ABA ROLI’s Community-based Paralegal Helps Returnee Obtain Legal Identity for Her Children

February 2017

Between 1989 and 1991, the government of Mauritania systematically killed and expelled Afro-Mauritanians out of their own country during the period known as “passif humanitaire.” Like many Mauritanians living in the South, Marieme Modo Lo and her family were expelled to Senegal and stripped of their citizenship. Modo Lo was only able to return to her country of birth in 2008, after the government re-opened its borders.

Marieme Modo Lo (right), a Mauritanian returnee, tells her story to ABA ROLI community-based paralegal, Mariata Soumare, in Rosso.

Marieme Modo Lo (right), a Mauritanian returnee, tells her story to ABA ROLI community-based paralegal, Mariata Soumare, in Rosso.

Modo Lo said that, despite efforts by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to help returnees, it remains a challenge for her to secure her rights.

“I’ve experienced many obstacles in the process of obtaining legal identity even with a document issued by UNHCR that recognizes my returnee status,” Modo Lo said. “When I finally obtained my identity document, I thought I would be able to easily register my children. Since I am divorced, however, the Civil Registry Office refused to recognize my children without a document proving their father was also a Mauritanian citizen.”

Modo Lo said she tried everything to register her children without success. She learned about the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) and was referred to a community-based paralegal, Mariata Soumare, after discussing her case with a refugee officer in Rosso. Soumare accompanied her to the Civil Registry Office to explain that Mauritanian legislation allows the children of returnees to be registered without the need to present the birth certificates of both parents. The officer agreed that Modo Lo should be able to register her children.

This was just the first step. Modo Lo still had to navigate an extremely complex registration process. Accompanied by the paralegal, Modo Lo and her children went to the Civil Registry Office at 6 a.m. and waited for hours to obtain the number that would allow her to register her children. Upon presenting a copy of her UNHCR returnee document and identity card to the local officer, Modo Lo was finally able to obtain a certificate recognizing her children’s citizenship and later collect their identity documents. 

Modo Lo said she is now happy “because thanks to ABA ROLI my children can finally go to school, study for exams and freely travel without fear of being arrested.”

To learn more about our work in Mauritania, please contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org.

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