal framework and legal system of Mauritania, the Expert asked whether the existence of the Sharia law impeded the achievement of economic, social and cultural rights; if French law was still applicable; and whether there was any conflict between Sharia law, customary law and French positive law. What was the current position of Mauritania concerning the decolonisation of the Western Sahara and what contribution was it making to the Polisario movement?

Other Experts asked whether nationality was a precondition to the full enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, and if non-nationals of Mauritania had equal rights as citizens; the place of economic, social and cultural rights in the working of the National Human Rights Commission and the Ombudsman; and training of judges in human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights.

The report of the State Party had not made a single reference to slavery or to article 3 of the Covenant which referred to discrimination against women, and the delegation was asked about the situation of women in the country, discrimination against them and how the situation was being dealt with. Islam was a very progressive religion and there was no reason for its conflict with economic, social and cultural rights; which interpretation of Islam prevailed in the country?

Slavery was a problem in Mauritania; the Special Rapporteur on slavery had visited the country in 2009 and had recommended that Mauritania take several measures, including modification of the legal code. Those recommendations had been echoed in the report of the National Human Rights Commission, which also recommended that civil society organizations be given authority to file a complaint on behalf of another person. The Committee asked about the status of the implementation of those recommendations.

Response by the Delegation

In response to these questions and comments, the delegation said Mauritania had a monist type system which provided for international human rights law to prevail over domestic legislation and there was a possibility for the provisions of the Covenant to be invoked before national courts. This had happened in several cases which involved workers. The delegation acknowledged the gap in legal aid and said that a number of human rights organizations had programmes offering legal assistance that allowed Mauritanians to access the justice system in the country; some funds were provided for this purpose, even if they were not sufficient.

Mauritania had Muslim law which was the only source of law in the country, but had also applied positive Mauritanian law which was based on the French law, but separate of it. The two legal regimes existed in harmony and did not affect the applicability of the Covenant and enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights.

The judiciary in Mauritania was independent; there was a separation of power between the legislative, executive and the judiciary. The number of judges was in proportion with the population and was sufficient to hand down rulings and oversee cases. The law in Mauritania equally protected citizens and non-citizens, their safety and safety of the property.

Concerning the situation in Western Sahara, Mauritania used to be a party to the conflict but had since withdrawn. Mauritania in no way denied the right to self-determination of the people living in Western Sahara and maintained a strictly independent and impartial position in this matter. Mauritania supported the efforts of the United Nations and today Mauritania had an equally close relationship with the Government of Morocco and with the Polisario front. Mauritania recognized the right to self-determination of the Sahrawi people and the solutions advocated by the United Nations.

Islam was the religion of the people and the state of Mauritania and its population was 100 per cent Sunni Muslim.

Slavery was forbidden by the law which punished it as an offence; even before the adoption of the law, the society had been undergoing a number of changes as a result of several factors coming together. Former slaves and children of former slaves suffered from poverty, ignorance and discrimination and all those problems were a consequence of slavery. One could no longer speak of one person owning another person, but there were still persons in society who suffered from sub-standard living standards, opportunities and access to education and employment.

The mentality of the people regarding slavery was changing, but there was still a hangover among some concerning this practice. Programmes had been established to raise the living standards to improve the living conditions of all people in the society and to tackle poverty in those areas which were still suffering from the after-effects of slavery. Mauritania had established the roadmap for the implementation of the recommendations by the Special Rapporteur and would start implementing it as soon as it was approved by the Government.

Corruption was a global scourge that also affected Mauritania; a national corruption observatory was being established that would consist of members of civil society organizations in partnership with the Government, and would be in charge of combating the effects of corruption. It was important to note that the President had identified corruption as a scourge to be eradicated immediately.

In a series of follow-up questions, Experts asked for further explanations and the exact wording of the reservations on the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women; and for examples of court cases for combating corruption. Mauritania was a country that was rich in natural resources; how did it ensure the protection of the environment and what was the approach to and policies governing sustainable development?

