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Mauritania: UN expert welcomes national plan against racism, but calls for participation

GENEVA (9 September 2013) - The United Nations Special Rapporteur on racism, Mutuma Ruteere, hailed the start of a process to design a national plan of action against racial discrimination in Mauritania, but urged the authorities to base it on a thorough analysis and assessment of all the aspects of discrimination in the country.

“The process for developing the plan must be inclusive and participatory so that all involved can claim ownership over it and monitor its implementation; the result of the process must be sufficiently concrete to be measurable,” Mr. Ruteere said* at the end of a follow-up official visit to Mauritania, from 2-8 September 2013.

“I myself observed how the questions related to discrimination and exclusion heat up the hearts and minds of people and that is why it is all the more important that all stakeholders can exchange and debate about the content of the plan of action,” the human rights expert said.

In his view, a thorough assessment cannot be undertaken without statistics separated by descent and ethnic origin, sex and age, collected on the basis of self-identification. “Without ethnically disaggregated data, it remains difficult to determine the situation of marginalized groups and assess progress in addressing discrimination and exclusion,” the Special Rapporteur explained.

The expert commended the Mauritanian authorities for their cooperation with the UN Human Rights System, underscoring the establishment of a National Human Rights Commission, the amendment of the constitution to acknowledge the country’s ethno-cultural diversity, the adoption of the law on slavery, among other positive steps.

However, Mr. Ruteere noted a number of challenges to the pace and effective implementation of the law, and called on the Government to address them as a matter of priority. “Many individuals are losing confidence in these institutions and the justice system,” he said. “There is a need to improve the effectiveness of these institutions in addressing the problems of discrimination and to win public confidence in their effectiveness and commitment to implementing the law.”

“Efforts to implement the 2007 Tripartite Agreement which enabled the return of more than 24,000 Mauritanians between 2008 and 2012 are noteworthy,” he noted. “Yet the painful memories of the 1989 events remains vivid in the lives of many women, men, girls and boys who lost loved ones, houses and land, and identification papers.”

The expert stressed that concerns about registration, compensation and reparation for some of the returnees, continuing land disputes and the lack of accountability for the human rights violations committed at that time must be on the agenda for national reconciliation, as a pre-requisite for building an inclusive and diverse society.

“I have found the Mauritanian society to be deeply stratified; discrimination along ethnic or caste lines cuts across and within communities; poverty also cuts across and within communities,” Mr. Ruteere said. “It is important to recognize poverty as underlying cause of discrimination, as the Government has set to do by investing substantially in programmes to uplift historically marginalized groups from poverty.”

“As my predecessor found, although discrimination is not to be found in the letter of the law, de facto many individuals feel that they do not have equal opportunities vis à vis education, employment, business opportunities,” the Special Rapporteur said, underscoring that language is perceived as a means of domination of some groups over others, and that the insufficient diversity of key Government and public administration posts is seen as a manifestation of exclusion.

The expert also warned that, although slavery has been outlawed in Mauritania, there are still individuals who are victims of slavery-like practices. “Women and girls in such conditions continue to be particularly vulnerable and subject to various forms of violence, including sexual violence,” he said. “The institutional and legal frameworks have to be given teeth so that perpetrators are held to account.”

During his seven-day mission, Mr. Ruteere visited Nouakchott, Rosso and Kaedi, where he met the highest Government officials at national and local levels, as well as representatives of civil society, non-governmental organizations, human rights defenders, victims of human rights violations including slavery-like practices and racial discrimination.

The Special Rapporteur findings and recommendations will be reflected in his report to the Human Rights Council in June 2014.

Mr. Mutuma Ruteere (Kenya) was appointed by the Human Rights Council as Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in November 2011. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any Government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Racism/SRRacism/Pages/IndexSRRacism.aspx

(*) Check the full end-end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=13688&LangID=E

UN Human Rights, Country page – Mauritania: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/MRIndex.aspx

Check the 2009 report on Mauritania by the former Special Rapporteur Doudou Diène: http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G09/122/33/PDF/G0912233.pdf?OpenElement

For further information and media inquiries, please contact:
In Nouakchott: Cheikh Abdellahi Ould Ahmed Babou (+222 22 45 35 83 / couldahmedbabou@ohchr.org)
In Geneva: Yaye Ba (+41 22 917 92 10 / yba@ohchr.org) or write to racism@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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