Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Visit to Mauritania from 24 to 28 October 2016: comments and recommendations addressed to the national preventive mechanism
Report of the Subcommittee * , **
II.Conduct of the advisory visit3
III.Establishment of the national mechanism for the prevention of torture in Mauritania4
IV.Recommendations to the national preventive mechanism5
A.Recommendations relating to legislative issues5
B.Recommendations relating to institutional issues6
C.Recommendations relating to methodological issues8
Liste des interlocuteurs du Sous-Comité pour la prévention de la torture et autres peines ou traitements cruels, inhumains ou dégradants11
1.In accordance with the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment visited Mauritania from 24 to 28 October 2016.
2.The Subcommittee was represented by the following members: Catherine Paulet (head of delegation), Hans-Jörg Viktor Bannwart and Gnambi Garba Kodjo.
3.The Subcommittee was assisted by two human rights officers and one security officer from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and by local interpreters.
4.The primary objective of the visit was to provide advisory services and technical assistance to the national mechanism for the prevention of torture in Mauritania, in accordance with the provisions of article 11 (b) of the Optional Protocol.
5.As part of its mission to provide advice and technical assistance, the Subcommittee held several private meetings with the mechanism and accompanied it on a visit to the civilian prison in Nouakchott.
6.The present report contains a series of recommendations for the mechanism. These recommendations are made in line with the Subcommittee’s duty to offer training and technical assistance with a view to capacity-building and to advise and assist national preventive mechanisms in evaluating their needs and identifying measures for providing greater protection for persons deprived of their liberty against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, in accordance with article 11 (b) (ii) and (iii), of the Optional Protocol.
7.During its visit, the Subcommittee delegation met with the Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of National Defence, the Minister of the Interior and Decentralization, the Minister of Social Affairs, Children and the Family, the Secretary of State for Health, the Human Rights Commissioner, the Deputy Chairperson of the Supreme Court, the Public Prosecutor of the Supreme Court and the Public Prosecutor of Nouakchott Ouest, as well as with representatives of the National Bar Association, the National Human Rights Commission, civil society and United Nations organizations in Mauritania (see annex).
8.The Subcommittee wishes to express its appreciation to the mechanism for its cooperation, its commitment and its contribution to the success of the visit. He would also like to thank the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mauritania, whose support facilitated the smooth running of the visit.
9.The report is currently confidential and it will be for the mechanism to decide whether to make it public. The Subcommittee does, however, recommend that the report be published and requests that it be notified of the mechanism’s decision in this regard.
10.The Subcommittee will send a separate confidential report to the Mauritanian authorities in which it will make recommendations to the State party.
II.Conduct of the advisory visit
11.The advisory visit was planned jointly by the Subcommittee and the mechanism, with the support of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mauritania, which acted as the focal point for the preparation of the mission. Several private meetings were held with the mechanism, which addressed questions of implementation, operation, working methods and independence, including the modalities for visits and subsequent recommendations. The Subcommittee also accompanied the mechanism on a visit to the civilian prison in Nouakchott, so as to be able to observe the mechanism in action and draw up a report for training purposes after the visit.
12.In addition to the meetings and the visit carried out with the mechanism, the Subcommittee met with representatives of the Government of Mauritania and members of the National Bar Association, the National Human Rights Commission, civil society and some United Nations organizations with offices in Mauritania.
III.Establishment of the national mechanism for the prevention of torture in Mauritania
13.Mauritania signed the Optional Protocol on 27 September 2011 and ratified it on 3 October 2012.
14.Initially the idea was that the mechanism would be attached to the National Human Rights Commission, the national advisory body responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights in Mauritania, which obtained A status accreditation from the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions in May 2011. The Commission’s terms of reference include the power to make unannounced visits to all prisons and detention facilities.
15.The idea of attaching the mechanism to the Commission was later dropped in favour of creating an autonomous body, and Act No. 2015-034 establishing the mechanism was promulgated on 10 September 2015.
