Amnesty International has accused the Mauritanian authorities of the arbitrary detention and torture of anti-slavery activists.
In a report issued on Wednesday entitled "A sword hanging over our heads': The repression of activists speaking out against discrimination and slavery in Mauritania", Amnesty International said: "Mauritanian human rights defenders who speak out against persistent practice of slavery and discrimination in the country have faced arbitrary arrest, torture, detention in remote prisons and the systematic banning of their gatherings".
According to the report, "the authorities use a range of repressive measures against anti- slavery activists including the prohibition of peaceful protests, using excessive force against protesters, outlawing activist groups and interfering with their activities."
According to the human rights group, the Mauritanian authorities "did not respond adequately to reported cases of exploitation, to identify victims or punish suspected perpetrators."
It noted that in 2006, international anti-slavery groups estimated that as many as 43,000 people, or one per cent of the country's total population, live in slavery in Mauritania.
The Mauritanian government could not be reached for comment, but it usually denies the existence of slavery in the country. Mauritania abolished slavery in 1982.