Responding, the delegation said that Mauritania had reservations to article 16 to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women with regard to rights and obligations of spouses, especially in case of divorce instigated by a woman, and on issues related to inheritance, which was crucial in Islamic society.

In 2007 Mauritania had undergone a review by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and had made a lot of progress in improving the situation of women since then. Many measures had been taken to address discrimination against women and women now held post in courts and were appointed as ambassadors and to political posts.

Judges and magistrates were trained in international conventions and awareness raising activities on Mauritania’s international obligations.

Questions by Experts

In the second round of questions and comments, Experts noted the rather high rates of unemployment and under-employment, which presented an important challenge for the Government and asked for fresh figures for the period 2009-2011 in order to understand trends. Were there any results available concerning the implementation of the National Employment Strategy to 2011? The informal sector played a very important role in the labour market and the Expert inquired about the intentions of the Government concerning the regularization of the informal sector.

Turning to the issue of persons with disabilities, the Committee commended Mauritania for ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and asked about the number of persons with disabilities in employment and specific legislation on the economic, social and cultural rights of persons with disabilities.

How often did the review of the minimum wage happen? What percentage of the active population was covered by social security? Were workers in the public and private sectors entitled to payment of unemployment benefits, who paid them and what were the amounts?

Another Expert wondered if the Government already had educational campaigns so that everyone was aware that all types of work was remunerated, that there were rules of employment and that those rules were respected. It seemed that men were twice as likely to be unemployed which indicated significant gender disparities; what measures had been undertaken to bridge this gap?

There was no independent body in Mauritania which could declare a strike illegal; that decision was made by public authorities. The entire social dialogue seemed non-existent at all levels; the only multi-sectoral collective agreement dated back to 1974 and this indicated lots of problems in union freedom. What steps had been taken to ensure that the Government controlled the private sector with regard to the protection of trade unions and the protection of workers’ rights? The delegation was asked to provide information about work-related illnesses and injuries in certain industries and what was being done to address them.

Female genital mutilation continued in the country, physical violence in the family particularly against women, and corporal punishment persisted; what was being done to combat those phenomena?

According to available data, there seemed to be a regression in several areas of health, for example the rate of BCG and measles vaccinations and polio immunisation had decreased, despite the fact that the discovery of oil in recent years must have contributed significantly to the resources available for the Government programmes. Health benefits seemed to be enjoyed by the richest 20 per cent of the population and had negligible impact on the poorest 40 per cent. According to some reports, the health system gave the impression of serving the rich. The National Hygiene Code had barely been implemented; why?

Mauritania recognized the problem of street children in the country, but it was not clear what was its scope; how many children lived in the street and what was being done to remove them from there? The low level of birth registration of children was another problem; what were the results of the 2011 reforms of the registration system? With regard to children born out of wedlock, did they have the same rights as children born in wedlock?

The Committee congratulated Mauritania for the progress made in reducing poverty and extreme poverty and noted that the latest figures dated back to 2008. Food crises seemed to be quite frequent and 500,000 to 2 million people lived in food insecurity, while 10 per cent of the population required food assistance to survive.

The delegation was further asked to comment on programmes in place to address regional disparities in poverty; measures to combat child labour which was a problem in the country, including through compulsory education; impact of poverty reduction policies on the number of people living in poverty and extreme poverty; and the policy concerning informal settlements.

Response by the Delegation

Responding to these questions and comments, the delegation of Mauritania said sustainable development policies were part of the strategic vision and the third phase of the poverty eradication framework, in which environmental governance and climate issues were given a pivotal role. The objectives were to take into account the risk of climate change in the management of land and natural resources, comprehensive management of water resources, ecosystems and forests and the preservation of bio-diversity, all this with the involvement of the local population.

The National Strategy for Employment was based on the development of vocational training, self-employment and professional reconversion and public-private partnerships. Over 22,000 jobs had been created in 2011; in 2012, the first national employment survey had been launched and would be used as a basis to update the strategy.

