MAURITANIA (Tier 2)

The Government of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Mauritania was upgraded to Tier 2. These efforts included increasing investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of traffickers, including six traffickers convicted in absentia under the 2015 anti-slavery law. The government reported identifying trafficking victims for the first time in five years. It finalized an NRM and created a dedicated fund for victim services. The government established and funded the Instance National to Combat Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling (INCHTMS), a permanent coordinating committee for anti-trafficking efforts, and conducted significant awareness campaigns on the anti-trafficking and anti-slavery laws throughout the country. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government did not systematically investigate, prosecute, or convict traffickers responsible for hereditary slavery crimes, and the anti-slavery courts did not function effectively. Officials did not adequately screen vulnerable populations, including communities historically exploited in hereditary slavery, for trafficking indicators. Government agencies charged with combating trafficking, including hereditary slavery, continued to lack resources and personnel, and reports of officials refusing to investigate or prosecute traffickers persisted.

  • Increase efforts to investigate and prosecute cases of human trafficking, including hereditary slavery, and seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, which should involve significant prison terms.
  • Direct law enforcement to investigate all allegations of human trafficking, including hereditary slavery, and hold government officials accountable for inhibiting investigations of such cases or interfering in ongoing investigations.
  • Train front-line actors, including law enforcement, security forces, judicial officials, social workers, independent labor unions, and civil society on the NRM and standard procedures to identify and refer trafficking victims to care.
  • Proactively screen for trafficking indicators among vulnerable populations, including communities historically exploited in hereditary slavery, migrants, women in commercial sex, and children exploited in forced begging; ensure victims are not inappropriately penalized solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.
  • Utilize the victim fund, and in collaboration with NGOs, increase trafficking victims’ access to resources and services.
  • Institutionalize training for law enforcement and judicial actors – including prosecutors, investigative magistrates, and appeals court judges – on the 2015 anti-slavery and 2020 anti-trafficking laws, legally-required procedures for transferring hereditary slavery cases to the anti-slavery courts, and ordering restitution in criminal cases.
  • Provide adequate resources and dedicated prosecutors, investigating magistrates, and trial judges for each of the anti-slavery courts.
  • Empower the INCHTMS to coordinate the government’s anti-trafficking response by convening regular meetings, adopting a new NAP, and promoting information sharing and data collection across government agencies.
  • Implement a victim-witness assistance program to increase protective services for victims participating in the criminal justice process, including protection from intimidation or retaliation.

The government increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The 2020 Law on the Prevention and Punishment of Trafficking in Persons criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and included hereditary slavery as a form of human trafficking, and it prescribed penalties of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 250,000 to 500,000 Mauritanian Ouguiya (MRU) ($6,760 to $13,510). These penalties 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 500,000 MRU ($6,760 to $13,510).

The government reported initiating 14 trafficking investigations, compared with three investigations during the previous reporting period. The government prosecuted nine alleged traffickers under the 2020 anti-trafficking law (three for sex trafficking and six for labor trafficking); courts convicted eight traffickers and provided sentences between five and 10 years’ imprisonment. Seven of the eight convicted traffickers were imprisoned and are serving their sentences; an arrest warrant was issued for the other trafficker. One of the traffickers was convicted for exploiting a man in hereditary slavery practices; the court sentenced him to 10 years’ imprisonment and ordered him to pay 500,000 MRU ($13,515) in restitution. The government also prosecuted eight alleged traffickers under the 2015 anti-slavery law; the anti-slavery courts convicted six traffickers in absentia and acquitted two defendants. This compared with no reported prosecutions or convictions during the previous reporting period. Authorities issued arrest warrants for the traffickers convicted in absentia and extradition requests for two defendants charged with hereditary slavery crimes who fled the country. The appeals court addressed three previously adjudicated slavery cases; in the first case, the court ordered the re-arrest of a trafficker convicted in 2011 but released prior to serving her full sentence, and the court upheld two acquittals.

