The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Mauritania is a State Party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Mauritania is not a State Party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the State has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
At regional level, Mauritania is a State Party to the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. Article 11 provides as follows:
Every individual shall have the right to assemble freely with others. The exercise of this right shall be subject only to necessary restrictions provided for by law in particular those enacted in the interest of national security, the safety, health, ethics and rights and freedoms of others.
Mauritania is also a State Party to the 1998 Protocol on the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, but has not allowed the right of petition to the Court by individuals and non-governmental organisations.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Under Article 10 of the 1991 Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania (as amended), freedom of assembly is guaranteed to all citizens.
The primary legislation governing assemblies is the 1973 Right to Peaceful Assembly Act. The United Nations does not consider this to comply with international human rights law.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the State and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
Article 15 of the 2010 Law provides that police officers are obligated to
refrain from any act of a nature to infringe individual or collective freedoms, except where provided by law, as well as any act that would amount to cruel or degrading treatment constituting a violation of human rights....
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
There does not appear to be national law restricting the use of firearms by law enforcement agencies, including during assemblies.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2019 Concluding Observations on Mauritania, the Human Rights Committee expressed its continuing concern at "consistent reports of excessive use of force by law enforcement officials to break up demonstrations, causing, for example, the fatal shooting of Lamine Mangane". The Committee regretted "the lack of information on the investigations launched in response to allegations of excessive use of force by law enforcement officials during public demonstrations, and on any prosecutions, convictions and sentences".
In its 2018 Concluding Observations on Mauritania, the Committee against Torture noted Mauritania's claim that "all demonstrations during the period under review occurred without incident", but remained concerned about
consistent reports of demonstrators being dispersed through the excessive use of force by law enforcement officers, which led, for example, to the fatal shootings of Lamine Mangane and Ramdhane Ould Mohamed.
The Committee regretted that the authorities had "not responded to requests for information as to whether investigations have been initiated ex officio into the allegations of excessive use of force, ill-treatment and torture by law enforcement officials during demonstrations in January 2015, on 29 February 2016, in June 2016, in April 2017 and on 28 November 2017".
In its 2018 Concluding Observations on Mauritania, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights did not address the right of peaceful assembly.
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Mauritania:
While the constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, organizers are required to obtain consent from the government for large gatherings, which is often denied. In 2018, protests and demonstrations, including several organized by IRA Mauritania [Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement in Mauritania] activists denouncing the arrests of their leader, were often violently broken up by authorities. In 2017, police had used tear gas to suppress a peaceful demonstration in Nouakchott convened to address youth unemployment, and arrested over two dozen participants.