GENEVA - The U.N. office of the high commissioner for human rights welcomes the conviction and sentencing of a man for rape by a court in Mauritania.
Mauritania does not have a law to prevent gender-based violence and rape. In the past, almost all cases of sexual violence have gone unpunished. In a surprising turnabout, a court has sentenced a 30-year old man to a five-year prison term for having raped a 15-year old girl in Kaedi, a city in southern Mauritania.
U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville tells VOA this is an encouraging first step.
“If that can be followed up with proper legislation and that legislation then starts to be properly enforced, then perhaps women will be encouraged to come forward more often because there is a foreseeable result to coming forward," said Colville. "But clearly that is always a hugely personal and painful decision to make for any individual woman or girl how to react to being raped.”
Mauritania has a law that criminalizes consensual sex outside marriage. Human rights observers say this law deters women who have been raped from reporting the crime for fear of themselves being charged and imprisoned for adultery.
Female victims of sexual violence who become pregnant are stigmatized and often sent to prison for breaking the country’s law banning sex outside of marriage. Colville says the 15-year-old rape victim was impregnated by her assailant, compounding her difficulties.
“She has been, and we have played a part in this, providing her with shelter and some kind of socioeconomic support to help her initially," said Colville. "But we definitely call on the authorities to really formally compensate her and ensure that she is properly cared for.”
On two occasions, a draft law making gender-based violence a crime has been presented to the Majlis, the country's parliament, and rejected. The U.N. human rights office is urging the parliament to relaunch the discussion on the draft bill and to adopt it as soon as possible.