Partly Free
PR Political Rights 14 40
CL Civil Liberties 22 60
Last Year's Score & Status
35 100 Partly Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.

header1 Overview

Mauritania has experienced decades of military rule but recent presidential and parliamentary elections have been relatively credible. A variety of media outlets operate, but journalists risk arrest for reporting on sensitive topics and many self-censor. Black Mauritanians, the Haratin population, women, and LGBT+ people face discrimination. The government has taken steps to address the problem of institutionalized slavery and discrimination but has also arrested activists motivated by those issues.

header2 Key Developments in 2022

  • In July, the government passed a law that expanded the use of Arabic in primary schools, mandated Arabic classes for students who speak other languages, and obliged parents to enroll first-grade children in public schools. Parents criticized the policy as discriminatory for imposing the use of Arabic.
  • In December, the case of former president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who was accused of corruption in 2021, was formally transferred to an anticorruption court. In June, the Senalioune news outlet had reported that he may have accumulated $90 million in cash along with significant land holdings through corruption.

PR Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 2.002 4.004

The president is chief of state and is directly elected to up to two five-year terms. In June 2019, Mauritanians elected Mohamed Ould Ghazouani to succeed term-limited Ould Abdel Aziz. Ould Ghazouani of the Insaf (Equity) party, then known as the Union for the Republic, won 52 percent of the vote in the first round. Antislavery activist Biram Dah Abeid won 19 percent. Mohamed Ould Boubacar, the Islamist party Tawassoul’s candidate, won 18 percent. The election represented Mauritania’s first-ever peaceful transfer of executive power, signaling a departure from a history of military coups.

The authorities dismissed opposition claims of electoral misconduct and fraud. Local and international observers noted irregularities but praised the poll’s peaceful conduct and found it generally satisfactory.

The prime minister is head of government and is appointed by the president. President Ould Ghazouani named Mohamed Ould Bilal, a longtime public official, premier in August 2020. Ould Bilal’s predecessor resigned after he was implicated in a corruption case.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 2.002 4.004

The 157-seat National Assembly is the country’s sole legislative body; the Senate was dissolved under constitutional reforms adopted in 2017. Members are directly elected to five-year terms in a mixed system of direct and plurality voting; four members are directly elected by the diaspora.

Ninety-eight political parties participated in the September 2018 National Assembly elections, including members of the opposition National Front for the Defense of Democracy, a coalition that boycotted previous elections. Insaf won 89 seats, while Tawassoul, the largest opposition party, won 14.

A coalition of opposition groups called the elections fraudulent, but most Mauritanian politicians as well as African Union (AU) observers deemed them credible. AU observers said “imperfections” in the process did not appear to have affected the polls’ credibility.

A3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 2.002 4.004

The opposition has considered the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) biased in favor of the government, but the commission selected in October 2022 is reportedly more balanced. In September, ruling and opposition parties agreed on a proposition made by the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization related to the organization of upcoming parliamentary, municipal, and regional elections. In December, CENI announced that the polls will be held in May 2023.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 2.002 4.004

Several obstacles prevent parties from successfully mobilizing their bases. A 2018 decree commanded the government to dissolve all political parties unable to gain at least 1 percent of votes in two consecutive district elections. In March 2019, 76 parties were disbanded under the decree. Insaf often co-opts leaders of smaller parties.

The environment for opposition figures has improved under Ould Ghazouani, who has met with opposition leaders and civil society activists. In April 2022, the government launched a political dialogue, though a group of parliamentarians criticized it as insufficient.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 1.001 4.004

While opposition candidates can attract significant popular support, opposition parties lack an institutional base. Some are formed by splinter factions of Insaf that later rejoin it, sometimes because of active co-optation. Opposition leaders may face repression for criticizing government policies.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 1.001 4.004

The political choices of Mauritanians are greatly influenced by the military. Mauritania has either been under military rule or led by a military leader with little interruption since 1978, though elections in the late 2010s were generally considered credible and the military’s overt involvement in politics has recently lessened. President Ould Ghazouani is a former defense minister and general, though he was elected in a competitive and democratic poll. The influence of religious leaders has grown stronger as the military’s has declined.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 0.000 4.004

The Bidhan ethnic group dominates government. Black Mauritanians and the Haratin ethnic groups are underrepresented in elected positions and in high-level government posts. Discrimination hinders the ability of these groups to gain power. Thousands of Black Mauritanians who were forced out of their villages by the military in 1989 have been allowed to return, but face difficulties when trying to enroll in the census and register to vote. Civil society activists have denounced the increasing importance of tribal affiliation in government appointments.