Three regional anti-slavery courts had exclusive jurisdiction over cases charged as hereditary slavery, and the criminal courts had jurisdiction over trafficking cases. The three anti-slavery courts received a total of 1.8 million MRU ($48,650), the same amount allocated the previous reporting period. The anti-slavery courts comprised one court president, two assistant judges, and two community leaders serving as jurors; stakeholders reported the jurors, typically traditional leaders with no legal background, significantly impeded the courts’ efforts to prosecute and convict traffickers responsible for hereditary slavery crimes. The anti-slavery courts lacked adequate staff and resources to investigate and prosecute hereditary slavery crimes throughout the country, especially in rural regions, and did not have specialized prosecutors or investigative magistrates. In practice, authorities did not automatically refer hereditary slavery cases to the anti-slavery courts; prosecutors and investigative magistrates in charge of referring cases to the anti-slavery courts sometimes dismissed or misclassified cases as crimes other than hereditary slavery. The anti-slavery law called for cases to be processed without delay; however, cases often remained pending for years. The anti-slavery courts continued to mostly prosecute slander-related cases rather than cases of hereditary slavery. Defendants charged with hereditary slavery frequently absconded into neighboring countries. The appeals court lacked training on the anti-slavery and anti-trafficking laws and sometimes overturned convictions. The Commissariat for Human Rights, Humanitarian Action, and Relations with Civil Society had the authority to introduce cases on behalf of hereditary slavery victims, but reportedly did not do so. The government, in collaboration with an international organization, conducted a study on improving the anti-slavery courts’ effectiveness.

The government, both independently and in collaboration with civil society, conducted trainings throughout the country on the anti-trafficking and anti-slavery laws; the trainings targeted administrative, judicial, and security authorities and NGOs, and covered anti-trafficking legal and institutional frameworks and processes for identifying, referring, and investigating cases. The Ministry of Justice established a working group responsible for collecting and reporting data on cases prosecuted under the anti-trafficking and anti-slavery laws. Additionally, the government, in coordination with an international organization and foreign donor, developed standardized guidance on the investigation and prosecution of trafficking cases, including hereditary slavery, in accordance with 2015 anti-slavery and 2020 anti-trafficking laws; officials finalized and began disseminating the guide to law enforcement officials. However, some judicial and law enforcement officials continued to lack sufficient training and understanding of human trafficking, including hereditary slavery. Judicial officials conflated human trafficking with other crimes, such as migrant smuggling or sexual abuse. Law enforcement officials did not always enforce the anti-trafficking and anti-slavery laws, especially in rural areas. The Ministry of Interior’s Central Office for the Suppression of Migrant Smuggling and Human Trafficking was responsible for screening migrants for trafficking indicators but did not report identifying any trafficking victims.

The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action. Some police, prosecutors, and investigative judges reportedly refused to investigate and try hereditary slavery crimes. Local authorities encouraged victims and their families to resolve trafficking cases, including hereditary slavery cases, through social mediation rather than the criminal justice system. Although prosecutors had a legal obligation to transfer hereditary slavery cases to the anti-slavery courts, some prosecutors settled cases outside of court (a practice forbidden by the law) or encouraged victims to withdraw their complaints in exchange for a small amount of financial compensation. Corrupt Quranic teachers suspected of exploiting students in forced begging were rarely prosecuted and usually entered agreements with prosecutors to drop cases. Some security forces allegedly colluded with migrant smugglers to facilitate irregular border crossings of migrants in Nouadhibou, which may have included potential trafficking victims. Although not explicitly reported as human trafficking, an international organization reported there was one new allegation submitted in 2022 of alleged sexual exploitation with trafficking indicators by Mauritanian peacekeepers deployed to the UN peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (CAR). There were also pending allegations of sexual exploitation against Mauritanian peacekeepers deployed to CAR reported in previous years, including one reported in 2021, two reported in 2020, and two in 2019. The government had not yet reported the accountability measures taken, if any, for the open cases at the end of the reporting period. However, Mauritania reported final action in two other cases in recent years.  The government closed one case reported in 2018 and another reported in 2017; both concerned sexual exploitation and involved a combined total of 13 peacekeepers deployed to the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR.  The government reported it has imprisoned all 13 perpetrators.

The government increased efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims. For the first time in five years, the government reported identifying and referring trafficking victims to care. Officials identified at least 89 trafficking victims and referred at least 87 to care. This included 87 child forced begging victims referred to Ministry of Social Affairs (MASEF) centers, and two victims of unknown forms of trafficking identified by the government’s anti-trafficking hotline; the government did not report if the two victims of unknown forms of trafficking were referred to care. The government did not provide information on the number of hereditary slavery victims identified, if any.

The government, in collaboration with an international organization, developed an NRM, including standardized procedures to identify and refer trafficking victims and migrants to services; the NRM was not yet operational at the end of the reporting period. MASEF continued using existing referral procedures for child victims of crime, including human trafficking. Some border agents had a manual produced by an international organization that detailed victim identification procedures; however, agents did not consistently use it. The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), a quasi-governmental body, coordinated with an international organization to screen potential hereditary slavery cases brought forth by civil society; CNDH did not screen for other forms of human trafficking. Since 2019, the CNDH screened five potential cases and determined one was a slavery case; however, no cases were identified using this screening mechanism during the reporting period. Officials sometimes dismissed or misclassified cases demonstrating indicators of forced labor as discrimination or labor exploitation.

