Mauritania is a highly centralized Islamic republic governed by President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, whose April 19, 2007 inauguration highlighted the country's first successful transition to democracy in its 50 years of independence. The presidential elections were judged free and fair by international and national observers. The government's human rights record improved during 2007; however, there were reports of mistreatment of detainees; harsh prison conditions; impunity; prolonged pretrial detention; executive branch influence on the judiciary; governmental corruption; and restrictions on freedoms of press, assembly, and association. Discrimination against women, female genital mutilation, child labor, trafficking in persons, and the political marginalization of largely southern-based ethnic groups continued to be problems. Integration of refugees and the elimination of slavery were also challenges. The new government acted quickly to address the country's most serious human rights problems, most significantly by passing legislation criminalizing the practice of slavery and promoting the repatriation of thousands of Afro‑Mauritanians living as refugees in Senegal and Mali following their expulsion during ethnic tensions and violence in 1989-1991. Increased political and media freedom has also resulted in the emergence of new political parties.
The country continues to face the challenges of building national unity and social stability among its citizens and countering the threat of terrorism. With democratic transition have come public demands for a democracy dividend, which challenges the government to deliver real and tangible development gains for its citizens. The U.S. strategy to advance freedom and democracy comprehensively addresses factors that are crucial for the country to continue its progress in promoting and protecting human rights. This includes supporting good governance to keep the country on its democratic trajectory, promoting sustainable development to mitigate poverty, and creating security in the face of terrorist and transnational criminal threats.
With respect to promoting good governance, the key aim of the United States is to support and strengthen the country's developing democratic institutions, including the parliament and municipal councils, political parties, civil society, judiciary, and media. U.S. efforts seek to empower and encourage citizens to conduct future elections that are free and fair; allow for the development of effective political opposition groups; foster an independent judiciary and the rule of law; allow for greater press freedom; fight corruption; and combat extremism.
U.S. officials remain closely engaged with the government, civil society, and religious leaders to promote democratic governance and protect human rights. The United States is funding programs that strengthen the capacity of the national assembly and support the prime minister's campaign to combat corruption and foster national unity. The mission aims to deepen its relationships with civil society groups by providing funding for refugee integration, anti-slavery, good governance, and child labor initiatives.
Public diplomacy efforts are aimed at building the professional capacity of an increasingly free media, particularly as a new audiovisual law allows for the proliferation of private radio media. Programs have already trained editors of print media on how to be financially sustainable, and in the coming year will work with prospective radio station managers and help develop community radio in areas susceptible to radicalization. U.S. funds will also help train radio journalists in the coming year. U.S. outreach will also aim to foster openness in the government to a free and democratic media. Additional U.S. government programs are addressing child labor issues, in particular the Talibe system where children are forced to beg for putative religious teachers, and supporting the government's campaign designed to reduce corruption and build national unity. U.S. antitrafficking funding supports the government's efforts to eliminate all forms of slavery by supporting implementation of the August 2007 antislavery law.
In addition to activities to support democratic governance, U.S. efforts through the Millennium Challenge Corporation Threshold program are addressing the need for the country's new democracy to produce a democracy dividend through greater investment in people, thereby reducing the factors that retard economic development and allow entry to nondemocratic forces.
A substantial new U.S. project is reaching out to vulnerable youth through vocational training, civil society development, the modernization of Islamic education, and community radio development in targeted regions that are most susceptible to extremist Islamic radicalization. This program is complemented by additional U.S. humanitarian assistance projects in these same target areas.