Women participate in politics at lower levels than men, largely due to cultural norms, and women’s interests are poorly represented in national politics. Women held 31 National Assembly seats as of the end of 2022. In May, Tawassoul expelled parliamentarian Saadani Mint Khaytour after she criticized its positions on women’s rights and slavery.

C Functioning of Government

C1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 1.001 4.004

The executive dominates the legislative branch. The president has the power to dissolve the National Assembly, but lawmakers cannot impeach the president. The military still maintains significant influence on policymaking.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 2.002 4.004

Corruption is widespread. Numerous laws address corruption, money laundering, and terrorist financing, but they are not effectively enforced. Public contracts are typically awarded in exchange for bribes or on the basis of patronage. Bribes are often necessary for ordinary government processes like obtaining licenses and permits.

While the Ould Ghazouani government has publicly expressed its desire to combat corruption, critics claimed it has used anticorruption efforts to target political opponents. In April 2022, Prime Minister Ould Bilal vowed to complete a new anticorruption strategy and professionalize auditing bodies.

In 2021, former president Ould Abdel Aziz was charged with corruption, money laundering, and misappropriation of public funds; he was bailed in January 2022 for medical reasons. His passports were due to be returned in September as he prepared to travel abroad for medical care. In June, the Senalioune news outlet reported that Ould Abdel Aziz may have accumulated $90 million in cash along with significant land holdings through corruption. In December, his case was formally referred to an anticorruption court.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 1.001 4.004

The government does not operate with transparency, particularly in granting mining and fishing licenses, land distribution, government contracts, and tax payments.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 2.002 4.004

Mauritania has a vibrant media landscape, with several privately owned newspapers, television stations, and radio stations in operation. However, journalists who cover sensitive topics or scrutinize the political elite may face harassment, wiretapping, and occasional arrest. Several repressive laws remain on the books, including those criminalizing defamation, the dissemination of “false” information, cybercrime, and blasphemy. Authorities have routinely arrested journalists for publishing critical content in the past.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 2.002 4.004

Mauritania is an Islamic republic. Non-Muslims cannot proselytize or become citizens, and those who convert from Islam to another religion lose their citizenship. However, non-Muslim communities do not face targeted persecution.

Though no one has been executed for apostasy, it is punishable by death. In 2018, the parliament passed a law strengthening capital punishment for certain blasphemy offenses and removing the possibility of repentance to avoid a death sentence.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 3.003 4.004

Academic freedom is largely respected. A 2018 rule prohibiting high school graduates aged 25 and above to register in public universities was suspended in 2019, after police violently dispersed a protest against the policy. Student activists sometimes face pressure from university administrators, including threats of expulsion and intimidation.

The increasing use of Arabic as the language of instruction in universities has hindered access to education for Black Mauritanians, who mainly speak other languages. In July 2022, the government passed a law expanding the use of Arabic in primary schools and mandating classes on that language for speakers of other languages. Mauritanians were also obliged to enroll their first-grade children in public schools for the 2022–23 academic year. Parents criticized the policy as discriminatory for imposing the use of Arabic. In December, authorities announced the creation of an institute for the promotion of local languages.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 2.002 4.004

In 2021, the parliament passed a law prohibiting “attacks on the authority of the state and the honor of the citizen” through behavior that is deemed to attack national unity, including via personal communications. Individuals have faced reprisals for expressing views critical of the government on social media, including termination of employment from government agencies.

In 2020, the parliament approved legislation punishing offenses including the dissemination of purportedly false news and the creation of false identities online. Offenders can receive prison sentences of up to five years and fines ranging from 50,000 to 200,000 ouguiya ($1,400 to $5,400).

