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Mauritania risks instability if its wealth is not better shared: UN expert on extreme poverty

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NOUAKCHOTT / GENEVA (11 May 2016) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, today said that  Mauritania’s continuing stability in a volatile region risks being undermined unless the benefits of growth are more evenly distributed.

“The Mauritanian Government needs to do much more to back up its promise to tackle the vestiges of slavery, and needs to move beyond a charity approach to one that recognizes that every Mauritanian has human rights to water, health care, education, and food,” Mr. Alston said at the end of his first official visit* to the country. 

The human rights expert described Mauritania as a country rich in resources, and one whose legal system no longer accepts slavery, has maintained stability, and has enjoyed comparatively high levels of international development assistance.

He acknowledged that significant achievements have been made in recent years, especially in relation to urban areas. However, he warned that 44% of the rural population continues to live in crushing poverty in regions such as Gorgol, Brakna, and Trarza, which he visited.

“For many of them the only tangible impact so far of the Government’s development policies has been the expropriation of their land without compensation so that it can be turned over to large-scale investors,” Mr. Alston noted.

“There is a systematic absence from almost all positions of real power, and a continuing exclusion from many aspects of economic and social life, of the Haratines and the Afro-Mauritanians”, the expert said. “These groups make up over two-thirds of the population, but various policies serve to render their needs and rights invisible.” 

The Special Rapporteur noted that official recognition that there are human rights to goods and services such as water, health care, education, and food “would begin to transform the way in which policies are formulated and implemented.”

“Instead of building an 84 million ouguiyas Taj Mahal-like school in Dar el Barka, the National Agency to Fight against the Vestiges of Slavery, Integration, and Fight against Poverty (Tadamoun), might have decided to build toilets, expand classroom facilities, and provide teachers for the many existing schools in the vicinity that are in desperate need,” he said.

M. Alston also pointed out that “too many of the Government’s social development programs are ad hoc and responsive more to powerful constituencies than to need,” and called for the creation of a Friends of Mauritania group, bringing together the major donors to discuss priorities in advance of their regular meetings with the Government.

“International donors have not succeeded in encouraging the Government to be more principled and systematic in its approach, and they themselves have devoted far too little attention to the sort of coordination that would greatly enhance their combined impact,” he stressed.

During his ten-day visit to Mauritania, the human rights expert met and engage with the central government and with local governments, non-governmental organizations, representatives of international organizations, and people living in extreme poverty in Nouakchott and in different regions of the country.

The Special Rapporteur will present a comprehensive report with his full findings and recommendations to the Human Rights Council in June 2017.

(*) Read the full end-of-mission statement by the Special Rapporteur: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=19948&LangID=E

Mr. Philip Alston took up his functions as the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in June 2014. The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Poverty/Pages/SRExtremePovertyIndex.aspx

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

For more information and media requests, please contact Junko Tadaki (+222 26 31 10 28 / + 41 79 444 5401 / jtadaki@ohchr.org ) or write to srextremepoverty@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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