The government made uneven anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The 2003 Law Against Trafficking in Persons criminalized sex and labor trafficking, except hereditary slavery, and prescribed penalties of five to 10 years imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The 2015 anti-slavery law criminalized hereditary slavery and prescribed sufficiently stringent penalties of five to 20 years imprisonment.
The government investigated 19 suspects in three cases and prosecuted and convicted three slaveholders, a slight increase from one investigation, two prosecutions, and two convictions the previous reporting period. The government also continued 15 investigations from previous reporting periods, although their statuses were unclear. In one case, Mauritanian police and an international organization arrested 15 Quranic school teachers, known as marabouts, for child forced begging. The prosecutor declined to press charges and released the marabouts when they promised not to force the children to beg. International authorities reported the same children were begging in the streets after the marabouts’ release, but the government did not take any further action. Three regional anti-slavery courts had exclusive jurisdiction over trafficking and slavery cases; however, the courts lacked the staff, funding, and resources to investigate and prosecute trafficking and slavery crimes throughout their regions. The three courts received a total of 4.5 million Mauritanian ouiguya [all amounts shown in the Dec. 31, 2017 MRO ouiguya] MRO ($12,670) during the reporting period, although the government had announced a budget of 7,000,000 MRO ($20,000), and none of the appointed judges were specifically trained to address the unique challenges of investigating slavery cases, including how to prevent slaveholders from intimidating victims and victims from withdrawing their cases. Moreover, while other topical courts had specialized prosecutors, there were no specialized prosecutors for the anti-slavery courts. Despite these limitations, the Nouadhibou court heard and completed its first two slavery cases since its inception in 2016 and convicted three slaveholders. In the first case, one slaveholder received a sentence of 10 years imprisonment and a fine. In the second case, one father, now deceased, and his son, who had fled Mauritania prior to the trial, were sentenced to 20 years imprisonment and a fine. These sentences were significantly higher than in the previous reporting period, when judges sentenced two slaveholders to five years imprisonment with four years suspended. The Nouakchott anti-slavery court had never heard a slavery case. The Ministry of Justice directed all courts to transfer cases under the 2003 anti-trafficking and 2015 anti-slavery laws to the anti-slavery courts; judges transferred 13 slavery cases, but at least four slavery cases remained with local courts. The government did not report information on the additional 29 investigations that were ongoing at the close of the previous reporting period. NGOs reported trafficking and slavery victims had begun to file complaints with international courts due to a lack of faith in the Mauritanian judiciary. NGOs reported the government did not initiate any investigations into fraudulent recruitment or continue the investigation initiated in 2016 into a recruitment agency that had allegedly fraudulently recruited more than 200 Mauritanian women to Saudi Arabia for domestic servitude and forced prostitution; NGOs alleged the case was closed and the agency continued to operate. In a second case, a Mauritanian domestic servitude victim in Saudi Arabia attempted to file a complaint against her employer, but the Mauritanian embassy reportedly refused to assist. At the close of the reporting period, an NGO within Mauritania had filed a complaint on her behalf, as well as on behalf of approximately 20 other Mauritanian women exploited in domestic servitude and forced prostitution in Saudi Arabia.
Efforts to address hereditary slavery remained weak. Despite serious concerns of official complicity and corruption in slavery cases, the government did not report any prosecutions or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses. Some police, prosecutors, and judges reportedly refused to investigate and try cases of hereditary slavery. Heavy government influence over the judiciary restricted its independence, and reports persisted that prosecutors and judges often prosecuted alleged slave owners for lesser offenses to avoid bringing a slavery case to trial. However, Tadamoun remained a civil party to seven ongoing slavery investigations. During the reporting period, two former slaves appealed to the African Union the lenient sentence given to their former slaveholder in 2011. After the verdict in 2011, the prosecution had appealed the lenient sentence and the defendant had appealed the verdict; the defendant was released pending the appeal, and the judiciary had not taken any further action on the case in the last seven years. In December 2017, the African Union ruled the government had failed to adequately enforce its anti-slavery law, had not duly compensated the victims, and had given too lenient of a sentence to the convicted slaveholder. It further ruled that by failing to fully investigate or prevent cases of slavery, authorities had created a culture of impunity for trafficking. In coordination with NGOs, the government co-led two trainings on the anti-trafficking legal framework for judges and prosecutors.