UN rights office urges Mauritanian authorities to protect threatened activist

Municipal sanitation workers carry trash aboard boat in Guidimaka, Mauritania. Photo: World Bank/Scott Wallace

13 June 2014 – The United Nations human rights office today urged the Government of Mauritania to protect prominent human rights activist Aminetou Mint El-Moctar who has become the focus of a social media campaign encouraging anyone who “kills her or tears out her eyes will be rewarded by God.”

“We are concerned that Ms. Mint El-Moctar is not being provided with adequate protection by the authorities, despite having requested it,” said Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The activist has been targeted after the leader of a movement known as “Friend of the Prophet” issued a fatwa against her because she publicly demanded a fair trial procedure, in compliance with Mauritania’s international human rights obligations, for Mohamed Ould M’Kaitir. He is a young Mauritanian man who has been awaiting trial on charges of apostasy since January. Due to the nature of the charges, no lawyer wants to defend him making a fair trial impossible.

“The horrendous threats against Ms. Mint El-Moctar, simply for pointing this out, starkly underline the importance of her public call that a fair trial must be ensured, and illustrate how difficult that will be,” Mr. Colville said.

The Office of the High Commissioner is calling on Mauritanian authorities to take all necessary steps to protect Ms. Mint El-Moctar “given the very clear public threats to kill or mutilate her”, and to investigate and possibly prosecute those inciting the violence.

“We remind the Government of Mauritania of its obligation to protect its citizens from threats to their life and safety,” the spokesperson said.

Mr. Colville said OHCHR also encourages the Government to finally adopt the draft law on civil association, which would strengthen the protection of members of civil society in circumstances such as these.

Given the case involved, he also reminded authorities of their obligation to ensure an impartial and fair procedure “with full respect of the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.”

With the run up to the presidential election scheduled for 21 June, the UN human rights office also reiterated that religion should not be used as a tool in the political debate.


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