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 2.002 4.004

While the constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, organizers are required to obtain official consent for large gatherings, which is often denied. Government-sponsored protests often occur without incident while opposition and civil society demonstrations are often met with police repression. In October 2022, for example, a protest over the government’s educational reforms was dispersed by the police. However, protests have become less violent in recent years.

Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 because protests in Mauritania have become less violent in recent years.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 1.001 4.004

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), particularly antislavery organizations, frequently encounter intimidation, violence, and repression in carrying out their activities. The Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement in Mauritania (IRA Mauritania), for example, had been denied permission to register as an NGO since its 2008 formation.

In 2021, the parliament passed a new law to replace the Law of Associations of 1964, considerably easing the process to create and register an organization. IRA Mauritania was recognized as a human rights organization that year. The Interior Ministry can still temporarily suspend associations without notice, however. Also in 2021, the government announced the creation of an online platform for registering associations.

The Alliance for the Refoundation of the Mauritanian State, which opposes the country’s caste system, has faced government scrutiny, with authorities disrupting meetings and arresting members in recent years.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 2.002 4.004

Workers have the legal right to unionize, but unions require approval from the public prosecutor to operate and often face hostility from employers. The right to collective bargaining is not always respected, and the government sometimes pressures union members to withdraw their membership. The right to strike is limited by notice requirements and other onerous regulations.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 1.001 4.004

Mauritania’s judiciary lacks independence. The president has the power to unilaterally appoint many key judges, including three of the six judges on the Constitutional Court and the chair of the Supreme Court. The courts are subject to political pressure from the executive branch. Instances of judges facing retaliatory measures for issuing rulings against the government have been reported.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 1.001 4.004

Due process rights are often not respected in practice. Suspects are frequently arrested without being informed of the charges against them. Lengthy pretrial detentions are common. Arbitrary arrests of opposition politicians, journalists, and human rights activists occur with some frequency.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 1.001 4.004

Torture and abuse occur in prisons and detention centers, and perpetrators are rarely held accountable. Prisons are plagued by violence, are overcrowded, and lack basic sanitation; food shortages are also common. Children are sometimes held with the adult prison population. Police frequently beat suspects following their arrest.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 1.001 4.004

Same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Mauritania and punishable by death for men. LGBT+ individuals generally hide their sexual orientation or gender identity due to severe persecution. Racial and ethnic discrimination remains a serious problem.

Sharia law as applied in Mauritania discriminates against women. The testimony of two women is equal to that of one man. Female victims of crime are entitled to only half the financial compensation that male victims receive.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 1.001 4.004

While the Bidhan population is relatively free to make personal decisions about residence, employment, and education, the choices of Black Mauritanians and the Haratin are often constrained by racial and caste-based discrimination. People without government identity cards are not allowed to travel in some regions, which disproportionately affects Black Mauritanians.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 2.002 4.004

Legally guaranteed property rights are not always enforced in practice, as it can be difficult to get property disputes fairly adjudicated in court. Complex laws and an opaque bureaucracy present challenges to starting a business.

Many Black Mauritanians who left their homes in the Senegal River Valley in the wake of the 1989 conflict have been unable to regain ownership of their land since returning. Local authorities reportedly allow Bidhan to appropriate land used by Haratin and Black Mauritanians. Residents of some southern villages have pushed back against what they consider unlawful expropriation of their land by the government and powerful investors.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 1.001 4.004

According to 2022 data from the UN Children’s Fund, as many as 40 percent of Mauritanian women were married as children. Female genital mutilation is illegal, but the law is rarely enforced and the practice remains common. Domestic violence and rape remain problems, victims rarely seek legal redress, and convictions for these crimes are rare. Laws banning adultery and morality offenses discourage sexual assault survivors from reporting incidents to police.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 0.000 4.004

Despite 2015 amendments to the antislavery law, slavery and similar practices remain a challenge, with many former slaves still reliant on their former owners due to racial discrimination, poverty, and other socioeconomic factors. The government has cracked down on NGOs that push for greater enforcement of the law and rarely prosecutes perpetrators, though two slave owners received prison terms in 2020. In November 2022, the National Human Rights Commission announced the establishment of a hotline to report cases of slavery.

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  • Global Freedom Score

    36 100 partly free