The government modestly increased 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) ($13,510-$27,030), 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 ($6,760-$135,140). During the reporting period, the government collaborated with an international organization to revise the 2003 Law Against Trafficking in Persons to increase base penalties for trafficking and expand victim protection provisions. The government coordinated with the international organization to host workshops to solicit input from civil society organizations and other government ministries. The cabinet approved the draft legislation in March 2020, which was pending parliamentary approval at the end of the reporting period.
As in previous years, the government did not report comprehensive law enforcement data during the reporting period. According to media and government reports, the government investigated at least one case, prosecuted three alleged traffickers, and convicted five traffickers, an increase from four investigations, one prosecution, and zero convictions the previous reporting period. Judicial police investigated the case of a girl in domestic servitude to a family for whom her mother previously worked in Nouakchott. After the initial judicial police investigation report, the public prosecutor’s office ordered an additional investigation; in September 2019, the public prosecutor charged three suspects in the case. The Nema anti-slavery court convicted five traffickers in three cases that had been pending since 2011 and 2015; all five were convicted in absentia and sentenced to between five and 15 years’ imprisonment. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) issued formal extradition requests through INTERPOL for the convicted in order for them to serve their sentences. No slave owners or traffickers are currently in prison and NGOs reported several of the convicted traffickers appealed their court’s decision. A total of 10 cases are pending before the three anti-slavery courts: four before the Nema court, four before the Nouadhibou court, and two before the Nouakchott court. NGOs reported the government did not initiate any new investigations into fraudulent recruitment.
Three regional anti-slavery courts had exclusive jurisdiction over trafficking and hereditary slavery cases; however, the courts lacked the staff, funding, and resources to investigate and prosecute trafficking and hereditary slavery crimes throughout their regions. The three courts received a total of 900,000 MRU ($24,320) during the reporting period, an increase from a total of 700,000 MRU ($18,920) 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 hereditary 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 previous reporting period; during the annual meeting of the government’s judicial council in December 2019, the government opted not to replace any of the existing anti-slavery court judges. The MOJ directed all courts to transfer cases under the 2015 anti-slavery law to the anti-slavery courts; judges transferred nine hereditary slavery cases and officials reported no hereditary slavery cases remained with local courts.
Efforts to address hereditary slavery remained weak. Despite past persistent concerns of official corruption impeding investigation of hereditary slavery cases, the government did not report any prosecutions or convictions of government officials accused of corruption related to human trafficking and hereditary slavery offenses. Four Mauritanian soldiers and police officers deployed as UN peacekeepers to the Central African Republic (CAR) were accused of sexual misconduct in 2019; the government appointed a national investigation officer to investigate one of the four allegations involving two Mauritanian soldiers. The other three allegations are pending investigation by the UN. Some police, prosecutors, and investigative judges reportedly refused to investigate and try cases of hereditary slavery or to acknowledge hereditary slavery continued to occur. The government at times relied on lesser statutes to punish potential slavery offenses due to a lack of adequate training for government officials and a lack of political will to prosecute such offenses. NGOs reported some local authorities encouraged victims and their families to resolve trafficking and hereditary slavery cases through social mediation rather than through the criminal justice system. 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. Corrupt marabouts (Quranic teachers) suspected of exploiting talibés (Quranic students) in forced begging are rarely prosecuted and usually enter agreements with prosecutors to drop cases. The government provided trainers for international organization-sponsored trainings for 270 police officers, gendarmes, and customs officers working in border areas on human trafficking and migrant smuggling during the reporting period.