The government maintained weak anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The 2003 Law Against Trafficking in Persons criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking, except hereditary slavery, and prescribed penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 to one million Mauritanian ouguiya (MRU) ($13,890-$27,780), 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 and a fine of 250,000 to five million MRU ($6,940-$138,890).
During the reporting period, the government investigated four cases, prosecuted one alleged trafficker, and convicted zero traffickers, compared to three investigations, three prosecutions, and three convictions the previous reporting period. Nine appeals cases remained pending before the Nema anti-slavery court at the end of the reporting period. The government continued an 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 and closed the recruitment agency during the reporting period. NGOs reported the government did not initiate any new investigations into fraudulent recruitment. During the previous reporting period, a Mauritanian domestic servitude victim in Saudi Arabia attempted to file a complaint against her employer, but the Mauritanian embassy reportedly refused to assist. An NGO within Mauritania 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. The NGO reported an appeals court sentenced the owner of the recruitment agency to three years’ imprisonment but the owner never served his sentence.
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 700,000 MRU ($19,440) during the reporting period, an increase from a total of 450,000 MRU ($12,500) during the previous reporting period. While the appointed judges received specialized training on the 2015 anti-slavery law, they have not been trained in its enforcement and the unique challenges of investigating slavery cases, including how to prevent slaveholders from intimidating victims to withdraw their cases. Moreover, while other topical courts had specialized prosecutors, there were no specialized prosecutors for the anti-slavery courts. Judicial shuffles affected the anti-slavery courts twice during the reporting period. During an abrupt May 2018 judicial reshuffle, the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) reassigned or removed experienced presiding judges sitting on the Nema and Nouakchott anti-slavery courts. In a second reshuffle in December 2018, the SJC appointed a new presiding judge to the Nema anti-slavery court and two deputy judges to the Nouakchott anti-slavery court. The Ministry of Justice directed all courts to transfer cases under the 2015 anti-slavery law to the anti-slavery courts; judges transferred nine slavery cases, but an unknown number of slavery cases remained with local courts.
Efforts to address hereditary slavery remained weak. Despite persistent concerns of official complicity and corruption in slavery cases, the government did not report any prosecutions or convictions of government officials complicit in, or accused of corruption related to, human trafficking offenses. Some police, prosecutors, and judges reportedly refused to investigate and try cases of hereditary slavery, or to acknowledge hereditary slavery continued to occur. Heavy government influence over the judiciary restricted its independence, and reports persisted that prosecutors and judges often prosecuted alleged slave owners for lesser offenses, closed slavery cases, or transferred cases for mediation to avoid bringing a slavery case to trial. Although prosecutors have a legal obligation to transfer slavery cases to the anti-slavery courts, some prosecutors encouraged victims to withdraw their complaints in exchange for a small amount of financial compensation. Marabouts (Quranic teachers) suspected of exploiting talibés (Quranic students) in forced begging are rarely prosecuted and usually enter agreements with prosecutors to drop cases. However, Tadamoun, the government agency mandated to address poverty and the “vestiges of slavery,” remained a civil party to nine ongoing slavery investigations. International organizations organized five trainings on the anti-trafficking legal framework and forced labor cases for approximately 65 judges, prosecutors, and security officials without financial or in-kind support from the government.