Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions

In an August 2008 military coup, several officers overthrew democratically elected president Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi. The coup followed a March 2007 presidential election and parliamentary elections in 2006 and 2007; both elections were deemed free and fair by international observers. Since the coup, a military junta known as the High State Council (HSC) has governed the country under its leader, General Mohamed Ould Abdel  Aziz, although Aziz stepped down on April 15 to run in the scheduled June 6 presidential elections. The current interim government is led by Senate President Ba M'Bare; the HSC continues to control national security. The government's human rights record worsened following the August coup. Abuses included arbitrary arrest; politically motivated detention; harsh prison conditions; mistreatment and torture of detainees; and prolonged pretrial detention. Corruption was a problem. There were restrictions on freedoms of press and assembly. Discrimination against women, female genital mutilation, child labor, and the political marginalization of southern-based Afro-ethnic groups continued to be problems. Traditional caste-based servitude, slavery, and forced labor persisted.

Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

The United States' engagement with the country seeks to support democratic forces, provide humanitarian assistance, and promote human rights, particularly in the context of the country's multi-ethnic society. While the junta remains in place, the United States concentrates on supporting grass-roots partners.

Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance 

Prior to the August coup, good governance activities included a U.S.-funded NGO program to advise the Mauritanian National Assembly and other member caucuses on internal rules of procedure and member party caucus development. The program also provided basic administrative and research training to commission assistants.

After the coup, the U.S. Government suspended all foreign assistance to the government, except for humanitarian assistance programs. The U.S. continues outreach and public diplomacy activities to highlight the abuses of the regime and to bolster the influence of democratic forces.

The U.S. Government supports political parties, civil society, and media efforts to reinstate democracy. U.S. officials meet regularly with opposition leaders to advise on prodemocracy strategies. The United States also provides media training to local journalists on how to establish a viable press. Capitalizing on the 2008 U.S. elections, U.S. public diplomacy events included digital video conferences on topics such as the U.S. Electoral College and the new U.S. administration. In addition, U.S. officials held an election event including wide screen coverage of the 2008 U.S. election returns. The U.S. Government also hosted a live viewing of President Obama's swearing-in ceremony followed by a debate led by civil society leaders on peaceful transition of power and the inviolable pact between voters and their elected representatives. Current efforts through visiting speakers, women's day commemorations, and cultural exchanges continue to underscore themes of peaceful transition of power, democracy, and accountability. U.S.-funded grants give priority to local governments, associations and NGOs that oppose the coup.

In addition, the United States supports grassroots activities that strengthen the country's traditional religious structures to oppose external radicalization efforts. Recurring visits of American Islamic scholars have forged closer bilateral ties while Special Self Help, literacy and humanitarian distribution programs conducted with local imams have positively impacted communities and populations most vulnerable to radicalization, and promoted the integration of disaffected youth into society. Programs also provided educational tutoring, girls' mentoring, and community-based humanitarian assistance. The U.S. Government supports the full integration of Afro-Mauritanian repatriates who were former refugees in Senegal and Mali. The United States supported refugees' social reintegration and the creation of a legal and social assistance center in the city of Boghe as well as efforts by Black Moor Haratine associations to overcome the vestiges of slavery.