Inal: remember the past to build a better future together

Inal, Mauritania, 28 November 2011


28 November represents a core and central date for Mauritanian people, who celebrate their “Independence Day”from France. However, this day, usually characterised by joyful and festive celebrations, will be forever linked to a painful and terrible reminder for people living in the city of Inal (255 km North from Nouadhibou) .
Twenty-one years ago, indeed, a day generally happy and clear, has been transformed into a bloody nightmare: 28 black Mauritanian soldiers were hanged just outside the city as a so-called human sacrifice to “celebrate” the 30th anniversary of the independence. It was 28 November 1990 and this crime was only the “final stage” of a long and systematic process of discrimination and violence perpetrated against Black people living in the country.

Begun as a series of policies pursued by the authorities to favour Arab culture and Arabic speakers to the detriment of the black African population, the process of arabisation progressively penetrated most of the core aspects of Mauritanian life, including the educational system; the language (with Arabic replacing French as the official language); the administration of justice; employment practices; and access to loans and credits.
In 1983, in order to protest against this progressive and continuous process of marginalisation and discrimination, the “FLAM-Forces de Libération Africaines de la Mauritanie” (African Liberation Forces of Mauritania) was founded. Immediately outlawed in 1984, the group developed a complex and clandestine organisation based in Dakar (Senegal) and in April 1986, its members published a fifty-page pamphlet entitled “Le Manifeste du Négro-Mauritanien Opprimé” (The Manifesto of the Oppressed Black Mauritanian), documenting some examples of discrimination.1

The conflicting vision of Mauritanian society, as either black or Arab, rose once more to the surface in April 1989, when a Mauritania-Senegal border dispute escalated into violence. Thousands of black Mauritanians were expelled from the country and their lands were expropriated.

The whole process of expulsion involved numerous abuses against Black people, starting from detention prior to expulsion - perhaps the most common abuse - passing through arbitrary executions and police interrogations to extra judicialexecutions and torture. Women were often subjected to sexual harassment and even rape before expulsion, especially while in detention. During the expulsions, all identity papers were systematically seized and destroyed.
Finally, within two months, between September 1990 and November 1990, around 3,000 black functionaries linked to the army and the administration were deposed, arrested and deported to some barracks used as “concentration camps”, where they were subjected to abuse and torture of different types.

Discrimination is still part of the present daily routine of local people. Still today, indeed, the main positions in politics and society are covered by Moors people. Arabic is the national language, for black people it is very difficult to go to school and to have access to the high degree of instruction. To make an example it is sufficient to consider that only three Ambassadors out of Mauritania’s 34 ambassadors around the world belong to a black ethnic group.

In addition, even if in 2007 the country adopted a law banning slavery, already abolished in 1981, this practice still exists and is very frequently perpetrated in the country, in particular against haratine people,2 who are born into slavery, without any rights or freedom.
For internal and local associations, the fight against this practice seems to be very hard - like the recent news events can easily show -due to the lack of some fundamental freedoms and rights, including the freedom of association and the right to manifest, even if Mauritania has ratified international treaties supposed to assure these kind of rights and freedoms.3

However, a great part of the society denies the existence of all these elements as well as past events, cataloguing them as the result of some “inter-ethnic” troubles (rather than the systematic killing and deportation by the structures of the State). Negationist policies have also provided a special vocabulary to describe the event: for example “retirement” certificates were issued instead of “death” certificates and the word used to describe people who were killed is often “retired”.

For these reasons the announcement, made on 16 May 2011 by a large group of cross-sectorial civil society, that a commemoration would be organise in Inal on the 27 and 28 November 2011 provoked strong reactions from these sectors of the civil society, who tried to oppose to its realisation, claiming it would be “divisive” and liable to “open old wounds” and to “destabilise” the country, considering that the identification of the deaths will inevitably lead to the identification (or calls for identification) of the perpetrators.

Despite of these controversial positions, the commemoration took place in the city of Inal as expected and involved around 200 people. Between them there were not only the widows, sons, relatives and friend of the 28 victims, but also human rights activists, journalists and members of the civil society.
To reach Inal, however, has not been so easy, due to the different halts imposed by the police all the way from the capital city Nouackott to the north of the country. During one of this “forced stops” one of the protesters lose his hand for a grenade explosion.

Once arrived to Inal some representatives of the different organisations composing the “Committee for the Inal Mourning” erected a funeral steel on the mass grave containing the body of the 28 officials killed 21 years ago. Then they read the Koran and heard different speeches and witnesses.

Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid,president of the association IRA Mauritanie remembered that “the 28 officials killed 21 years ago, were killed only because they were back and belonging to the peuls ethnic group” and he underlined that “the military camp where they were detained was destroyed to erase all traces of their bodies and today it has been transformed in a football field”.

M.Mammadou Sy, victim himself and author of the book “L'enfer de Inal” (The Inal Hell), describing the events that took place between 1989 and 1990, affirmed in his speech that “this celebration is only a first victory, but I hope to be in the next future the direct witness of other more important victories to redress justice within our country”. Then, citing his book and remembering his personal experience he stated: “my joy today can be only a partial one, because I come back to mind all the painful scenes I witnessed. However, my real delight is to see gathered here people belonging to all the different ethnicities living in our country, Moors, Haratines, Halpoulars, Soninkés e Wolofs, because this shows that together we can really build something and to contribute to a real and effective change.”

Different speeches stressed on the fact that people responsible for the crimes that took place thirty years ago, whose names and identities are very well known, have to be brought before trial and subjected to due and fair process, instead of keep on occupying key positions within the political and military elite of the country.
Some attempts to obtain justice have already been made. The first one in was in 1995, when a complaint was deposed against Ould Boïlil, former Commandant of the first military region (Inal was a part of this): in that period he was in Paris but he escaped before the beginning of the trial. The second attempt took place in 1999, when the former Capitan of the Army, Ely Ould Dah (responsible for a lot of deaths) was also in France: he was convicted and sentenced to 10 years, but he managed to escape.

Redress justice and changing the status quo, fighting resolutely against discrimination, impunity and abuses are priority issues in order to assure a better future for Mauritania and its population. The institution of an independent inquiry to investigate people alleged to be responsible for these crimes will facilitate the reach of such a goal and will facilitate the removal of these people from the important positions they are still occupying in the social, political and economic fields.

The Inal mourning celebration has been the first step along this path, and, even if the road is still long, a new journey started now.


1 A full test of the document is available at:

2 Called “Black Moors”, they used to distinguish themselves from “black Africans” to emphasize their cultural affinities with White Moors and their cultural distance from sub-Saharan Africa. In most cases, their forebears were incorporated into Moors society as slaves.

3 For example, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ratified in 2004), the Convention against Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (ratified in 2004) or regional like Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ratified in 2005).