The untold tragedy of 28 Mauritanians soldiers executed on Independence Day


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Screenshot of the 28 soldiers executed on Independence day – Video posted by Ibrahima Sow.

On November 28, 1990, 28 men in Inal, Mauritania, were hanged by fellow soldiers in a prison the middle of the night, meticulously selected one by one to be killed, after being accused of plotting a coup against the government.

The date, which also marks Mauritania’s independence from France in 1960, continues to haunt some Mauritanians who seek justice for the brutal killings of these 28 men, all of whom were black.

The West African nation of Mauritania is a mix of Arab-Berber and black Africans and human rights groups say black Africans have long suffered discrimination and exploitation.

The president of the Inal-France Committee, Youba Dianka, explains:

Je tiens à préciser qu’Inal n’est qu’un exemple; il y a eu plusieurs Inal en Mauritanie. Des horreurs ont eu lieu à Azlatt, à Sory Malé, à Wothie, à Walata, à Jreida et dans toute la vallée. A l’intérieur de la caserne militaire d’Inal et environs, il y a eu des militaires écartelés, enterrés vifs, tués à bout portant, et pendus pour célébrer la fête de l’indépendance du pays en 1990.

I want to make it clear that Inal is just an example; there were many ‘Inals’ in Mauritania. Horrific events happened in Azlatt, Sory Malé, Wothie, Walata, Jreida and in the valley. Inside the military compound in Inal and its surroundings, soldiers were quartered,  buried alive, shot, and hung in celebration of the country’s independence in 1990.

On Independence Day this year, Mauritanians paid more attention to the nomination of their national football team to the Africa Cup of Nations (CAF) finals than they did to the forgotten “soldiers [who] lay in solitude in anonymous pits … still waiting for a decent burial,” writes Kaaw Elimane Bilbassi Touré, news editor of the Mauritanian news site Le Flambeau.

Kiné-Fatim Diop, campaign director for Western Africa at Amnesty International, remarked this year on the contradictions between what should be a celebratory day and what most victims’ families actually feel:

Chaque année, pendant que les officiels célèbrent dans la joie l’accession à la souveraineté du pays, les familles des victimes pleurent et manifestent dans la tristesse pour demander justice et réparation. Face à elles, les autorités mauritaniennes s’efforcent d’ensevelir cette face hideuse de l’histoire, comme lorsqu’elles faisaient voter, en catimini en 1993, une loi d’amnistie confirmant l’amnésie de l’État sur les tueries des militaires il y a 30 ans.

Each year, while the officials celebrate the ascension to sovereignty with joy, the victims’ families cry and protest in sadness for justice and reparations. The authorities are only trying to bury this hideous side of independence, just like when they secretly voted an amnesty law in 1993 affirming the state’s amnesia concerning the soldiers’ killings 30 years ago.

The Forum Against Impunity and Injustice in Mauritania expressed sorrow over the tragedy of two brothers in particular who were hanged on that tragic night:

Absolument, une malédiction gratuite s’était battue sur les 28 officiers noirs ce soir-là. Telle la pendaison de deux frères Diallo Oumar Demba et son frère Diallo Ibrahima qui portaient des numéros successifs écrits par le moyen d’un feutre. Triste mort que celle d’assister placidement à la mort de son frère aîné. Les bourreaux tuaient avec précision, d’ailleurs, ils ne se limitaient pas seulement-là, ils trainaient les pendus et s’asseyaient sur leur cadavre.

Absolutely, a curse fell on the 28 soldiers that night. Like the two brothers, Diallo Oumar Demba and his brother Diallo Ibrahima, who were hanged wearing consecutive numbers written on them with a pen. What makes this sadder is having to witness your older brother’s death. The executioners did their work with accuracy, and were actually not stopping at the hanging part, but also dragging the dead and sitting on their corpses.

Survivors speak out

Testimonies from survivors continue to pour in after 30 years.

Mamadou Sy was a squadron commander in the Mauritanian army, then a deputy commander and finally a base commander before he was arrested that night.

In his book “Hell in Inal“, published in 2000, he describes the torture he suffered, when military commanders blindfolded him, tied him up, and threw him in dirty, stinking water.

