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Mauritania: State torture 'routine'-scathing new report

Torturers sing songs while they torture

Mauritania is routinely and systematically torturing detainees, said Amnesty International today, as it published a scathing new report denouncing numerous kinds of torture, including the “Jaguar”, where a victim is bound hand and foot, suspended from an iron bar and severely beaten.

Amnesty’s 35-page report, “Mauritania: torture at the heart of the state”, identifies precise locations where torture is being perpetrated - one, the first police brigade, is opposite the World Health Organisation (WHO) building in the capital Nouakchott - and information about the torturers themselves.

Amnesty International Mauritania expert Gaëtan Mootoo said:

“Amnesty International has gathered numerous statements from victims of torture that gives precise information about the people who tortured them - including their names, ranks, and functions.

“All categories of prisoners - whether they are suspected Islamists, soldiers accused of involvement in a coup, or those detained for simple ordinary crimes - have been tortured.

“Torturers can carry out their abuse safe in the knowledge that the judicial system will turn a blind eye. It is an abomination of justice.”

Amnesty International conducted detailed research in Mauritania in February-March and July 2008, and has compiled information about numerous types of torture in use by state agents in the country.

Torture methods include the “Jaguar” position; electric shocks (including to the soles of the feet); cigarette burns (one prisoner described having lighted cigarettes stuck into his ears); sexual violence (including being sodomised with police truncheons); having hair pulled from beards, armpits and around the genitals; being cut with a metal saw; being urinated on; being denied sleep and having threats of rape made against family members.

Amnesty’s report shows that torture is common against all categories of detainee - from those held on suspicion of ordinary crimes, to military personnel accused of attempted coups and those suspected of involvement with Al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI). Particular types of torture, however, appear to be applied more commonly to certain detainees: forced hair removal is often used against Islamist detainees, some of whom have been made to endure four hours of this torture for at least seven consecutive nights.

Torture sessions often involve a calculated escalation in severity and a ritual where the torturers chant threatening songs. An alleged Islamist arrested in January 2008 has described how “The torturers hummed a refrain while they hit me: they sang ‘it is the night of the murderers, the night of the ghosts’. While one group sang, another group hit me”.

While torture victims are sometimes blindfolded and torturers wear balaclavas to disguise themselves, often no attempt has been made to conceal identities. Alleged torture victims have supplied Amnesty with precise information about their perpetrators. Torture was sometimes apparently coordinated by phone calls from superior officers and one female police inspector present during torture reportedly confirmed that “orders come from above”.

Amnesty is calling for an independent investigation into torture in Mauritania, for suspected perpetrators to be suspended and where possible prosecuted, and for judges to declare as inadmissable any confessions or other “evidence” obtained through torture.

Meanwhile Amnesty is calling for the management of key prisons and penal institutions in Mauritania to be placed under the control of the Ministry of Justice after it discovered squalid conditions at facilities being operated by the Interior Ministry. At the Dar Naïm prison and the Nouadhibou prison, Amnesty delegates witnessed the “unbelievable spectacle” of prisoners pressed up against one another in stifling, vermin- and flea-infested cells. Amnesty believes these conditions - where some prisoners have not even been able to see the sun for months or years - constitute cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

  • read the report

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