16.In accordance with the Act, the mechanism consists of a chair and 12 members: 2 representatives of the National College of Physicians, 2 representatives of the National Bar Association, 2 independent public figures, 5 representatives of civil society organizations working in the field of human rights and a member of academia. Members are chosen by a selection board that was established by ministerial decree in January 2016. It comprises nine members drawn from several ministries (Prime Minister’s Office, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of the Interior and Decentralization and Ministry of Culture, Crafts and Relations with Parliament) and from the social and professional sectors represented on the mechanism (doctors, lawyers, academics, non-governmental organizations and independent public figures), and it is chaired by the Mauritanian Commissioner for Human Rights, Humanitarian Action and Relations with Civil Society.
17.A call for applications was published in the Official Gazette and broadcast on radio and the four television channels over a period of two weeks. Once a list of valid applications had been drawn up, the Committee selected, by absolute majority, twice the number required by law for the mechanism, i.e., 24, and forwarded their applications to the President of the Republic, who then chose the mechanism’s members and Chair. According to the Act, at least one-third of the members must be women.
18.The Association for the Prevention of Torture, in cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mauritania and the Mauritanian Commissioner for Human Rights, Humanitarian Action and Relations with Civil Society, ran a workshop on 29 February 2016 for members of the selection board on the legal and operational aspects of the mechanism’s mandate. A second workshop was held on 1 March for representatives of civil society, the National College of Physicians, the National Bar Association and academia.
19.On 20 April 2016, the President of the Republic issued Decree No. 105-2016 appointing the Chair and the 12 members of the mechanism. The Chair of the mechanism is Mohamed Lemine Ould Haless, Chair of the Human Rights Network.
20.On 14 June 2016 the Prime Minister issued Decree No. 2016-110 establishing the honorariums and privileges of the mechanism, giving the Chair the rank of minister and the Secretary-General the rank of ministerial secretary-general. The Decree also states that the members of the mechanism’s Committee shall each receive a quarterly honorarium of 400,000 ouguiyas and that the mechanism’s members shall each receive a quarterly honorarium of 300,000 ouguiyas. The Decree does not specify whether this honorarium is a salary or a fixed fee paid over and above members’ salary depending on whether they work full-time or part-time, or per mission.
21.On 15 June 2016, the Chair and members of the mechanism were sworn in before the President of the Supreme Court. At a plenary meeting held on 16 July 2016, the mechanism drew up its rules of procedure.
22.The mechanism has offices in Nouakchott, in a well-signposted spacious new building. It has no vehicles, and no premises in the various wilayas (provinces).
23.At the time of writing, the Subcommittee has learned that the mechanism recently received its 2016 budget allocation and that its budget for 2017 was contained in a special section of the 2017 State budget voted by Parliament. The Subcommittee has also been informed that the mechanism has received a budget of 112,200,000 ouguiyas for 2017, divided into four tranches to be paid quarterly into a Treasury account. The Subcommittee has also learned of the adoption in February 2017 of a Decree that, under article 4 bis, authorizes the plenary to make amendments, additions and allocations to the mechanism’s budget as necessary.
24.At the time of the Subcommittee’s visit to Mauritania, the mechanism had as yet carried out no visits to places of detention. Its first visit, on 26 October 2016 to the civilian prison in Nouakchott, was accompanied and observed by the Subcommittee.
IV.Recommendations to the national preventive mechanism
A.Recommendations relating to legislative issues
25.Firstly, the Subcommittee welcomes the fact that the main tasks assigned to the mechanism, as defined under article 3 of Act No. 2015-034, are consistent with article 19 of the Optional Protocol. The mechanism is responsible, inter alia, for carrying out regular and unannounced visits to all places of detention, for receiving complaints and allegations of torture, for giving opinions on the texts of draft laws and regulations related to the prevention of torture, for making recommendations with the aim of preventing torture, for conducting awareness-raising campaigns, for carrying out training programmes, for preparing and publishing research, studies and reports in its field of competence, and for cooperating with civil society and institutions working to combat torture.
26.Secondly, the Subcommittee wishes to emphasize its satisfaction at the fact that the mechanism has been established by legislative means, which guarantees it a degree of stability and independence.
27.Nevertheless, the Subcommittee has noted some gaps in the legislation that could well affect the mechanism’s independence as provided for in article 18 of the Optional Protocol. The Subcommittee wishes to point out the following.