The minimum wage was regularly revised, based on the cost of living and the last revision had taken place in August 2011, when it had been raised by 43 per cent. The process was based on collective bargaining. The 2004 Labour Code was being regularly explained and disseminated to workers and the general public; many such activities were conducted in cooperation with the International Labour Organization. This Code fully recognized the right of workers to strike, but no strike had taken place over the past three years; there had been no hindrances to the exercise of this right. Social dialogue was the prevailing mode in the country and tripartite bodies made up of social partners managed relations between them; all problems that might arise were discussed there and that was where the search for solutions took place. National collective bargaining was organized on a regular basis and the last one had taken place in August 2011.

Corruption was an underlying issue in all States; in Mauritania significant efforts were being made to repress all forms of corruption, particularly in relationship with social partners. There was no prohibition to establish trade unions; they were set up for the specific goal of the defence of moral and social interests of workers. Labour inspection and the office for health care in the work place undertook regular inspections to ensure that the relevant Codes, including the Hygiene Code were appropriately implemented and that the workers who might be exposed to nuclear or toxic products were safe. Unemployment insurance did not exist in Mauritania and the National Employment Strategy had never been implemented because of the 2009 crisis in the country; a new agreement signed recently with the International Labour Organization aimed at establishing the new employment and labour strategy which would include those aspects.

There were four child protection centres in the country, located mainly in big urban centres because that was where the problem of street children was prevalent. Because of the highly politicized nature of slavery, there were some organizations which confused traditional and modern forms of slavery, such as child labour. Several measures of legislative and institutional nature had been taken to address violence against women, such as accession to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child; promulgation of the Family Code which was the basis for the protection of family life; and establishment of the Committee to combat gender discrimination. A survey on gender-based violence had been undertaken in July 2012. Further, the Government had established in 2007 the National Strategy to Eradicate Female Genital Mutilation, while a fatwa against this practice had resulted in a major reduction in the number of mutilated women and girls. A procedure was underway to adopt a law to criminalize rape and measures had been taken to promote broad public awareness about the issue.

The Government was focusing on trafficking in persons and it had ratified a number of relevant international conventions and had promulgated in 2003 the law criminalizing trafficking and in 2007 the law prohibiting slavery.

The National Policy to Combat Poverty paid particular attention to the phenomenon of child poverty and had prescribed a number of measures to address it, including compulsory primary education, nutrition programmes in schools, and acceleration of achievement of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

The Government had allocated resources to address food shortages caused by insufficient rains in 2011; the rainy season in 2012 had been very good and the food situation was expected to improve. Regional disparities in poverty and development existed; the National Programme for Regional Development had been put in place with particular emphasis on improving the infrastructure, electricity supply and water supply throughout the country, in order to create an appropriate environment for economic development and so keep people from migrating to urban areas.

Follow up Questions

In follow-up questions and comments, Experts noted that Mauritania was a country rich in natural resources and with high rates of poverty and wondered how extractive industries were regulated and how the Government ensured that the benefits were distributed to the population.

The delegation was further asked about the situation concerning national social security in the country; the level of the minimum wage in relation to the poverty threshold; eradication rather than reduction of female genital mutilation; existing legal provisions criminalizing rape; and the role of the guardian in giving in marriage an ineligible person. How many jobs had been created for Mauritanians as a result of exploration or exploitation of natural resources?

Response by the Delegation

Rape was criminalized in Mauritania, but legislators had decided to promote a new special criminal law with regard to rape. The fatwa against female genital mutilation had achieved great results in raising awareness about the harm of this practice; a law criminalizing the practice would be adopted by Mauritania. According to the Family Code, the legal marriage age stood at 18 and any women under the age of 18 should not be married; one could not marry without a guardian.

