4 – Systematic violations of rights
The ITUC Global Rights Index


The ITUC affiliates in Mauritania are the Confédération Générale des Travailleurs de Mauritanie (CGTM), the Confédération Libre des Travailleurs de Mauritanie (CLTM), the Confédération Nationale des Travailleurs de Mauritanie (CNTM) and the Union des Travailleurs de Mauritanie (UTM).

Mauritania ratified Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948) in 1961 and Convention No. 98 on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949) in 2001.

In practice

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Systematic oppression of Mauritanian trade unions07-02-2020

The Mauritanian trade union movement is experiencing difficulties at every level, ranging from the defence of workers’ rights and gains before the labour courts or the ordinary courts to the blocking of local organisations and the violation of international conventions, not to mention the repression of trade unions and the weakening or even suppression of their role. Union organisations are often deprived of state subsidies and benefits and their representation on boards of directors is no longer respected. Trade unionists are even threatened with weapons, in public, as was the case with the general secretary of the CLTM (Confédération Libre des Travailleurs de la Mauritanie). The problems faced are all part of an unprecedented attack on trade union rights and the international conventions and labour standards guaranteeing the rights of trade unions to operate and to defend workers’ rights. Ghost unions are being set up in increasing numbers, led by retired military personnel and designed to vote against any decisions issued by genuine trade unions historically known for their activism.
One of the key violations seen over the past four years has been the denial of the workers’ right to form delegations within companies, depriving them of the ability to conduct negotiations within a legal framework designed to defend their rights. Furthermore, trade union organisations working to protect rights and ensure respect for the law have become targets of repression. The CLTM is one of the organisations singled out by the regime, which has excluded the union confederation from receiving state subsidies and has deprived its general secretary of his retirement pension and has barred him from taking part in international trade union events.

Teachers’ sit-in broken up by riot police10-05-2019

Riot police were deployed to intervene and break up the sit-in organised by the SLEM (Syndicat Libre des Enseignants Mauritaniens) teachers’ union on 10 May in front of the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training in Nouakchott. The union was calling for better conditions for teachers, including an increase in their pay and their benefits and the distribution of land to teachers.

Teachers threatened after taking strike action06-05-2019

Secondary school teachers’ union SIPES (Syndicat des Professeurs de l’Enseignement Secondaire) denounced the threats made against teachers by a number of school heads and regional directors after they had taken part in a strike that had brought the education sector to a standstill. The teachers subsequently warned the Education Ministry not to take measures against those who had exercised their right to strike.

Student union leader arrested at Nouakchott University30-04-2019

On 30 April 2019, the police arrested the general secretary of the executive bureau of the UNEM students’ union. The union reported that the arrest came after the director of the national centre for university services had summoned the union leader and warned him that he could be arrested at any moment. The arrest came a few days after student protests against the centre’s attempts to provide fewer meals than those offered to students residing at the new university campus.

Students injured during the breakup of a sit-in28-03-2019

According to the UNEM national students’ union, eight students were injured and taken to hospital following the police intervention during a sit-in organised in front of the university services centre. The students had gathered there to protest against the refusal to provide accommodation to hundreds of students and the deterioration of the services offered by the centre.

Student unions banned from meeting on university premises23-02-2019

The SNEM coalition of Mauritanian students’ unions denounced the university administration’s decision to ban all Mauritanian students’ unions from access to lecture halls to organise their union activities, effectively preventing them from meeting. The unions were astounded by the decision, given that they have been recognised by the administration and that they pose no threat to the universities.

CLTM general secretary questioned following a Facebook post29-12-2018

On Saturday 29 December 2018, Samory Ould Beye, general secretary of the Confédération Libre des Travailleurs de Mauritanie (CLTM), was taken in for questioning by the head of national security following a piece he posted on his Facebook page.
The head of national security demanded that the post be removed, on the grounds that its content “incited hatred by referring to the Rwandan genocide”.
The CLTM denounces the move as manipulation, aimed at covering up an incident that took place the day before, at a meeting with the Minister for Public Service, Labour and State Modernisation, during which a participant had pointed a gun at Samory Ould Beye.
The repeated intimidation attempts in the form of unlawful arrests and unfounded judicial reviews illustrate the Mauritanian government’s ruthless determination to thwart the CLTM’s activities.