28.Under article 11 of Act No. 2015-034, the Chair of the mechanism is appointed by decree by the President of the Republic, which suggests that the Chair of the mechanism is not a member and raises issues regarding its perceived and, potentially, its effective independence.
29.In addition, under article 30 of the Act, the Secretary-General of the mechanism is appointed by a decree adopted by the Council of Ministers, which is clearly contrary to article 29 of the Act, which stipulates that the mechanism shall recruit its own staff. Moreover, such an appointment could affect the mechanism’s independence.
30.Article 14 of the Act complies with the requirements of article 18 (1) of the Optional Protocol. However, the Subcommittee wishes to point out that it is no simple matter to find members who have the necessary expertise and yet meet the strict conditions laid down in article 14. The Subcommittee also notes that, in practice, some members of the mechanism continue to work in their main occupation.
31.As to whether membership of the mechanism should constitute a full-time occupation, as stated in article 24 of the Act, the Subcommittee notes that such an obligation does not reflect practice as found by the Subcommittee. In addition, the Subcommittee notes that this provision could work to exclude potential members with relevant expertise, such as doctors or lawyers, who would be unable to work full time in the mechanism.
32.The Subcommittee has communicated these concerns orally to the mechanism and the Government, and has also mentioned them in the report on its visit to the Government of Mauritania.
33. The Subcommittee encourages the mechanism to actively advocate the strengthening of the legal framework of the institution by making recommendations to that effect, as it is permitted to do under article 3 (5) of the Act. It would be chiefly a matter of recommending that: (a) article 11 of the law be amended to ensure that the Chair of the mechanism is appointed by a transparent, inclusive and participatory procedure; (b) the members of the mechanism be completely separated from their ordinary functions for the duration of their term of office in the mechanism, this to apply not only to the officials but also to any member whose activities or functions could conflict with membership of the mechanism; and (c) article 30 of the Act also be brought into line with article 18 of the Optional Protocol, so that the Secretary-General is appointed or, at the very least, proposed by the mechanism.
34. While recognizing that the purpose of requiring membership to be a full-time commitment is to ensure members’ independence and availability, the Subcommittee recommends not insisting on the rule, except where members’ ordinary functions or activities create a direct conflict of interest in respect of their usual occupation. Otherwise this condition should be optional.
B.Recommendations relating to institutional issues
35.The Subcommittee’s concerns relate to the need for the mechanism to create the conditions that will enable it to exercise the various functions and powers conferred on it by article 19 of the Optional Protocol. In that regard, the Subcommittee notes in particular the absence of any strategy or workplan for the mechanism to discharge its mandate; the need for coordination with the various stakeholders, notably in respect of the handling and management of complaints and allegations; the need for training for members of the mechanism; and the current lack of clarity about the mechanism’s financial resources.
36. The mechanism should make an inventory of the gaps in the area of torture prevention in Mauritania. It will also be essential for the mechanism to carry out regular rigorous monitoring of conditions in places of deprivation of liberty and to draw up a strategy in accordance with its findings. This strategy should identify those places of deprivation of liberty that should be given priority in periodic inspections, based on the type and size of the facility, the seriousness of any human rights violations brought to the mechanism ’ s attention and whether the facility is accessible to other monitoring mechanisms.
37. On the basis of this strategy, the mechanism should draw up without delay a programme of work that gradually takes in all places of deprivation of liberty and places where persons deprived of their liberty could be held, in accordance with articles 4 and 19 of the Optional Protocol, taking care not to exclude any particular kind of institution or any geographical area. The Subcommittee refers here to the compilation of advice it has provided in response to requests from national preventive mechanisms (see CAT/C/57/4 , annex, and CAT/C/57/4/Corr.1).
38. The strategy must address the issue of the possible duplication of the mandate and of activities carried out by other actors, such as the National Human Rights Commission and civil society organizations. While recalling that a national preventive mechanism should complement rather than replace existing systems of oversight (see CAT/OP/12/5), the Subcommittee strongly encourages the mechanism to draw up specific proposals to ensure that the functions of all those working in the sector are clearly identified, understood and disseminated.
