Prison conditions were harsh, and the government’s capacity to administer detention facilities remained poor. There were credible reports of torture, beating, and abuse in police detention centers, several prisons throughout the country, and gendarmerie and military facilities.
A new prison facility was opened in Aleg on November 28, and another prison facility neared completion in Nouadhibou, but the government failed to allocate sufficient funds for improving prison conditions in the existing facilities during the year, and overcrowding, violence among inmates, and poor medical care in prisons continued. Many prisoners were unable to leave their extremely crowded cells or breathe fresh air for months or years at a time. Sanitation conditions were poor due to the lack of hygienic products such as soap and detergent and prison management’s inability to dispose of waste properly. Malnutrition was a more serious problem, affecting vulnerable members of the prison population, particularly foreign inmates, prisoners without familial support, and individuals suffering from untreated diseases. The government did not respond robustly to allegations of inhumane conditions, although some progress was made in improving the quality of health care.
Serious overcrowding and a lack of running water contributed to the spread of diseases. Prisoners with health problems received little or no care, and medical supplies remained insufficient. For example, the Dar Naim Prison, built to hold 300 prisoners, held approximately 1,200. Reports continued of malnutrition, poor health, and deficient hygiene in that institution. There were reports that one Dar Naim prisoner was accidentally electrocuted during the year. On May 21, local media reported that another prisoner, Mohamed Ould Ahmed Salem Ould Amail, died at the National Hospital after authorities transferred him from Dar Naim because of his deteriorating health.
The holding areas in police stations were also reportedly overcrowded, unsanitary, and poorly ventilated.
There are no ombudsmen at the prison level. Regulations allowed the inmates in an institution to choose one of their number to represent them in dealings with management, and inmates occasionally did so during the year.
Steps were been taken to improve recordkeeping: the EU purchased 28 computers and at year’s end was training the penitentiary administration on database management to improve recordkeeping and the integrity of each prisoner’s file.
According to the penitentiary administration directorate, the women’s prison is less crowded and therefore more comfortable than the men’s. On the other hand, male guards participated in monitoring female inmates, who risked becoming victims of sexual violence.
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to denounce overcrowding and long pretrial detention. The large number of pretrial detainees exacerbated prison overcrowding. On March 5, four inmates at the Dar Naim prison reportedly reacted to their detention conditions by sewing their mouths closed to initiate a hunger strike, and on July 8, 17 individuals escaped from the detention center in Kaedi.
Pretrial detainees were frequently housed with convicted and often dangerous prisoners. On May 23, authorities removed a reported 13-14 suspected terrorists awaiting trial from Nouakchott Central Prison to an undisclosed location in order to improve prison security and disrupt illicit activity. The prisoners protested their removal.
Due to poor security conditions and the fact that dangerous prisoners shared cells with less dangerous ones, prisoners lived in a climate of violence, and some had to pay bribes to other prisoners to avoid being brutalized and harassed. As of
October 19, according to Ministry of Justice statistics, the prison population totaled 1,695, of whom 861 were convicts and 834 were unconvicted detainees. A full breakdown of the prison population by gender was unavailable. Of the 54 children in detention, 34 were in a segregated courtyard of the Nouakchott Central Prison at year’s end after a juvenile detention center in Beyla suffered structural damage. Seventeen were being held in a detention center for the “reception and insertion” of youth in conflict with the law. The center’s goal is to facilitate the social reintegration of children and youth. During the year officials released 30 children from this center and monitored their subsequent activities.
Women and female minors under 18 years of age were housed together in a separate location from the men and male minors. Sexual violence reportedly occurred in the women’s prison, which employed both male and female guards. Children of female prisoners remained with their mothers, or the Ministry of Justice gave temporary custody of the children to another family member. International NGOs, such as the Noura Foundation, Caritas, and Terre des Hommes, provided educational and economic opportunities to current and former juvenile and female detainees.
Prisoners had access to visitors. There were no reports that men were denied the right to observe Muslim prayer obligations individually, but the penitentiary administration confirmed that inmates did not have regular access to imams. In January 16 imams visited the prisons to meet with inmates for religious discussion and mental health counseling.
The government permitted prison visits by NGOs, diplomats, and international human rights observers. The International Committee of the Red Cross had access to prisons and conducted multiple prison visits, including visits to terrorism suspects, in accordance with its standard modalities. They distributed hygiene items and books.
The Ministry of Justice estimated that approximately 200 inmates benefited from a 10-day campaign begun on July 5 by the National Association of Dental Surgeons in partnership with the penitentiary authorities to provide free dental care to adult and juvenile inmates across the Nouakchott prison system. According to the Directorate of Prisons and Penitentiaries, a larger budget allowed the directorate to purchase more medical supplies and increase the number of medical consultations from three to approximately 50 each day. During the year the government completed construction of a new prison in Aleg, designed to accommodate 300 inmates, and a new prison in Nouadhibou with a capacity for 600 inmates was nearing completion.
The Commission for Human Rights, Humanitarian Action, and Relations with Civil Society continued to supply detention centers with medical staff, as well as medications, hygiene products, and foodstuffs.
There were reports that police did not inform family members or friends of the location and condition of detainees in a timely manner, preventing them from receiving adequate food.