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Prison volunteers, Young specialists in charge of supporting prisons and access to justice in Mauritania

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Most prisons in Mauritania exhibit several characteristics that include overcrowding, long-term pre-trial detention, absence of separation between accused and convicted prisoners, limited utilization of alternatives to incarceration, and inadequate post-prison follow-up. Moreover, a significant number of detainees lack sufficient knowledge about the status of their legal cases and are often unfamiliar with legal remedies and procedures for requesting bail, which deprives them of their rights. Female detainees are particularly vulnerable, with a majority facing accusations of Zina (sexual relations outside of marriage), and they often experience prolonged pre-trial detention without trial due to the impracticality of the penalty provided by Islamic law (Sharia) for the offense of Zina.

In the context outlined, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in conjunction with the Ministry of Justice, has deployed United Nations Volunteers (UNVs) to various detention facilities, including the women's prison, Dar Naim prison, the Central prison, Aleg prison, Nouadhibou prison, and the Centre d'Accueil et de Réinsertion Sociale des Mineurs en Conflit avec la loi (CARSEC). These UNVs engage in interviews with detainees and review their judicial records with the aim of identifying any possible irregularities or dysfunctions. These records are then submitted to the Monitoring and Consultation Committees of the penal chain, which was created by the Ministry of Justice on March 9, 2022, with the support of UNODC, to facilitate the identification of legal solutions.

<em>UN Volunteers </em>
UN Volunteers 

Dr. Amado de Andres, the Regional Director for UNODC West and Central Africa, acknowledged the exceptional contributions made by UN Volunteers in Mauritania. "Their unwavering commitment and diligent efforts have enabled the identification of anomalies and shortcomings in the prison system, allowing detainees to assert their legal rights and seek justice." The remarkable results achieved by the UN Volunteers serve as a testament to the value of cooperation and commitment towards promoting and upholding human rights.Thanks to the UNVs' efforts, detainees have been assisted in updating their records and locating missing legal documents, thereby affording them the opportunity to exercise their right to appeal and, in some cases, even obtain their freedom. These achievements were made possible through the excellent collaboration with judicial actors working in the courts. One notable example of success occurred in the Nouadhibou prison, where an individual who had been detained for a long time on charges of drug use was tried and subsequently released with the assistance of the UNVs.

In certain instances, UNVs encountered challenges in locating detainees' records, as some had been transferred from one facility to another. However, with the assistance of the court in Nouakchott, some of these files were located. UNVs' support also helped detainees to better comprehend their rights and the legal procedures necessary to enforce them.

Additionally, UNVs have referred cases to the Monitoring and Consultative Committees of the penal chain that presented dysfunctions or irregularities requiring urgent attention. On January 25, 2023, the Committee convened and examined 18 cases, identified by UNVs, of minors sentenced to death, minors incarcerated and under the age of 15, and minors incarcerated while attending school. In response to these cases, the Committee decided to organize a special criminal session to address the issues affecting juveniles and committed to supporting the issuance of civil status documents for those who lack them. With UNODC's assistance, the Committee is scheduled to meet on the last Wednesday of every month.

In summary, the collaborative work of UNODC, UN Volunteers and the Comité de Suivi et de Concertation de la Chaine Pénale has yielded positive results for the monitoring and processing of detainee cases in Mauritania.

<em>Group picture.</em>
Group picture.
<em>UNVs in discussion</em>
UNVs in discussion