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.