The government established a special fund in 2022 to aid trafficking victims, including hereditary slavery, and support NGOs providing services. The government allocated 50 million MRU ($1.35 million) to the fund and provided support to at least one forced labor victim. MASEF managed six centers nationwide for short-term protection and social integration of vulnerable children, including potential trafficking victims, with financial support from an NGO; three of the centers provided overnight care for children. MASEF also operated day centers throughout the country providing psycho-social, food, and vocational assistance to vulnerable families. MASEF generally referred victims to NGOs for long-term care. The government operated a day center in Nouadhibou for adult female sexual violence victims, including potential trafficking victims, and placed them with host families at night; the center also accommodated migrant and refugee women and girls. NGOs continued to provide the majority of protective services to trafficking victims, including shelter, medical, psycho-social, legal, and educational assistance, without government financial or in-kind support. Shelter and services for adult victims remained severely inadequate, and no shelter could accommodate adult male victims. Foreign nationals and Mauritanian victims were eligible for the same services. Foreign national victims who faced hardship or retribution in their country of origin could apply for asylum or refugee status, but authorities did not report granting these protections to any victims.

The government did not have a victim-witness assistance program to support victims’ participation in investigations and prosecutions, nor did it report providing any assistance to protect victim-witnesses from threats or intimidation or protect their identities. The government had legal aid offices throughout the country to support crime victims and maintained a dedicated legal assistance fund for trafficking victims. However, the government did not report providing such legal assistance to any trafficking victims. NGOs reported the government often brought victims and accused traffickers together when conducting interviews, which placed enormous pressure on victims to change their testimony. Pursuant to existing laws, access to victim services was not conditioned on cooperation with law enforcement; however, this provision was not always respected, and officials sometimes required victims to participate in law enforcement proceedings to receive services. The law allowed victims to obtain restitution, and the court ordered restitution in one case. However, the complex and opaque legal system and lack of enforcement made such efforts extremely difficult, and ordered restitution was rarely paid. Victims could file civil suits against the traffickers; however, no victims reportedly used this provision, and many victims were not aware of this option.

Due to inconsistent use of formal identification procedures, authorities may have detained or deported some unidentified trafficking victims under fornication and adultery charges, including victims of domestic servitude and sex trafficking. Law enforcement officials reportedly detained women suspected of engaging in commercial sex and undocumented migrants for immigration violations without screening for trafficking indicators.

The government increased efforts to prevent human trafficking. The government operationalized the new INCHTMS, a designated committee mandated in the 2020 anti-trafficking law to coordinate the government’s nationwide anti-trafficking response. The government allocated 35 million MRU ($950,000) to support INCHTMS’s operations and an additional one million MRU ($27,000) for implementation of the 2020-2022 anti-trafficking NAP; this was a significant increase compared with 10 million MRU ($270,000) allocated for the NAP’s implementation during the previous year. Additionally, the prime minister’s office led an inter-ministerial committee charged with monitoring the government’s progress to combat human trafficking, including hereditary slavery.

The government, in collaboration with civil society, held awareness campaigns and workshops engaging local and civil society leaders to increase public awareness of the anti-slavery and anti-trafficking laws, identifying and reporting trafficking cases, including hereditary slavery, and the CNDH anti-trafficking hotline. The government allocated more than 18 million MRU ($485,000) for the campaigns, which reached more than 300,000 people. The Agency for National Solidarity and the Fight Against Exclusion (Taazour) provided socioeconomic support to vulnerable populations; however, it did not have a mandate to provide support to trafficking victims, including victims of hereditary slavery. The government did not report efforts to monitor or regulate mahadras (Quranic schools) to prevent child forced begging. The Commissariat for Human Rights conducted a study on child forced begging, child forced labor, early and forced marriage, and sex trafficking in the cities of Nouakchott, Nouadhibou, Rosso, Kaédi and Kiffa. The CNDH operated a hotline to report trafficking crimes; it identified at least two victims. The government continued to fund an NGO hotline for child victims of crime, including trafficking; the hotline processed 571 cases, which may have included some potential trafficking cases. Despite efforts to raise awareness, some local government officials denied the existence of hereditary slavery and some high-level officials claimed NGOs and anti-slavery activists fabricated or overstated the number of cases.

The government continued implementing the NGO law, allowing NGOs, including anti-slavery NGOs, to legally operate in the country following a simplified registration process. However, the law permitted the government to suspend NGOs engaged in activities that “threaten the country’s morals” and required NGOs to receive government approval for activities involving more than 10 people. There were no reports the government harassed or prevented anti-slavery activists from operating in Mauritania; during the previous reporting period, observers reported officials harassed or detained five anti-slavery activists and NGO workers. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts by arresting and convicting buyers of commercial sex; however, officials also arrested potential trafficking victims during these operations.

