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Jail fear prevents women in Mauritania from filing rape complaints

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Human rights activists are calling for a change to Mauritanian law so that women and girls who have been raped will not be prosecuted for sexual relations outside marriage.

Rape survivors are reluctant to file complaints in the west African country in case they are then charged, according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Adultery is known as “zina” and, in theory, is punishable by flogging, jail terms, or death by stoning if the offender is married or divorced. Mauritania does not as a rule carry out corporal punishments, so flogging and death by stoning can transmute into being imprisoned indefinitely.

One case cited by HRW involved a 15-year-old girl who was imprisoned after being repeatedly gang-raped by four men who held her captive for two weeks, because one of the men – whom she knew – said he would marry her.

In another case, a prosecutor was reported as asking a rape survivor: “If you didn’t consent, why didn’t you tell your parents?” When the survivor said she knew the man who raped her, the prosecutor said: “All the things you are saying are lies, you did this willingly.”

Government statistics are not freely available, so it is impossible to know how many people are in jail for zina, but girls as well as adults are thought to have been imprisoned for the “offence”.

“Women and girls should not run the risk of jail or further stigma for reporting sexual abuse,” said HRW’s Sarah Leah Whitson. “To combat sexual violence, Mauritania should require law enforcement and public health systems to stop treating victims as suspects, support them in seeking justice and recovery, and prosecute the perpetrators.”

Read also: Trial of spy who ‘offered sex for job’ puts strain on US- Russia ties

HRW called for the government to decriminalise and stop prosecuting and detaining people for zina, as well as to pass a law defining rape and criminalising all other forms of sexual violence.

The Mauritanian government responded at length to the report, saying that most incidents of sexual assault and domestic violence were against minors or adolescents. “Perpetrators are often individuals close to the victims or family members who exploit the innocence and immaturity of the above mentioned people to sexually abuse them,” the government statement said.

Life is not easy for many Mauritanian women and girls. The prevalence of female genital mutilation is 67%, some ethnic groups see domestic violence as a sign that a husband loves his wife, and many girls are sent away to “fat camps” in the desert to be force-fed, so that they put on large amounts of weight and fit Mauritanian notions of beauty.

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Nigeria: Zamfara state government wants gun licenses for residents over insecurity

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The Commissioner for information in one of Nigeria’s Northern states, Zamfara state says residents in the state can start approaching the police command in the state for gun licences.

The troubled state wants individuals to carry guns to defend themselves against armed gangs of kidnappers causing havoc in the country’s northwest.

The commissioner, Ibrahim Magaji Dosara in statement said the state governor had directed the state police commissioner to issue 500 gun licences in each of the 19 emirates in the state to those wishing to defend themselves.

“Government is ready to facilitate people, especially our farmers to secure basic weapons for defending themselves,” Dosara said.

The state also banned the use of motorcyles and selling of petrol in three districts and one emirate, in areas which are the most affected by banditry, Dosara said. The state is divided into emirates and the emirates into districts.

“Anybody found riding motorbike within the areas is considered as bandits and security agencies are thereby directed to shoot such persons at sight,” said Dosara.

Gunmen, locally called bandits, have been attacking and killing thousands of people in the country’s North-west since 2017. These assailants have attacked rural dwellers, destroyed their farmlands and in many cases only allow them to the farm after they have paid protection fees. They have also targeted travellers across the region in what some analysts say is one of the most lucrative kidnap-for-ransom syndicates in the continent.

Owning a gun in Zamfara needs permission from the state governor and state police commissioner.

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Ex-Liberian rebel warlord charged in US over attempt to obtain citizenship fraudulently

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A former commanding general of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), a notorious rebel group during the West African country’s civil war, Moses Wright, who had sought asylum in the US has been charged with fraudulently attempting to obtain US citizenship, among other crimes.

According to the United States Justice Department, the 69-year-old Wright lied about his involvement in the persecuting and killing of non-combatants during the war when he applied for US citizenship.

If convicted, Wright faces a maximum possible sentence of 165 years in prison and a $7m (£5.7m) fine, according to the JD.

“The United States will not be a safe haven for human rights violators and war criminals,” the United States Attorney, Jacqueline C. Romero, said on the indictment of Wright.

The indictment of Wright comes after two other former combatants in Liberia’s civil war, Mohammed Jabbateh and Thomas Woewiyu, were convicted in the US for similar offences while a third rebel leader, Sekou Kamara, was arrested earlier this year in New York.

The AFL was responsible for death of an estimated 250,000 Liberians which amounted to around 8% of the population at the time, in the war which started from 1989 to 1997 and in 1999 to 2003, according to a report by the Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in late 2021, which described the AFL as a “significant violator group found to be behind some of the civil war’s largest scale massacres.”

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