Another soldier who survived that dreadful night managed to go to France for treatment after his time in prison with the help of the Christian Association Against Torture (ACAT in French). He testifies on the condition of anonymity on the racism he experienced in his 24 years of military service:

Aussi loin que je remonte dans ma vie, depuis que j´ai commencé à comprendre, j´ai toujours constaté que les noirs n´avaient aucun droit, et que les Maures blancs étaient privilégiés. Chez nous, sur vingt ministres au gouvernement il y a un quart seulement pour les noirs, à l´armée, un seul Noir pour dix officiers. Dans un stage, si un Maure a mal travaillé, il l’emporte portant sur n´importe quel Noir. Et pas question de protester…

As far as I can remember, since I have started to understand, I have always noticed that black people never had any rights, and that the white Mauritanians were privileged. Here, out of twenty ministers in the government, only a quarter are black and in the army, there is only one black person out of ten officers. During an internship, if a white Mauritanian wouldn’t perform well, they would still win over any other black person. And don’t even dare protesting …

He describes the methods of torture he and other soldiers experienced:

Par exemple, on creusait des trous dans le sable, on nous enterrait jusqu´au coup, la tête immobilisée, le visage nu tourné vers le soleil. Si on essayait de fermer les yeux, les gardes nous y jetaient du sable. Ensuite on nous remettait nos bandeaux.

For example, they dug holes in the sand, buried us up to the neck, with the head fixed, our naked face turned toward the sun. If we ever tried to close our eyes, the guards would throw sand. And then put the blindfolds back on.

Maimouna Alpha Sy, general secretary of the Widow and Humanitarian Issues Association, was once married to Ba Baïdy Alassane, a former customs controller. Alpha Sy says her late husband was among the victims killed in 1990.

Nous avons fait trois mois et dix jours à la recherche de mon mari sans pouvoir le retrouver … La Douane nous a dit qu’il est mort d’un arrêt cardiaque, ce qui n’est pas vrai. Il y a des témoins qui ont été arrêtés, ligotés et torturés avec lui. Il a été tué devant ces gens-là.

We spent three months and ten days looking for my husband, but in vain … Customs told us he died from a cardiac arrest, which is not true. Witnesses were arrested, tied and tortured with him. He was killed in front of them.

‘Never again’

This year on November 28, Mauritanian immigrants protested in front of the Mauritanian embassy in Paris, France, against the state’s disregard for this tragic episode.

Kardiata Malick Diallo, a deputy, gave a remarkable speech at the Mauritanian parliament to prevent people from forgetting, accusing the current prime minister of protecting the perpetrators, who still hold high offices in the state while victims rights’ have not been properly addressed:

Même si votre pouvoir ne peut être tenu comme directement responsable de ces actes qui ont définitivement souillé le 28 novembre, il n’en demeure pas moins qu’il avait la charge de trouver une solution adéquate basée sur le droit des victimes à la vérité et à la justice … Les grandes nations et les grands peuples ne cherchent jamais à gommer un épisode sombre de leur histoire mais le matérialisent par des symboles visibles pour les maintenir dans la mémoire afin de dire « PLUS JAMAIS CA ». M. le Premier ministre, votre pouvoir a préféré poursuivre et parachevé un processus de marginalisation et d’exclusion.

Even if you are not directly responsible for the action that definitely stained every November 28, you still however were responsible for finding an adequate solution for the victims’ rights to the truth and justice … Great nations and great people never try to erase a dark episode out of their history but instead they show it to the world for everyone to remember and say ‘NEVER AGAIN’. Mister prime minister, your power has preferred policies of marginalization and exclusion.

As of October 2018, out of 24 ministerial functions, only five are occupied by black or mixed people, who represent up to 70 percent of society. The majority of the population are still under-represented among the elected representatives, members of the security forces, officials and local administrators.

Mauritania is the last country in the world to officially abolish slavery in 1981 but it wasn’t enforced until 2007 and an estimated 20 percent still live in some form of enslaved servitude, most of whom are black or mixed.

Because this historic racism persists in present-day Mauritania, justice for the survivors and their families remains out of reach.


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