Under a 2003 agreement with Spain, Mauritania received deported migrants, including its citizens and third-country nationals presumed to have transited Mauritania en route to Spain. According to international organizations, the government processed and transported these migrants to the Senegal and Mali borders within hours of arriving in Nouadhibou without systematically screening for trafficking or allowing international organizations to offer protective services. Authorities were, however, reportedly responsive to international organization requests for screening when civil society actors identified potential trafficking victims among the migrants. NGOs and media reports alleged officials detained some migrants without due process, placed unaccompanied children in detention with adults, abused migrants during arrest and detention, and failed to provide access to adequate facilities, including food and sanitation.

The Ministry of Labor provided some anti-trafficking training to new labor inspectors. However, inspectors lacked the capacity and training to effectively monitor the large informal sector and did not identify any cases of potential trafficking. Despite reports of labor abuses, including potential indicators of trafficking, the government rarely inspected fishing vessels, processing plants, and boat factories. The government did not effectively regulate foreign labor recruiters or penalize them for fraudulent recruitment. Although the law prohibited worker-paid recruitment fees, the government’s limited capacity hindered its ability to enforce this provision, especially in the informal sector. MASEF and the Ministry of Livestock collaborated with an international organization to increase social dialogue and improve labor conditions in domestic work and farming. The government launched a nationwide campaign issuing identity documents to more than 70,000 foreign residents, including labor migrants vulnerable to forced labor. Observers reported communities traditionally exploited in hereditary slavery faced significant discrimination and difficulty obtaining identity documents, which were required for access to basic services. The government provided peacekeepers with pre-deployment briefings on human rights, including trafficking. Although not explicitly reported as human trafficking, there were five open cases of alleged sexual exploitation with trafficking indicators by Mauritanian peacekeepers deployed to the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Mauritania, and traffickers exploit victims from Mauritania abroad. Adults and children from the Haratine (Black Moor) and Afro-Mauritanian (Halpulaar, Soninke, and Wolof) communities are subjected to hereditary slavery practices rooted in ancestral master-slave relationships, where they are often forced to work without pay as cattle herders and domestic servants. Many survivors of hereditary slavery and their descendants are exploited in forced labor. Survivors of hereditary slavery and their descendants remain vulnerable to forced labor due to discrimination and lack of alternate economic opportunities or legal rights to the land upon which they have traditionally farmed and lived. It is especially difficult for children of Haratine and Afro-Mauritanian descent to obtain birth certificates, resulting in their denial of services, education, and assistance, and increasing vulnerability to trafficking. Fraudulent recruiters promise Mauritanian women and girls – especially those from the Black Moor and Afro-Mauritanian communities – shelter and education, but force them into domestic servitude, especially in larger cities such as Nouakchott, Nouadhibou, and Rosso. Individuals of Haratine and Afro-Mauritanian descent, including children, working in the fisheries, mining, domestic work, livestock-herding, and construction sectors are vulnerable to forced labor. Corrupt Quranic teachers force boys from Mauritania and other West African countries who study at mahadras to beg for food and money; boys from low-income families in the Halpulaar community and increasingly children with disabilities are particularly vulnerable. Traffickers have reportedly coerced some women and children to smuggle illicit drugs.

Traffickers exploit foreign migrants, especially Malian and Senegalese nationals, in forced labor in the informal sector; migrants often work without contracts and are exploited in debt bondage. West African women and girls are vulnerable to domestic servitude and sex trafficking in Mauritania. Traffickers exploit Senegalese children in fishing, domestic work, drug production, and sex trafficking. Migrants and refugees in Nouadhibou have reportedly engaged in commercial sex due to their dire financial situations, increasing their vulnerability to sex trafficking. Traffickers in the port city of Nouadhibou exploit Sub-Saharan African migrants transiting Mauritania en route to Europe in forced labor and sex trafficking; some traffickers pose as migrant smugglers, but subsequently exploit migrants in forced labor. Foreign agencies and Mauritanian intermediaries fraudulently recruit Mauritanian women for nursing and teaching jobs abroad and subsequently exploit them in domestic servitude and sex trafficking in the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia. Traffickers from Middle Eastern and North African countries fraudulently enter into marriages with Mauritanian girls and young women, facilitated by brokers and travel agencies in both Mauritania and the Middle East; the traffickers promise substantial payments to the family and subsequently exploit the girls and women in sex trafficking in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. Cuban nationals working in Mauritania on medical missions may have been forced to work by the Cuban government.

U.S. Department of State

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