President Dr. Guillermo Ahumada joined, on behalf of the I.M.F.C., a group of individuals and organizations that advocate for human rights and religious freedom around the world. Representing various ethnic origins united in the objective of defending the freedom of religion or belief so that everyone can freely choose, practice and assemble, they have addressed Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to express their concern about the situation in Mauritania, substantiated and confirmed by reports from reputable and credible organizations.
We reproduce here the full letter: Dear Mr. Secretary, We, the undersigned, are a group of individuals and organizations that advocate for human rights and religious freedom around the world. We represent diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds but are united in our goal of promoting freedom of religion or belief for all. We are also writing to you to express our concern regarding the situation in Mauritania. Currently, there are several situations occurring within the country that are matters of grave concern to us. In 2002 Mauritania appeared in front of the UN Human Rights Council and went through the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process.
In May of this year, the Global Slavery Index released a report where Mauritania was documented for having the third highest number of people being held in bondage, with a reported number of 32 slaves per 1,000 members of the population. Mauritania was the last country in the world where hereditary slavery was made illegal back in 1981. Despite this, concerns remain that slavery is still practiced within the country to this very day. A visit from the United Nations 2022determined that progress was being made in ending this practice, while a Multi-Agency visit coordinated by the office of the US Trade Representative in March 2023 gathered information and data about the Judicial System and how it investigates and prosecutes cases involving the Slave Trade. At this time, was the Department of Homeland Security involved with this visit? If not, was any input requested from the other agencies? We also have other specific concerns regarding those seeking to freely practice their faith or no faith at all. Our first concern covers the use of Apostasy and Blasphemy Laws, and despite there not being any executions, Capital Punishment is a prescribed punishment for these offenses placing Mauritania in concert with ten other members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference that mandated this sentence. We are concerned with the treatment of the Non-Islamic Religious Minorities in the Country as well. In 2023 Open Doors USA placed Mauritania as the 20th out of the 50 countries on its World Watch List of countries where Christians face persecution. Although the country has a small Christian Population of 11,000 people, most Churches are only open to foreigners. This law effectively criminalizes Foreign Aid Workers from actively worshiping native citizens as well. In the most recent report on International Religious Freedom released in May 2023, The US State Department documented that some extremist and Islamist Militant Groups called for increased implementation of Sharia law throughout Mauritania. We also appreciate the efforts by Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain, who has visited the Country twice so far during his appointment. We are extremely concerned about the circumstances surrounding the death of Oumar Diop in Police Custody on May 28th. Mr. Diop was preparing to emigrate to the United States and was killed in a Police Station. Despite this not being a case of Religious Persecution, we cannot remain silent about this event as it appears to raise concerns regarding the activities of the Security Forces in the Country.
These are some of the conditions that compel the undersigned to ask that Mauritania be granted TPS (Temporary Protected Status) by the United States. This is a request we do not make lightly. Dozens of people who have been returned to Mauritania from the United States have found themselves not only incarcerated but also abused by authorities when they are returned. We also ask that you contact Ambassador Hussain regarding his visit to Mauritania. This conversation is necessary in order for the proper determinations to be made by the State Department. We look forward to your reply.