Mauritania: UN rights experts urge immediate reform of “flawed” anti-discrimination law

GENEVA – A new law adopted in Mauritania represents a positive attempt to tackle discrimination, but raises major concerns for human rights and must be reformed, a group of UN human rights experts have said.

We are concerned that several provisions of this law could seriously undermine the rights of Mauritanians,” the experts said.

 

“While we welcome the initiative taken by the Government of Mauritania to criminalize discrimination, we have concerns regarding the unintelligibility, inaccuracy, and insufficient legal protections that characterize several provisions of this law. Overall, it fails to comply with a number of international treaties ratified by the country.”

 

“Several provisions, including the very definition of discrimination, are inaccurate and confusing, which could lead to an exaggerated application, undue restrictions on human rights and the persistence of inhuman discriminatory practices, including slavery.”

 

We call on the Mauritanian authorities to urgently revise this “flawed” law, to avoid disastrous use and interpretation that could lead to grave violations of the country's international human rights commitments.”

 

The experts noted that the law fails to provide clear and adequate State protection against discriminatory acts and violence based on factors such as race, ethnicity, sex, language, religion or political views. Yet some insufficiently qualified and defined acts such as “inciting discrimination” are subject to heavy penalties, potentially putting journalists, human rights defenders and others at risk.

 

“Although we strongly condemn any incitement to hatred and discrimination, the interpretation of certain articles of this law could lead to serious and harmful abuses of human rights and freedoms, especially concerning freedom of expression,” said the experts.

 

The experts recalled that the right to freedom of expression also implies the right and ability to peacefully express critical views of political situations and the conduct of the Government or its officials.

 

An immediate revision of the law is essential as the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination will review the country in April, the experts added. They offered to provide any technical assistance to the Government if it wishes.

 

UN independent experts have been in contact with the Mauritanian government to clarify the situation.

 

*The UN experts: Ms. E. Tendayi Achiume, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism; Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression; and Ms. Urmila Bhoola, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences