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Canadian exposes torture in West Africa

Photo: Amnesty_Mauritania

(NC)—Alex Neve, head of the Canadian arm of the human rights organization Amnesty International (, recently led a research mission to Mauritania in West Africa to look into allegations of torture. Amnesty's work is funded by the organization's 3.2 million global members (including 80,000 in Canada) and the organization conducts over two hundred research missions in a typical year.

Neve and his colleagues spent many days in Central Prison in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott. They interviewed about 30 people who had been convicted on terrorism-related charges, and sentenced to punishments ranging from one year's imprisonment to the death penalty. All provided the Amnesty team with detailed descriptions of the torture that they experienced in police custody.

Among the prisoners was a Canadian, a man named Aaron Yoon from London, Ontario, who had been held for more than 18 months and was later released and returned to Canada.

All the prisoners told Neve about the torture they experienced in police custody. Frequently the torture involved chaining prisoners' hands and feet together, suspending them from window grilles, doorways and ceiling fixtures, and beating them repeatedly. The torture would only stop when prisoners agreed to sign a confession, which was generally not even read to them before they signed it. That “confession” would then lead to a conviction and a prison sentence.

“You hear a lot about security and anti-terrorism in Mauritania these days,” Neve points out. “The country has watched events in neighbouring countries with considerable worry—events such as the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb offensive launched in 2012 in Mali. Internally and externally the authorities are under pressure to stand firm against threats. And of course they should. But serious human rights violations are being committed in the name of security which, in the end, serves only to spread injustice and deepen insecurity.”

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