39.The Subcommittee has informed the Mauritanian authorities of the need for the mechanism to have a stable, adequate budget. The Subcommittee welcomes the fact that, in 2017, the mechanism’s budget was the subject of a special section of the annual State budget.
40. The Subcommittee recommends that the national preventive mechanism prepare a detailed budget of the expenditure necessary for the implementation of the above-mentioned programme of work. The budget should distinguish between setting-up costs, fixed overheads and variable operating expenses relating to specific activities such as visits to places of deprivation of liberty. The mechanism should also make good use of its right to appeal for donations and bequests, as authorized under article 23 of the Act, while noting that that provision does not in any way absolve the State party of its responsibility under article 18 (3) of the Optional Protocol to guarantee the financial resources required for the mechanism to function.
41.After its visit to Mauritania, the Subcommittee was informed of the adoption in February 2017 of a decree amending and supplementing some of the provisions of Decree No. 2016-110 establishing the honorariums and privileges of the Chair, the members and the Secretary-General of the mechanism. Article 4 bis of the new Decree stipulates that the plenary may make amendments, additions and allocations to the mechanism’s budget as necessary.
42. Now that the allocations have been approved by the plenary meeting of the mechanism under article 4 bis of the February 2017 Decree, the Subcommittee urges the mechanism to inform it in detail of its budget, including the specific budget lines for members ’ honorariums, staffing costs, headquarters overheads, costs of missions and visits, and all other expenditure envisaged. In this regard the Subcommittee recalls that the mechanism ’ s budget should make it possible to put in place a programme of stringent and effective visits in order to discharge its mandate to prevent torture in the country.
43.The Subcommittee notes with satisfaction the wide range of expertise among the members of the mechanism and the fact that the members have already received training organized by the Association for the Prevention of Torture. The Subcommittee wishes to point out, however, that it is important that members receive initial and continuing training so as to rapidly forge a shared identity and develop the technical skills and legislative competence that will enable them to function effectively, both individually and collectively. The Subcommittee also notes the contradiction between the requirement under the Act for members to serve on a full-time basis (art. 24), and the reality that members in fact serve on a part-time basis.
44. The Subcommittee invites the mechanism, in cooperation with the civil society actors already involved, to arrange for staff competence and knowledge to be strengthened, by means of both institutionalized and ad hoc training programmes, short courses and partnerships with universities and civil society organizations.
45.The Subcommittee welcomes the fact that the mechanism was able to conduct its first visit to a place of deprivation of liberty during the Subcommittee’s visit, and that it has since made unannounced visits to several other places of detention, including the Dar Naim Prison and the Women’s Prison, as well as various gendarmerie and police stations and police stations in Nouakchott. The mechanism has also visited a rehabilitation centre for children in conflict with the law.
46. The Subcommittee recommends that the national preventive mechanism make follow-up visits to the facilities already visited, to see how its recommendations have been implemented. The Subcommittee encourages the mechanism to continue its regular visits, based on the work plan it has drawn up and making effective and rational use of the resources at its disposal. The Subcommittee also urges the mechanism to systematically provide a full report on its visits to the Mauritanian authorities, with specific recommendations.
47.The Subcommittee noted during its visit that the various actors in the sector are aware of the mechanism’s existence and terms of reference. However, the Subcommittee observed that there is still some uncertainty around the mechanism’s responsibilities, in particular as regards the coordination of its activities and prerogatives with other stakeholders.
48. The Subcommittee recommends that the mechanism conduct awareness-raising and communication activities with a view to increasing its visibility and publicizing its mandate and work among the general public. The mechanism should also expand its contacts among national partners and become more involved with training programmes for judges, police officers, gendarmes, prison officers, health workers and members of the armed forces. It should also create a collaborative platform to regularly bring together the various parties involved in the prevention of torture.
49. The mechanism should take measures to ensure that its published annual reports are submitted and debated in Parliament as well as being submitted to the President of the Republic.
50. In the light of article 29 of its rules of procedure, whereby the annex to those rules should contain a diagram of the staffing structure, the Subcommittee invites the mechanism to provide information on its recruitment process and publish a list of its staff.
