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Freedom in the World 2004 - Senegal

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 18 December 2003
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2004 - Senegal, 18 December 2003, available at: [accessed 27 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Political Rights: 2
Civil Liberties: 3
Status: Partly Free
Population: 10,600,000
GNI/Capita: $490
Life Expectancy: 53
Religious Groups: Muslim (94 percent), other [including Roman Catholic and indigenous beliefs] (6 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Wolof (43.3 percent), Pular (23.8 percent), Serer (14.7 percent), Jola (3.7 percent), Mandinka (3 percent), Soninke (1.1 percent), European and Lebanese (1 percent), other (9.4 percent)
Capital: Dakar


Two incidents in Senegal in 2003 outraged advocates for a free press and political freedom in the country. In October, the government of President Abdoulaye Wade expelled a correspondent for Radio France Internationale (RFI) after RFI aired an interview that the reporter conducted with a hard-line member of the separatist Movement of the Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC). A violent attack on an opposition leader during the same month led human rights activists, labor leaders, and political opposition leaders to protest in November against what they said were recent acts of political violence that had gone unpunished.

Since independence from France in 1960, Senegal has escaped military or harshly authoritarian rule. President Leopold Senghor exercised de facto one-party rule under the Socialist Party for more than a decade after independence. Most political restrictions were lifted after 1981. Abdou Diouf, of the Socialist Party, succeeded Senghor in 1981 and won large victories in unfair elections in 1988 and 1993.

Wade's victory in the presidential poll in 2000 – his fifth attempt to win the presidency – overturned four decades of rule by the Socialist Party. Wade captured 59.5 percent of the runoff vote, against 41.5 percent for Abdou Diouf. The election was judged to have been free and fair by international observers.

The people of Senegal adopted a new constitution by an overwhelming majority in January 2001, reducing presidential terms from seven to five years, setting the number of terms at two, and giving women the right to own land for the first time. President Wade dissolved the National Assembly, which had been dominated by the former ruling Socialist Party, and elections were held in April. A coalition led by Wade won 89 of the 120 seats available, followed by the Socialist Party with 10; smaller parties captured the remainder of seats.

The government indicated its sensitivity over problems in the southern Casamance region when the Interior Ministry in 2003 accused an RFI reporter of trying to sabotage the peace process that is aimed at ending a two-decades-old conflict there between secessionist forces and government troops. The journalist, who reported about divisions within the MFDC, was expelled. One impediment to achieving lasting peace has been divisions within the MFDC between moderate and hard-line members.

A growing number of Westerners working in the region are moving to Senegal's capital, Dakar, from Abidjan, in Cote d'Ivoire, where violent acts of xenophobia are on the increase. Senegal is considered one of the most stable countries in West Africa.

Senegal's population is mostly engaged in subsistence agriculture. The country's economy has enjoyed modest growth since the mid-1990s.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Citizens of Senegal can change their government democratically. Changes to the 1992 Electoral Code lowered the voting age to 18, introduced secret balloting, and created a nominally fairer electoral framework. The National Observatory of Elections, which was created in 1997, performed credibly in overseeing the 1998 legislative polls and the presidential elections in 2000.

Freedom of expression is generally respected, and members of the independent media are often highly critical of the government and political parties. There are about 20 independent radio stations, some of which broadcast in rural areas. The government does not carry out formal censorship, but some self-censorship is practiced because of laws against "discrediting the state" and disseminating "false news" that President Abdoulaye Wade had promised to repeal. International press freedom organizations maintain that media rights have become more restricted under Wade. It is not unusual for journalists to be detained for questioning by authorities and pressured to reveal confidential sources. There are no official impediments to Internet access.

A Dakar-based correspondent for RFI, Sophie Malibeaux, was expelled in October after the station aired an interview she conducted with Alexandre Djiba, a member of the MFDC, who has taken a harder line in negotiations with the government to end the Casamance conflict. The government accused Malibeaux of trying to sabotage the peace process. In August, Abdou Latif Coulibaly, the author of a recent book that was critical of Wade, said he had been receiving anonymous death threats. Coulibaly, director of the independent Sud FM radio station, blamed the threats on members of the ruling party.

Religious freedom in Senegal, which is 94 percent Muslim, is respected. Rivalries between Islamic groups have sometimes erupted into violence. Academic freedom is guaranteed and respected.

Freedom of association and assembly are guaranteed, but authorities have sometimes limited these right in practice. Human rights groups working on local and regional issues are among many nongovernmental organizations that operate freely. Thousands of people marched through Dakar in November to protest what they said were recent acts of political violence that had gone unpunished. The demonstration was triggered by a violent attack in October on an outspoken member of the political opposition, Talla Sylla, who was beaten with a hammer; Sylla is seeking redress in court. The protesters also demanded an explanation for arson attacks on the National Confederation of Workers and the independent Wal Fadjri radio station. An assailant linked to the attack reportedly was a member of the presidential guard and had been questioned by authorities; he later died in a car accident.

Although union rights to organize, bargain collectively, and strike are legally protected, there are some restrictions on freedom of association and the right to strike. Most workers are employed in the informal business and agricultural sectors. Nearly all of the country's small industrialized workforce is unionized, and workers are a potent political force.

Poor pay and lack of tenure protections create conditions for external influence on a judiciary that is, by statute, independent. In high-profile cases, there is often considerable interference from political and economic elites. Uncharged detainees are incarcerated without legal counsel far beyond the lengthy periods already permitted by law.

There are credible reports that authorities beat suspects during questioning and pretrial detention, despite constitutional protection against such treatment. Prison conditions are poor. Reports of disappearances and extrajudicial killings in connection with the conflict in Casamance occur less frequently. Peace accords between the government and MFDC were signed in 2001. Although the conflict has not come to a definitive end, armed resistance has all but ceased.

Constitutional rights afforded women are often not honored, especially in the countryside, and women have fewer opportunities than men for education and formal sector employment. In 2001, Senegal's first female prime minister was appointed. Despite governmental campaigns, domestic violence against women is reportedly common. Many elements of Sharia (Islamic law) and local customary law, particularly those regarding inheritance and marital relations, discriminate against women. Although Senegal banned female genital mutilation in 1999, it is still practiced among some ethnic groups.

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