SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: August 14, 2023

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances

Institution(s):Multiple Institutions

Region & Country:Western Africa | Mauritania

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On August 14, 2023, riot police violently dispersed a peaceful student demonstration, organized by the National Union of Mauritanian Students (UNEM), outside of Mauritania’s Ministry of Higher Education, Scientific Research, and Information and Communication Technologies. The students were protesting a lack of transparency in the awarding of foreign scholarships to study in Morocco.

On August 7, 2023, ten Mauritanian student organizations, including UNEM, released a joint statement noting reduced transparency in the Ministry’s decision-making since 2021 and condemning a lack of clarity regarding how scholarships are awarded.

At the protest on August 14, around 20 students stood in a line outside the gates of the Ministry of Higher Education and held up signs. Riot police then forcefully broke up the protest. Photos posted to UNEM’s Facebook page show police grabbing and shoving students, and injured students laying on the ground. Police reportedly beat the protesters with batons as well.

One student fell unconscious during the assault and another suffered an arm injury. Three students in total were transported to the hospital with injuries.

Scholars at Risk is concerned by police using force against students for peacefully exercising the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly—conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Mauritania is a party. State authorities have a responsibility to respect and refrain from restricting or punishing the nonviolent exercise of such rights. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and democratic society generally.