C.Recommendations relating to methodological issues
51.Although it is not possible to make detailed methodological comments on the visit to the civilian prison in Nouakchott conducted jointly with the mechanism, the Subcommittee nevertheless wishes to express its concern at the lack of preparation and methodological structure noted on the visit, and submits below a number of methodological recommendations on the basis of this first visit.
52. The mechanism should develop a rigorous methodology for the visits it makes within the framework of its mandate. In addition, it should design a database to store information on the physical features of each place of deprivation of liberty in Mauritania, such as the layout and furnishing of the blocks, as well as the measurements of buildings, yards and cells. The database should be maintained and regularly updated with information gathered during successive visits.
53. The Subcommittee draws the mechanism ’ s attention to the need to undertake full visits, which may take several days if necessary. The visiting team should conduct the visit following a programme worked out in advance and reflecting the purpose of the visit. Particular attention should be given to the distribution of the groups within the team on the basis of the objectives defined in advance.
54. Particular attention must be paid to interviews conducted without witnesses, and every care taken never to expose a detainee to any risk of reprisals. To that end, a detainee ’ s name should be sought and noted only in particular cases and for a specific purpose.
55. The mechanism should promptly adopt, as part of its methodology, a strategy and specific measures for the protection of persons who have cooperated with it and, in general, of all persons deprived of their liberty, as well as their family members.
56. The Subcommittee believes that unannounced visits or visits at short notice make it possible to obtain a clearer picture of the conditions in places of deprivation of liberty and of the treatment of detained persons.
57. The Subcommittee urges the Mechanism to undertake unannounced visits and to keep the schedule of visits confidential.
58. The Subcommittee emphasizes the importance of keeping the initial interview with the prison authorities as brief as possible so as to be able to devote maximum time and attention to the conditions of detention. The initial interview should be followed by a general tour of the institution. Places identified as sensitive should be inspected more thoroughly.
59. The visiting team should pay particular attention to the way in which it introduces itself and explains its work, taking care to clarify and publicize the mechanism ’ s terms of reference and highlighting its goal of prevention and the purpose of its visits and interviews.
60. The Subcommittee recommends that the mechanism prepare leaflets for persons deprived of their liberty and for their families, explaining its terms of reference, the international standards on the prevention of torture and its methods of work, and giving contact details. The leaflet should also explain the notion of informed consent and make clear that reprisals of any kind should be brought to its attention.
61. The final interview with the officials of the institution visited should be devoted to a presentation of the most important observations and the mechanism ’ s recommendations, if any — particularly recommendations that can be implemented immediately. The mechanism should also remind the authorities of their responsibility to prevent any act of reprisal against detainees or any other person, including officials, for having spoken with the mechanism.
62. The Subcommittee recommends that the mechanism prepare visit reports promptly after each visit. In addition to general information on the visit and the problems noted, the report should include information that enables readers, including those who are not familiar with the institutions visited, to form a realistic picture of the situation. The size of cells, a description of the lighting, the toilet facilities and the provision for ventilation should be carefully recorded.
63. The findings and recommendations should emphasize prevention and set out the root causes of the problems found in the places of detention, and make practical recommendations and proposals for remedial measures that can be monitored and verified.
64. The mechanism ’ s recommendations should be based on international human rights standards, in particular the relevant United Nations instruments on the prevention of torture and other ill-treatment, including the Guidelines and Measures for the Prohibition and Prevention of Torture, Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in Africa, the United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty and the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders.
65. The Subcommittee believes that the mechanism ’ s strong mandate gives it enormous potential as a national preventive mechanism. Accordingly, the Subcommittee encourages the mechanism to promptly draw up its working methods, a strategy and a workplan, and to strengthen its capacity to discharge its responsibilities under the Optional Protocol, through further training.
66. The Subcommittee encourages the mechanism to seek assistance from OHCHR in following up on these recommendations. The Subcommittee encourages the mechanism to take steps to contact other national preventive mechanisms in order to identify good practices.
