Following review, recommendation made to downgrade status of Mauritanian national human rights body due to lack of compliance with Paris Principles
Following the examination of the Mauritanian National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH) in November 2017, the Subcommittee on Accreditation (SCA) of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) recommended that the CNDH be downgraded from A to B status given its lack of compliance with the Paris Principles, prompting the CNDH to officially contest the SCA’s recommendation.
The SCA is charged with reviewing and accrediting national human rights institutions (NHRIs) based on their compliance with the Paris Principles, which outline the competence, responsibilities, composition and methods of operation of NHRIs, and which emphasise the importance of their independence and pluralism. The SCA may grant NHRIs the A status if they are in full compliance with the Paris Principles, B status if they are not fully in compliance, and C status for non-compliance.
While Mauritania’s NHRI, the CNDH, was granted A status following its last review in 2011, ahead of its November 2017 review, Alkarama and several local NGOs submitted a follow-up report to the SCA, emphasising that the CNDH did not fully comply with the Paris Principles and, therefore, did not deserve to be reaccredited with the A status.
In its session report dated January 26, 2018, the SCA expressed many concerns that echoed those of Alkarama, including the CNDH’s lack of compliance with the Paris Principles – notably the opacity of the process of appointing members and its lack of independence from the executive – therefore recommending that the CNDH be downgraded to B status.
Lack of transparency and independence in selection and appointment process
On July 5, 2017, the Mauritanian authorities adopted Law no. 2017-016 regulating the composition, structure and operation of the CNDH. In its November 2017 report, the SCA highlighted that although the provisions of the new law addressed some of the concerns raised in 2016, the amendments failed to tackle the concerns regarding the selection and nomination process of its members.
The SCA thus recalled that it is “important to ensure the formalization of a clear, transparent and participatory selection and appointment process for an NHRI’s decision-making body in relevant legislation, regulations or binding administrative guidelines, as appropriate”. The SCA also advocated for a merit-based selection process, recalling that “pluralism is necessary to ensure the independence of, and public confidence in, the senior leadership of an NHRI.”
The SCA also encouraged the CNDH to advocate for the formalisation and application of a process by which it is required to “[p]ublicize vacancies broadly; maximize the number of potential candidates from a wide range of societal groups and educational qualifications; promote broad consultation and/or participation in the application, screening, selection and appointment process; assess applicants on the basis of pre-determined, objective and publicly-available criteria; and select members to serve in their individual capacity rather than on behalf of the organization they represent.”
Lack of cooperation with civil society
In its initial report, Alkarama transmitted allegations raised by civil society to the SCA of a lack of cooperation of the CNDH with some organisations, particularly the most vocal critics of the government. The SCA encouraged the CNDH to provide additional information in this regard, and recalled the importance of further cooperation with a wide range of civil society organisations to enable the NHRI to be more effective in fulfilling its mandate of promoting and protecting human rights.
The CNDH's lack of independence from the executive has caused distrust among many NGOs, especially those working on subjects considered to be sensitive, such as slavery, torture or arbitrary detention. The CNDH has failed to denounce these persistent practices and, on the contrary, has adopted the government's position on these issues on several occasions. For example, the CNDH commended the authorities for the absence of torture, despite many cases being documented by civil society.
Failure to report cases of human rights violations
In its final report, the SCA noted that in all the cases brought to its attention, “the CNDH has not spoken out in a manner that promotes protection for human rights,” deploring the CNDH’s “unwillingness to effectively engage on serious human rights violations, including those relating to torture and conditions of detention, arbitrary detention and freedom of expression.”
In its initial report, Alkarama expressed concern over a statement issued by the CNDH on its website on January 7, 2014 in favour of the execution of Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed, a 28-year-old engineer sentenced to death for apostasy. Alkarama considered that such a statement demonstrates the CNDH’s lack of independence, and recalled that it goes against the commission’s mandate, which states that the CNDH should not pronounce a defendant guilty, particularly when the person concerned is being prosecuted arbitrarily and is at risk of being sentenced to death. The SCA noted the lack of formal or public declarations by the CNDH recognising the incompatibility of the application of the death penalty for an offence of apostasy with the international human rights norms and standards.
Alkarama’s report also pointed out that in October 2016, the CNDH failed again to fulfil its role by not condemning the arrest of anti-slavery activists, even after a group of seven United Nations human rights experts issued a press release to express their "serious concern". In their statement, the experts highlighted that the activists were "imprisoned for their alleged role in a demonstration against forced evictions in Nouachkott", and they were "targeted by the government for their anti-slavery advocacy.”
Finally the SCA also reiterated that the “NHRI’s mandate should be interpreted in a broad, liberal and purposive manner to promote a progressive definition of human rights which includes all rights set out in international, regional and domestic instruments,” recalling that “NHRIs are expected to promote and ensure respect for all human rights, democratic principles and the strengthening of the rule of law in all circumstances, and without exception.”
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