Police raid at CGTM offices10-11-2018

Members of the CGTM leadership reported that at the end of 2017 and in 2018, the tax department shut down the head office of the CGTM on the pretext that the owner of the premises had failed to pay the taxes. The authorities even deployed the police, who entered the CGTM offices despite having been fully informed by the union’s general secretary about the inviolability of union premises. The sole purpose of these raids is to intimidate and harass the CGTM’s members.

Travel ban on CGTM general secretary03-11-2018

On 3 November, the general secretary of the CGTM, Abdellahi Ould Mohamed, was prevented by police from boarding his flight to Tunis, where he was to attend an International Labour Organization (ILO) workshop on migration governance. He had completed all the procedures required for his departure and had boarded the plane when airport police ordered him to disembark. The union leader said he received no explanation regarding the reason for this measure. The house arrest under which he had been placed as part of a judicial review had come to an end on 31 August and the Directorate of Public Security had returned him his passport on the orders of the court. The CGTM sees this as a blatant violation of trade union freedoms in the country.

CGTM condemns unfair dismissal of workplace representatives 31-08-2018

The CGTM has condemned the unfair dismissal of workers’ representatives by management at hotel TFEILA and construction and contracting firm Arab Contractors, in May and August 2018, without requesting authorisation from the labour inspectorate, as provided for by the law. According to the CGTM, the labourers employed by Arab Contractors for the construction of the Nema-Ain Ben Tili highway were collectively dismissed due to their trade union activities.

Police use force against and arrest striking dockers30-07-2018

Police armed with tear gas and batons violently broke up a peaceful protest of dockers in Arafat, in the south-east of the capital Nouakchott, on 30 July. A number of dock workers who had been taking part in the strike that had been underway for several days were also arrested. The dockers have been protesting for a number of years against trucks transporting the containers directly into the city, depriving them of work by preventing them from first offloading them at the port. Their demands also include a fully-equipped health centre, an ambulance and a transport line allowing easy access to the port, and to be consulted prior to the hiring of new dock workers.

Reopening of complaint against the government30-06-2018

In view of the Mauritanian state’s failure to meet its obligations, the CGTM announced it had reopened a complaint with the ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association, initially lodged in March 2016 but subsequently placed on hold. According to the trade union centre, “Mauritania is still dragging its feet” in three main areas: ending the legacy of slavery, the fight against child labour and the fight for freedom in union representation. The initial complaint had resulted in an International Labour Organization (ILO) mission to Nouakchott in January 2017, during which the parties had agreed on a roadmap. According to the confederation, the government has failed to honour its commitments under the roadmap signed with the unions affiliated to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), under the auspices of the ILO, which should have been met by November of the same year, such as the holding of trade union elections.

Discrimination against the CGTM 01-06-2018

The Confédération Générale des Travailleurs de Mauritanie (CGTM), an affiliate of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), was excluded from the workers’ delegation attending the 107th session of the International Labour Conference (ILC) in Geneva in June. The government decides which trade unions can be part of the official national delegation, systematically arguing that unions are selected on a rotating basis in the absence of union elections to determine representativeness. The CGTM however argues that the rotation principle is not respected, as some organisations are included in the union delegation every year whilst others, despite being representative, are consistently excluded. The Confédération Nationale des Travailleurs de Mauritanie (CNTM) has also called for the holding of elections to determine trade union representativeness. Although scheduled for 2017, the union elections were never held, in breach of the terms of the memorandum signed by the social partners in March 2017, under the supervision of the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Union representative dismissed by Société Nationale Industrielle et Minière18-03-2018

On 14 March 2018, workers protesting against the unfair dismissal of Sidina Ould Sidi Mohamed halted production at several sites of the Société Nationale Industrielle et Minière (SNIM) in the city of Zouérat (northern Mauritania).

The union representative had played a key role in a strike that lasted 65 days in 2015, making it the longest work stoppage in the history of the national mining and industrial company. In May 2017, the SNIM and its employees reached an agreement on pay rises and other benefits.
SNIM’s management is challenging Sidina Ould Sidi Mohamed’s status as a union representative – a stance backed by the government, which holds a 74% stake in the company – claiming that Sidina Ould Mohamed was dismissed after refusing to be transferred.
SNIM workers condemn the move as an unfair dismissal solely aimed at settling scores with the union representative. They are also demanding that the decision to transfer Sidina Ould Mohamed be overturned, failing which their collective action may be extended indefinitely.