67. This report is being sent to the mechanism on a confidential basis, in accordance with article 16 (1) of the Optional Protocol; any decision to make the report public will be left to the mechanism ’ s discretion. The Subcommittee does, however, recommend that the report be published and requests that it be notified of the mechanism ’ s decision in this regard.
68. The Subcommittee requests the mechanism to give it a full account, within six months of the date of transmission of this report, of the actions taken to implement the recommendations contained herein.
69. The Subcommittee encourages the mechanism to transmit its annual reports to it and reaffirms its readiness to do all it can to help achieve the shared aim of preventing torture and ill-treatment and to ensure that commitments are translated into action.
Liste des interlocuteurs du Sous-Comité pour la prévention de la torture et autres peines ou traitements cruels, inhumains ou dégradants
I.Mécanisme national de prévention de la torture
• Mohamed Lemine Ould Haless , Président
• Sall Ousmane
• Mohamed Ould Boubacar
• Ly Saïdou
• Ejwedna Ould el- Hadrami
• Tahra Himbara
• Bismillah Elih Ahmed Saleh
• Toutou Mint Ahmed Jedou
• Ahmed Vall Ould Bounouzouma
• Zeinebou Mint Taleb Moussa
• Khadijetou Sakho
• Boubacar Ould Messoud
• Mohamedou Ould Mohamed el- Moctar
Commissariat aux droits de l’homme, à l’action humanitaire et aux relations avec la société civile
•Cheikh Tourad Ould Abdel Maleck, Commissaire
•Rassoul Ould el Khal, Commissaire adjoint
•Khalifa Hamza, Conseillère au Ministère des affaires étrangères
Ministère de l’intérieur et de la décentralisation
•Ahmedou Ould Abdalla, Ministre de l’intérieur et de la décentralisation
•Mohamed Lemine Ould Tiyeb, Directeur général adjoint de la police
•Mohamed Moustapha Mohamed Vall, Directeur des affaires politiques
•Mohammed Salem Ould Meme, Colonel en charge des prisons
Ministère de la défense nationale
•Diallo Mamadou Bathia, Ministre de la défense nationale
•Hanena Ould Henoune, Secrétaire général
•Moctar Touley Ba, Président par intérim
•Sidi Mohamed Mohamed Lemine, Procureur général
•Khalil Ahmedou, Procureur de la République de Nouakchott Ouest
•Abdallah Abdel Fettah, Secrétaire général
Ministère de la santé
•Ahmed Oud Sid Ahmed Ould Die, Secrétaire général du Ministère de la santé
•Abderrahmane Ould Jiddou, Directeur de la santé de base
•Mohamed Lemine Ould Sidi, membre du Service de surveillance à la Direction de la lutte contre la maladie
Ministère des affaires sociales, de l’enfance et de la famille
•Fatimetou Habib, Ministre des affaires sociales, de l’enfance et de la famille
•Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Sidi Yahya, Secrétaire général
•Zeina Mint Mohamed, Directrice du Centre de protection et d’intégration sociale des enfants
III.Commission nationale des droits de l’homme
•Irabiha Mint Abdel Wedoud, Présidente
•Mohamed Brahim, Secrétaire général
•Mohamed Lemine Ould Cheikh Abdellah
•Mohamed Vall Ould Youssef
•Abderrahmane Ould Boubou
•Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Zoubeir
•N’gaïdé Alioune Moctar
•Mohamed Lemine Ahmed Seyfer
•Hawa Djibril Ba
•Mohamed Ould Mohamed Saleck
•Mohamed Salem Macire
•Ahmedou Ould Khteir
•Binta N’Diaga Diouf
•Sidi Abdallahi (Action pour la protection des droits de l’homme)
•Aïchetou Ahmed (Association des femmes chefs de famille)
•Oumoul Kheir Kane (RECTID)
•Brahim Ramdane (IRA)
•Diagana Abass (Touche pas à ma nationalité)
•Sektou Mohamed Vall (AMANE)
•Mamadou Sarr (Forum des organisations nationales des droits humains)
•Sall Amadou Cledor (Fondation Noura)
•Mbaye Fatimata (Association mauritanienne des droits de l’homme)
•Sy Abou Bocar (Collectif des victimes de la répression)