Types of criminalisation

  • Criminalises LGBT people
  • Criminalises sexual activity between males
  • Criminalises sexual activity between females
  • Imposes the death penalty

Same-sex sexual activity is prohibited under the Penal Code 1983, which criminalises ‘acts against nature’. This provision carries a maximum penalty of death by stoning, although Mauritania operates a de facto moratorium on its use. Both men and women are criminalised under this law.

The provision has its origins in Islamic law, with the Constitution of Mauritania designating Islam as the religion of the state, and Sharia as the sole source of law. The criminalising provision specifically applies to Muslim men, though it is not clear if it applies equally to non-Muslim men.

There is some evidence of the law being enforced in recent years, with LGBT people being occasionally subject to arrest. A high-profile incident in 2020 saw ten people arrested and detained on same-sex activity charges, with eight of them being prosecuted and sentenced. There have been limited reports of discrimination and violence being committed against LGBT people in recent years, and the lack of reporting is attributed to social stigma.



In January, ten people were arrested and detained after video footage emerged on social media of what was alleged to be a same-sex wedding. Nouakchott Police Commissioner, Mohamed Ould Nejib, subsequently acknowledged in a television interview that the event had not been a same-sex wedding but was simply a birthday celebration. He indicated that the men had been arrested for “imitating women”. According to the police report, the eight men “confessed that they are homosexuals” during police interrogations, at which they had no legal representation, but these confessions were subsequently refuted during the trial.

Eight of those arrested were subsequently convicted and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for ‘indecency’ and ‘inciting debauchery’ under Articles 264 and 306 of the Penal Code respectively. One woman received a one-year suspended sentence for participating in ‘inciting debauchery’ by being present at the event. The restaurant owner was acquitted. On 3 February, the defendants’ lawyer Ould Obeid filed an appeal on their behalf.


The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada report on the treatment of sexual minorities in Mauritania stated that information on the application of the Criminal Code for non-Muslims could not be found, suggesting a possibility that it may not apply given the wording of Article 308.


A report by Amnesty International found that in November, 14 men were accused of being homosexual, were arrested and were detained in Dar Naïm prison.

Discrimination and Violence


The US Department of State found that LGBT persons are reportedly harassed and subjected to violence from the National Police, the General Group for Road Safety, neighbours, and family members. No laws protect LGBT persons from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. LGBT identity is rarely publicly identified or discussed, which observers attributed to the severity of the stigma and the legal penalties attached to it.


According to a 2017 report by the LGBTI Nouakchott group of Solidarity Association, LGBT persons lived in perpetual fear of being driven out by their families and rejected by society in general. As a result, they did not attend or participate in public activities due to fears of retribution and violence.


The Canadian Immigration Tribunal found reports indicating that a group has been established in Mauritania, “Non à la débauche”, who have called for the “eradication of networks of homosexuals and prostitution”. The organisation has stated that it: “objects to too much tolerance of these criminals, enemies of virtue who must answer for their crimes”. The report includes information on one man who was allegedly stabbed on account of his sexuality.


Related Countries


Senegal criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. Sentences include a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment and a fine.


Algeria criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. Sentences include a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment and a fine.


Morocco criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. Sentences include a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment and a fine.

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