Protest quashed, nine student union leaders arrested08-03-2018

Nine student union leaders taking part in a march in defence of their rights were arrested and held at the police station in Ksar. The march started out at the university’s legal and economic sciences faculty and was headed for the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research but was broken up by the police. A number of students are reported to have been seriously injured. The protest movement had been underway for two months and was calling for a reversal of the decision that had stripped thousands of students of their right to a grant.

Trade unionist killed and protests repressed at Nouakchott port07-09-2016

On 6 April 2016, during a dockworkers’ strike at the port of Nouakchott, trade unionist Moctar Ould Oueineni was fatally injured when police fired teargas to suppress a protest. On 7 November 2016, the police once again used force to repress strike action at the port. Thirty dockers were arrested. In both instances, the dockworkers, backed by the CGTM and the CLTM (both affiliated to the ITUC) were protesting against a decision by import companies to transfer containers directly to their own storage facilities where the unloading is done by migrants with even poorer pay conditions than theirs.

Dock workers’ strike repressed01-04-2016

In early April 2016, the police in Nouakchott repressed a rally and a march held by striking dock workers. Two trade union representatives, including the secretary of the local branch of the CGTM, Seyedna Ould Mohamed, were arrested and held in police custody. The dock workers at the Port of Nouakchott launched a strike on 4 April. They also managed to thwart the port management’s attempts to impose a trade union they did not support and that was opposed to the strike as a negotiating partner.

Anti-slavery activism severely repressed27-01-2016

On 27 January 2016, the local authorities of Dar Naim prohibited the holding of a rally organised by the Confédération Libre des Travailleurs de Mauritanie (CLTM) with the support of the Spanish agency for international development cooperation, AECID. They claimed that the decision had been taken due to the “political” nature of the rally, although it was simply intended to mark the launch of an awareness-raising campaign on slavery. The country continues to be severely affected by this scourge, both in its traditional and its contemporary forms. During 2015, the trade union centres received daily complaints from Mauritanian women returning from Saudi Arabia, where they had been the victims of human trafficking. The trade unions also alerted the ITUC and other international trade union organisations that hundreds of Mauritanian women continue to be trapped in forced labour in Saudi Arabia. A vigorous trade union campaign was therefore launched. Although Mauritania has continued to strengthen its legal arsenal designed to fight slavery - it was among the first countries to ratify the ILO Protocol of 2014 against forced labour – in practice, the exploiters are rarely troubled. By contrast, three well-known anti-slavery activists were arrested in November 2014 and condemned, in 2015, to two years in prison.

Negotiations abandoned at SNIM, police repression at union meeting 06-11-2015

On 6 November, in Zouérat, the authorities tried to stop SNIM workers from holding a general meeting. As the workers made their way to the place where the meeting was due to take place, the police stood in their path. According to the Confédération Générale des Travailleurs de Mauritanie (CGTM), the police barricade was not able to stop the workers from reaching the trade union office. The police, however, continued with their acts of provocation, using teargas bombs in the room where the meeting was being held. At the beginning of 2015, the SNIM had seen the longest strike in its history. It had ended on 3 April with a commitment from the management to hold negotiations on the workers’ demands, but at the beginning of November it had still not honoured its pledge. The general meeting had been organised to enable the workers’ representatives to report on their frustrated attempts to move forward with the negotiations and to decide what action to take.

Bad faith bargaining by mining company followed by harassment and intimidation of union delegates:19-06-2015

