UN human rights chief Navi Pillay on Friday ended a two-day visit to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, where she discussed the human rights challenges facing the country with top officials and civil society representatives.
During her visit, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights met H.E. President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, the Prime Minister, members of the Government and the President of the National Assembly. She also had meetings with the National Human Rights Commission, representatives of civil society, NGOs, the UN Country Team and the Diplomatic Community. Ahead of the establishment of an OHCHR country office in Mauritania, Pillay welcomed the Government's cooperation and support.
In her meetings with the authorities, Pillay raised a wide range of issues, including women's rights, slavery and its remnants, access to justice, transitional justice for past violations, and Mauritania's international legal obligations.
"There is a need to enhance the role of women in society, including in the judiciary, and their participation in decision-making processes," Pillay said. She called on the President to release women victims of rape who have been imprisoned, in grave violation of their human rights.
The High Commissioner visited Dar Naim Prison, located on the outskirts of Nouakchott, and noted overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions. She also visited the Government-run National Programme for the Eradication of the Vestiges of Slavery. While appreciating the activities undertaken, Pillay stressed the need for strict implementation of the 2007 Anti Slavery Act.
"Much more needs to be done to eradicate the perpetuation of slave-like practices," she said. "There is a need to integrate all victims in the chain of economic activities in the country, and to develop an awareness programme targeting the general public."
She also flagged the issue of access to justice for all, and the importance of applying international standards to judicial proceedings. She stressed the need to establish transitional justice mechanisms to address human rights violations that occurred between 1980 and 1990 ("passif humanitaire"), expressing the readiness of her office to provide necessary technical assistance.
"The Government would be well-advised to prepare a plan of action to implement the recommendations made by various international human rights mechanisms, including the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, its causes and consequences," she said. She also urged Mauritania to ratify international human rights instruments to which it is not yet party.
During her visit to the National Programme for the Integration of the Refugees, the High Commissioner expressed appreciation for the Government's efforts to reintegrate Mauritanian refugees who had fled the country between 1989 and 1992 and had now been repatriated. But she added that more efforts were required to expedite the return of the remaining Mauritanian refugees.
The High Commissioner called upon the international community to increase its assistance to Mauritania towards tackling major human rights issues such as domestic violence, human trafficking, the fight against poverty, the need for judicial reforms, and the realization of Millennium Development Goals.
During her visit, Pillay also opened the 7th Annual Meeting of the Arab National Human Rights Institutions held in Nouakchott highlighting the important role of such institutions in ensuring the promotion and protection of human rights at domestic level.
She acknowledged the key role of the civil society in the promotion and protection of human rights at the national level and encouraged the adoption of the new civil society law in the near future.
Navi Pillay extended her gratitude to the authorities and people of Mauritania for their warm hospitality.