Concerning extractive industries, the delegation said that the mining potential of Mauritania was significant and some of it was already being exploited, but the full extent of extraction had not been as yet reached. Monitoring of extractive industries had been put in place to maximize the profits while considering the impact on the lives of people generated by those industries. This National Commission worked in cooperation with the Prime Minister to mobilize all stakeholders with regard to the importance and benefits that extractive industries could have for Mauritania. It had only been three years that the mechanisms were established to properly manage the resources, including anti-corruption and anti-embezzlement policies, and those were only now starting to show effect. The country was undergoing amazing transformation and the infrastructure built over the past three years was double that built over the past 30 years. Governance of natural resources was crucial.

Women held a very important place in the society, and a whole campaign of promotional work was being conducted by the Government to speed up the process of having women in various professional posts. Women in Mauritania were highly respected and enjoyed equality.

Questions by Experts

In a further series of questions and comments, Committee Experts inquired about measures taken to establish appropriate health systems on the ground and what obstacles were encountered in this process. Maternal mortality and infant mortality rates remained high and the Committee wondered about steps to improve primary health care.

Another Expert noted that many of the replies provided by Mauritania in their written replies were very short, often containing just one sentence, which was not conducive to a constructive dialogue. What was being done to address the lack of knowledge about HIV/AIDS and its prevention among the population and also to enable sex workers and prisoners to adequately deal with the problem? Could the delegation provide further information about the psychiatric centre and the national programme for mental health and how these measures changed the situation? The Expert acknowledged the frankness and openness of Mauritania in recognizing the problems in availability of essential medicines and asked what remedial measures had been taken to address this and the problem of pricing.

Equality between men and women was crucial to the future of Mauritania and the Committee took note of the answers concerning the essential role of women in the society and asked whether the provisions of the International Covenant with regard to equal economic, social and cultural rights of men and women were applied. The Expert noted a number of provisions of the Personal Status Code which discriminated against women and said that they needed to be changed to ensure that Mauritania was able to fulfil the international obligations that it had voluntarily accepted. Some 69 per cent of women still suffered female genital mutilation and it was recommended that the Government come up with short and medium term plans to address the phenomenon, with yearly targets to reach. The use of contraceptives by married women should be increased to allow women to control their reproductive destiny.

The delegation was asked about a fatwa against the use of contraceptives; whether child sex selection practices existed in the country; about informal settlements, housing deficits and forced evictions; and the incidence of homelessness. How would the Government take into consideration the recommendations made by the National Commission for Human Rights concerning the adoption of the tenancy law and the improvement in the access to land for the poor, including by the allocation of land plots in urban areas?

Response by the Delegation

The problem of slums or shanty towns in urban areas had arisen a few years ago and was different from the nature of the housing deficit in rural areas. Safety and security of people in shanty towns was an issue, for example in case of a fire, access was difficult for civil protection units. The Government priority was to tackle this problem and aimed to ensure the total removal of shanty towns from urban areas. There were no forced evictions in Mauritania. People were moved from unsuitable areas to new areas with basic services, where they would become land owners. Because family ties were still strong in the country, there were no homeless people in the country. The Housing Bank enabled families to take out loans to pay for their own house; a housing state agency was responsible for this aspect. All exploration or exploitation companies had to fulfil requirements for the quota system for Mauritanian employees.

The best protection against HIV/AIDS and any kind of disease was to follow Islamic morals and law which entailed not engaging in adultery, respect oneself and be aware of the task imposed by the Creator in leading our lives. The best way to prevent HIV/AIDS was to reach out to the public on those grounds. Mental health was a weak point in the national health system; in many settings people went to see a marabou or a religious healer rather than a psychiatrist or psychologist. Major efforts had been made to monitor the situation of essential medicines and this was a universal problem that affected many countries. There was a clear determination on the part of the Government to correct this problem, firstly through extending supervision at all levels and ensuring correct pricing.

The male was responsible for the family which was based on the leadership of men and the male had the option, ability and requirement to be the protector and breadwinner for the family; all this derived from Islam and was difficult to change. Islamic jurisprudence was very clear on the issues of marriage. In Mauritania there was no sexual violence because sexual relations were based on religion and were consensual; what applied in other societies might not apply in Mauritania.