Workers at the National Industrial and Mining Company (SNIM) went on strike on 28 January 2015 to demand that the company honour pay rises agreed on 3 May 2014. Mohamed Abdallahi, General Secretary of the General Confederation of Mauritanian Workers (CGTM) explained that workers had negotiated and obtained increases from SNIM, the level to be determined by the board of directors, to take effect last October, at the same time as overtime and production bonuses. However the company constantly delayed the process, and the union became convinced it never seriously intended to honour its agreement. When the union finally announced on 14 January there would be a stoppage on 28 January to press for the respect of their demands, the company was quick to intimidate the workers and exert pressure on their union leaders. The company distributed flyers in the workplace warning workers not to take part in the stoppage. The workers’ delegates were given express orders not to use their offices on company premises to hold meetings with the workers, and the local police in Zouerate parked a police vehicle outside the union premises shortly before a rally was due to start. Then on the evening 22 January two union representatives, Kénémé Demba and Ahmed ould Abeily, were summoned to appear before the local Prefect. On 27 January three union representatives, Ahmed ould Abeily, Yaya Gaye and Mohamed ould Mohamed Salem, were informed that they would be laid off from 28 January until 4 February 2015, in a very obvious attempt to make it difficult for them to communicate with their colleagues. The workers went ahead with their action, and what had been foreseen as a six-hour stoppage became an all-out strike. Ahmed Vall Cheibani, the leader of one of the workers’ unions at SNIM, affiliatd to the National Confederation of Mautitanian Workers, (CNTM), was sacked on 12 February 2015, supposedly for lack of respect to a superior, without being able to defend himself against the charges. The CNTM protested at the dismissal, which was a blatant retaliation for his role in the strike. The strike dragged on, and the CGTM announced a march in solidarity with the SNIM workers’ strike at the end of February. They were refused permission by the authorities however, on the grounds that their march would disrupt the traffic, despite the fact that the planned route did not go through the area the authorities claimed would be affected. The Free Confederation of Mauritanian Workers (CLTM) also reported that workers had been threatened with eviction from company housing and that the company was refusing to restock the on-site store for the duration of the strike. By late March 2015 the dispute had still not been resolved.

National centre refused the right to hold anti-slavery rally; earlier protests repressed:19-06-2015

The government refused the Free Confederation of Mauritanian Workers (CLTM) the right to hold a two rallies on 27 and 28 January 2015, in Kissal and Dar Naim, in collaboration with the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), to draw public awareness to the issue of slavery and the laws surrounding it. The grounds for refusal were that trade unions should not involve themselves in politics, ignoring the fact that slavery, as a blatant violation of all labour rights, has long been a trade union issue. The proposal to hold the rallies followed the sentencing to two years’ imprisonment of three prominent Mauritanian anti-slavery activists Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid, president of the NGO Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA), the IRA’s vice-president Brahim Ould Bilal Ramdane, and Djiby Sow, president of the anti-slavery NGO Kawtal on 15 January 2015. The three had been held in custody since 11 November 2014 following their participation in a rally calling for the right of slave farmers to own the land they cultivate, a key feature in the country’s own National Roadmap to End Slavery. Five others had been arrested with them but were acquitted at the trial. National trade union centres, including the General Workers’ Confederation of Mauritania (CGTM) condemned the arrests at the time and many protests followed. The trial went ahead however, and was riddled with irregularities and violations of the defendants’ rights. Dozens of supporters protested outside the courthouse and the prosecutor’s office during the trial. The police used teargas and batons to disperse the crowd, reportedly leaving four injured. Mauritania did not criminalise slavery until 2007. There are an estimated 180,000 slaves in the country, yet there has only been one conviction for slavery in the last eight years.


The government excludes the CGTM from the National Labour Council, which is a consultative body that discusses labour-related issues. In practice, the government does not discuss legislation or policy related to labour with the CGTM. The government favours unions that are closer to it politically and does not take criteria of representativity into account as foreseen in the Labour Code.

Mass dismissal Kinross18-05-2014

The company Kinross-Tasiast, extracting and processing gold ore dismissed about 300 workers in 2013 for redundancy. The Confederation Libre des Travailleurs de Mauritanie (CLTM) argues that these dismissals are not justified as the economic situation of the company is stable. Workers have also reported that they are forced to do overtime work and are exposed to inadequate working conditions.

On 18 February 2014, workers demonstrated at the offices of the Prime Minister against these violations but were violently repressed by the security forces with tear gas. About 20 workers, including union representative Boubacar Ould Merzoug, were then detained at the police station of Ksar district in Nouakchott.

Arrests during demonstrations18-05-2014

The General Confederation of Mauritanian Workers (CGTM) reports that arrests of unionists during demonstration are common, even though they are released soon after. Repression by force is reported in the case of the Nouakchott’s Harbour Dockers, and in the Mining sector at large, where Mohamed Ould was killed during Police intervention in July 2012. Repeated cases of intimidation, threats and dismissals at Tasiast and Akjoujt Mines have occurred. Employers frequently hire replacement workers in order to break strikes.

