Mauritania: organizing an international human rights advocacy competition (10 June 2015)

The third international Mauritania human rights advocacy competition took place at the Nouakchott Convention Center on 22 April 2015, under the high patronage of the Mauritanian Ministry of Justice. Nine lawyers from Mauritania, France, Morocco, Tunisia, Palestine, Burkina Faso, Switzerland and Lebanon competed in the event and dealt with a recent and concrete case of human rights violation. Five of the nine selected candidates were women lawyers, which was a rather positive signal in the context of Mauritania where only three women are members of the Bar.

This event was a success for the third consecutive year and helped strengthen dialogue among legal actors in Mauritania. The winner, Mr Olivier Yelkouny, was invited to participate in the International Pleading Competition of Palestine that takes place every October in Jerusalem. His original case, "Je suis la voix des missa" http://fr.africatime.com/mauritanie/articles/concours-international-de-plaidoirie-en-mauritanie ("I am the voice of the missa"), which he admirably pleaded, dealt with women accused of witchcraft in Burkina Faso and unjustly rejected by their community.

Against the background of anti-terrorism

Like all States in the region, Mauritania is confronted with the development of terrorism. This scourge, which threatens the lives and security of civilians, brings the credibility of the State into play, prompting it to respond vigorously. The fight against terrorism jeopardizes the maintenance of individual freedoms and respect of fundamental rights, that of due process in particular. The organizers of this competition are intent on reminding States of the fundamental need to respect the most basic rights, whatever the geopolitical context. A State cannot call fundamental rights into question under the pretext of the fight against terrorism without severely damaging the social contract, which is the philosophical foundation of all nations.

Furthermore, human rights are still emerging in Mauritania and efforts by local actors and civil society to establish them should be supported. The contested census of black populations in Mauritania, the persistence of slavery, the maintenance of the death penalty as part of the legal arsenal (despite the existence of a moratorium) and violations of the freedom of expression are all topical issues that call for the organization of such events in Mauritania.

Lawyers are key actors in the protection of our individual freedoms

Lawyers play a crucial role in contemporary society, especially in the protection of our individual freedoms. Looking beyond the formal competition as such which brings together lawyers from different backgrounds, this event makes it possible to highlight and defend recent concrete and individual cases of human rights violations. Whereas denouncing an inhuman situation is one of the objectives that lawyers have set themselves by participating in this competition, the arguments used to achieve this end are central to the competition.

Through their pleadings, lawyers demonstrate by legal reasoning that the behaviours behind the denounced violations should not exist under the rule of law. And this is indeed our prime concern: to bring each competition attendee and each reader of the pleadings collection to understand the arguments and mechanisms for denouncing inhumanity precisely with a view to their becoming the human rights lawyers of tomorrow.

The competition’s final objective is hence that everyone (citizens and authorities alike) should reflect on the respect and violation of human rights, and be able to find in the future the legal and philosophical arguments to denounce inhumanity.

Objective: to recall our commitment to defend human rights

The Pleading Competition meets four objectives:

  • raise public awareness about the major principles and guarantees of due process, recall that respect of the rights of the defence is central to strengthening the rule of law;
  • reaffirm the commitment of human rights defenders as part of the universal nature of the human rights referred to;
  • report and denounce the existence of cases in which violations are unacceptable and contrary to human rights;
  • enhance the profession of lawyer by spotlighting the art of convincing - via the exercise of pleading - for a cause determined beforehand by each candidate.

Partnerships forged

The Pleading Competition (CIP) is a joint initiative of

  • the International Human Rights Institute for Peace (2IDHP - Caen, France)
  • the National Association of Lawyers of Mauritania (ONA)
  • the Cooperation and Cultural Action Service (SCAC) of the French Embassy in MauritaniaMoreover, the Ministry of Justice of Mauritania became a partner of the CIP from its second edition in 2014.

A public and media success

The CIP is a public event open to all those wishing to attend. Thus it was observed that, in addition to a great many Mauritanian lawyers and judges, the public included civil society actors, university and secondary school students (including from the French Lycée Théodore Monod in Nouakchott), Alliance Française students, etc.

In addition to the ever larger public it attracts each year, the CIP enjoys significant media coverage. It was thus broadcast live and in full on the private television channel TV Sahel in 2014 and pre-recorded on national television in 2015. Many articles are published in the French-speaking and Arab-speaking press during each edition of the Pleading Competition.

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