Slavery had been abolished and today no person owned another human being in Mauritania. The primitive and most hideous slavery no longer existed in the country and the Government could accelerate changes in the society so that all social groups could achieve the same opportunities and same standard of living.

Contraceptives were being used within the family for purposes of family planning; the use elsewhere was not compatible with religious prescriptions. Women could ask for a divorce under certain circumstances, for example when a male failed to provide for his wife. The Government intended to eradicate the scourge of female genital mutilation and believed that it was gradually disappearing; with information and development even people in most remote areas of the country would be aware of this harmful practice.

Committee Experts made a number of comments in the follow-up and expressed their surprise about the view of Mauritania that nothing could be done about certain issues in the country because of the religion; the State must deliver on the obligations it had voluntarily undertaken. Practice and implementation of Islam was not universal and was different in different countries; if there was a conflict between the practice of Islam with international human rights treaties, some changes and modifications should be done in the way Islam was practiced. The regulations in the country did not allow any organization to file a complaint to the National Commission for Human Rights, for slavery and at the same time, a number of children who were exploited for labour were illiterate and were unable to file a complaint; what mechanisms were in place to protect children in this situation? Saying that there was no sexual violence, or no violence against women in Mauritania was a denial of reality and one could not hide behind religion.

Mauritania was known to be anchored in the fundamental values of Islam which determined everything and explained everything; as a party to the International Covenant, Mauritania would move at its own pace towards the full implementation of its provisions. There were indeed areas where things had not been sufficiently done and the Government could do more only at the pace of the society.

The Family Code of 2001 reflected the complex nature of issues in the society and had been a result of consensus among various parties: the State, civil society, imams and women. If women were not sufficiently free, it would affect the socio-economic development of the country; that was why women in Mauritania were free and emancipated.

Almost half of the population of Mauritania had been nomads until recently and it was still considered to be a poor country. It had its specificities and was considered to be a model of tolerance with regard to Islamic practices within the region. Efforts had been made in ratification of a number of human rights instruments, and the country had participated in the Universal Periodic Review and had accepted 90 per cent of the recommendations it had received. All the efforts of Mauritania in the area of human rights had been noted and appreciated. The political will to make improvements and address the gaps was there as the country had made a strategic commitment to human rights.

Questions by Experts

In a further series of questions, a Committee Expert stressed the importance of education in Mauritania and all other countries and acknowledged the efforts made to ensure that all children were in primary and secondary education. If there was not enough room in schools that meant that basic education was not universal. Was there a connection between increasing drop out rates and the quality of teaching at primary, secondary and higher levels of education? What was the access to public education for persons descended from slaves? What proportion of the State’s budget was given to education in comparison with other Government departments?

Another Expert expressed concern about the pace of the process of settling down for the population, which was mainly nomadic, and particularly about the impact it could have on the culture, and asked how the principle of free choice and non-assimilation was respected in this process. Were there any provisions in place to reconcile traditional and cultural practices in health care; how was Mauritania focusing on traditional medicine as a cultural expression?

The Committee congratulated Mauritania on its efforts to improve literacy in the country and noted that the figures on literacy rates that had been provided stopped in 2004; this was not sufficient to evaluate the efforts. Could the delegation indicate the priorities for the next five years in order to ensure equal access to education for vulnerable and marginalized persons in remote areas? What was the impact of private education providers on exclusion and marginalization in the society; were private schools supervised by the State educational authorities? What was being done to ensure equal access to the Internet?

Elementary education was compulsory and penalties were imposed on parents of children who were not sent to school, and an Expert wondered about the mechanism to impose those penalties for parents living in rural or remote areas. What were the prospects for making secondary education compulsory too? What was the trend for secondary education tuition; was it on the rise? How did the education system deal with conflicts between scientific findings and religious norms?

There was only one group whose cultural rights were recognized in the Constitution and the Committee asked the delegation to comment on that.

