Malawi African Association and Others v. Mauritania, African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights Comm. Nos. 54/91, 61/91, 98/93, 164/97 à 196/97 and 210/98 (2000)

Complaint alleging violations of rights to health, work, property, life and cultural life under the African Charter on Human and People's Rights (Articles 14, 16, 5, 4, 17).

Date of the Ruling: 
May 11 2000
African Commission on Human and People's Rights
Type of Forum: 

Five joined communications alleged the existence of slavery and analogous practices in Mauritania and of institutionalized racial discrimination perpetrated by the ruling Moor community against the more populous black community. It was alleged, amongst other things, that black Mauritanians were enslaved, routinely evicted or displaced from their lands, which were then confiscated by the government along with their livestock.  It also was alleged that black Mauritanians were denied access to employment and were subjected to tedious and unremunerated work. The communication also made allegations about the conditions of detention of people who had been imprisoned for political cause and other reasons. This case note will focus solely on the Commission's findings with regard to ESC rights.

The Commission concluded the general state of health of the prisoners deteriorated due to the lack of sufficient food, blankets and adequate hygiene. As the Mauritanian State was directly responsible for this state of affairs, Article 16 (right to enjoy the best attainable state of physical and mental health) had been violated.  The Commission also found that the confiscation and looting of the property of black Mauritanians and the expropriation or destruction of their land and houses before forcing them to go abroad constituted a violation of the right to property (Article 14) as well as of the right to freedom of movement and residence (Article 12(1)).  The Commission also found a violation of Article 2 (the prohibition on discrimination in the enjoyment of Charter rights). The Commission stated that, in light of Article 23(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 7 of the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, there had been a violation of Article 5 of the Charter due to practices analogous to slavery.  The Commission concluded that it had insufficient evidence upon which to determine if there has been a violation of the right to partake the cultural life of one's community (Article 17) in terms of the government denying black groups the right to speak their own languages. 

Keywords: Malawi African Association and Others v. Mauritania, African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights Comm. Nos. 54/91, 61/91, 98/93, 164/97 à 196/97 and 210/98 (2000), Health, Property, Rights

Enforcement of the Decision and Outcomes: 

The commission urged the Government to, amongst other things: take measures to ensure the restitution of the belongings looted from them at the time of the expulsion: take the necessary steps for the reparation of and compensation of victims;  to take measures for the effective enforcement of laws prohibiting slavery in Mauritania. This did not occur.  Post-the decision, concern about the physical and mental health of political prisoners and the treatment of prisoners in pre-trial detention continued. Slavery and forced labour continued also.  Following a non-violent military coup in August 2005, the human rights situation there has apparently improved.

Groups involved in the case: 

Maître Fatimata MBAYE, Présidente de l' Association Mauritanienne des Droits de l’Homme (AMDH) Association Mauritanienne des Droits de l’Homme BP 5012 NOUAKCHOTT MAURITANIE Tel : 00 222 52 55 159 Fax : 00 22 22 528 94 ou 00 22 22 51 831 Email : Ms. Sarr Diop, Union Interafricaine des Droits de l’Homme and RADDHO Union Interafricaine des Droits de l’Homme (Interafrican Union for Human Rights) 01 BP 1346 Ouagadougou 01 Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso Tel. (226) 31-61-45 Fax (226) 31-61-44 Website Other groups involved: Malawi African Association Amnesty International, Collectif des Veuves et Ayants-droit

Significance of the Case: 

The Commission's finding a violation of the positive obligations imposed by Article 16 is significant. Furthermore, the Commission found that acts that would violate socio-economic rights (denial of food, health services) also constituted violations of civil and political rights - a clear illustration of the indivisibility and interdependence of such rights.  Finally, the Commission emphasised that the responsibility of the state in relation to the right to health is ‘heightened' in cases where the individual is incarcerated.