Interference in strikes30-06-2013

Capital Drilling dismissed workers who had participated in a strike and stated that it would reinstate the workers if they left the union and agreed to work under a fixed term contracts rather their previous permanent contracts.

Violence and murder of unionists30-06-2012

In July 2012, workers at MCM, a mining company, went on strike when the employer violated the collective agreement. Security forces intervened in the strike killing Mohamed Ould Mechdhoufi, injuring several workers and arresting union leader, Uthmaan ould Kreivit.

Representativeness undermined26-01-2012

The trade union movement became increasingly fragmented during 2011. The Intersyndicale, grouping major union centres, became a thing of the past, in the midst of political rivalry and power struggles exacerbated by the government. By placing all 19 trade union centres on an equal footing, in breach of the labour legislation establishing representativeness criteria, the authorities effectively discriminated against the main organisations, depriving them in some instances of representation on tripartite bodies. On 27 April, the Confédération nationale des travailleurs de Mauritanie (CNTM) and the Confédération générale des travailleurs de Mauritanie (CGTM) denounced the tripartite negotiations charade and demanded representation elections. Their demands were ignored, in spite of the 2008 agreement on the holding and funding of these elections. The two confederations also called for the establishment of genuine social dialogue through the creation of a permanent consultation structure.

Obstacles to the election of workplace representatives 30-11-2011

The Confédération générale des travailleurs de Mauritanie (CGTM) denounced the blocking of union elections by public and parastatal institutions as well as many private companies. The CGTM also denounced interference by employers (such as the national water company Société nationale de l’eau or the Mauritanian Securities Services, etc.) promoting alternative lists of candidates affiliated to more malleable or corrupt trade union centres.

Every kind of ruse was used to prevent genuine union representation. For example, when the management at the food manufacturer Mauritanienne des produits alimentaires (MPA) realised that the CGTM was the only union to put forward a list of candidates, it wasted no time in presenting its own list, made up of company executives. On having its list rejected by the Labour Inspectorate, the company was then equally quick to launch a direct attack on two of the three CGTM candidates, firing one and pushing the other one to resign. At Agrineq (public maintenance works), the two CGTM workplace representatives (out of three in total) also faced persecution: one had his wages stopped for two months and the other found himself faced with a dismissal request, on grounds ultimately rejected by the labour inspectorate.

Ineffective labour inspection31-12-2010

The enforcement of rights is complicated by the fact that labour inspectors have few means at their disposal and corruption is rife. Some have to cover regions that extend over 6,000 square kilometres, without a telephone or car. Even when a dispute breaks out, labour inspections are limited to voluntary conciliation. Taking a case to court does not guarantee that a dispute will be resolved. The procedures for settling disputes have also become increasingly lengthy and complex. The legal environment is such that cases pile up and can be left to collect dust for years before often contradictory rulings are made. Furthermore, if the courts rule against them, employers can ignore the decision with impunity.

Interference and relentless anti-union tactics by many employers31-12-2010

In many companies, employers are ruthless with trade union activists, and sometimes do not hesitate to dismiss them with impunity. There is constant interference in trade union affairs. Trade union elections are delayed, manipulated or banned (Macore, Mauritel, Bemop, the Autonomous Port of Nouakchott, etc.). In the private sector, the increasing use of sub-contracting has weakened the trade union struggle. But multinational companies are also guilty of anti-union tactics. In January, for example, the Free Confederation of Mauritanian Workers (CLTM) denounced the aggressive behaviour of a Coca Cola executive towards his staff, particularly on the grounds of their union membership.

Ineffective labour inspection30-11-2009

The enforcement of rights is complicated by the fact that labour inspectors have few means at their disposal and corruption is rife. Some have to cover regions that extend over 6,000 square kilometres, without a telephone or car. Even when a dispute breaks out, labour inspections are limited to voluntary conciliation. When a union takes the matter to a higher level, the legal environment is such that court rulings are often contradictory and sometimes completely ignored by companies. The procedures for settling disputes have also become increasingly lengthy and complex. The Labour Code allows 30 days for conciliation, 120 days for mediation and 90 days for arbitration. Thus, in certain cases it will take seven or eight months to complete the procedure for settling a dispute.

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