Response by the Delegation

Mauritania was a multi-ethnic country composed of four main groups and this cultural diversity was clear through the cultural characteristics of each ethnic group; this was particularly the case during the pre-colonial period. The population was 100 per cent Muslim and that was why the communication took place mainly in Arabic, the language of Islam; French had been introduced in schools and the workplace during colonial times. The Islamic multi-cultural nature had been recognized in the Constitution which listed the main population groups; there was no supremacy of the Arab groups over others.

Mauritania was planning a general review of education which was an opportunity to look into the education system in the country. Education was compulsory and the vast majority of children were in school; schools were set up in villages according to certain standards linked to the number of people living in those communities. The education of the children of former slaves was a priority for the Government which had decided that schools in their communities could be established for even a lower number of children than was the national standard; this was one of the ways in which access to education was promoted for those children. There was no school transport organized in rural areas, but the Government tried to establish schools everywhere in order to ensure access for the children.

There was an imbalance between education programmes and the needs of the labour market in the country; too many people graduated in literature and arts and not enough in science. The Government was making efforts to increase the number of professional training centres to train people who dropped out of schools and enable them to obtain skills as electricians, mechanics, etc. It was not possible to say that children of slaves had full access to education, mainly because of the mentality of their parents who did not understand the importance of schooling for their children.

Turning to the role of traditional medicine in the health system, the delegation said that traditional medicine was practiced on a large scale, as many people believed in it, but it was not part of the national health system. There were no traditional or cultural medical practices that ran contrary to human rights. Private schools were controlled by the Government. The delegation acknowledged that access to the Internet was reserved for the elite.

On the institutional level, three ministries had been created to deal with primary, secondary and higher education; the budgets allocated to different levels of education were significant. Measures to allow students to continue their studies, particularly in rural areas, included the creation of school canteens which offered both food and accommodation for children and made it possible for nomadic children to attend school. The priorities for the next five years were to achieve education for all, improve the quantity and quality at all levels, improve access to education for vulnerable persons in rural areas, make compulsory education operational, and adapt education to the needs of the labour market.

In order to set up a modern health system, a law had been adopted to extend health insurance to workers in the country and this was a significant step forward towards universal health insurance. The Government had adopted an anti-smoking law which would be soon submitted to Parliament. Expenditure on health represented four percent of the overall state budget in 2011 and was set to be increased to 10 per cent in 2013. Measures to attain by 2015 Millennium Development Goals related to health included the adoption of the National Health Development Plan 2011-2020, in which strategic priorities were to fight maternal and infant mortality and prevent communicable diseases. Resources for the health sector would be increased as well. The Pharmaceutical Law had been adopted in 2010 and was now being implemented. The coordination structure for combating HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria was supported by the Global Fund and would be receiving State support as well from 2013.

Education, health and rural development were priorities for the Government and those sectors had received significant portions of the State’s budget. The Government was not satisfied with the state of education at the moment and was about to start a review which would look at many different factors, such as the deterioration of the level of teaching, in order to respond to education needs.

Concluding Remarks

MOHAMED ABDELLAHI OULD KATTRA, Commissioner for Human Rights, Humanitarian Action and Relations with Civil Society, said that the Government was following the guidelines set by the President who had made human rights a strategic priority. The political will existed to promote human rights in the country but there were economic realities which created obstacles to moving ahead more quickly. The political will was evident in the ratification of international human rights instruments and the submission of the reports of Mauritania to treaty bodies. Mauritania counted on the Committee to play an important role by calling for more support for the country.

ARIRANGA GOVINDASAMY PILLAY, Committee Chairperson and country rapporteur for the report of Mauritania, thanked the delegation for participating in the useful and frank dialogue and stressed the position of the Committee on one fundamental point: the Committee acknowledged the right of each State to freely choose its legal system, but the rights contained in the Covenant must be respected by all countries that ratified it, including Mauritania. This was particularly the case for women’s rights, equality between men and women, and the elimination of discrimination against women.


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