Covering events from January - December 2003

Despite ongoing talks on implementation of the 2001 peace agreement, tension and insecurity continued to be high in the disputed region of Casamance. Several civilians were killed or arrested during military operations. Abuses against civilians by armed opposition forces continued throughout the year, notably against people with "non-Casamance" names. Several journalists were beaten or expelled in what appeared to be an attempt to challenge freedom of expression. The security forces continued to benefit from impunity.


In August, President Abdoulaye Wade tried to bring opposition parties into government but failed, so retained most of the outgoing cabinet led by Prime Minister Idrissa Seck. In November thousands of people marched in the capital Dakar to protest against political violence after a brutal attack on opposition leader Talla Sylla.

In Casamance there were sporadic clashes between the security forces and armed members of the Mouvement des forces démocratiques de Casamance (MFDC – Democratic Forces of Casamance Movement), an armed opposition group claiming independence for Casamance. This was despite peace agreements signed by the government and the MFDC in 2001. In October, following an internal MFDC conference, MFDC Secretary General Jean-Marie Biagui declared that the war was over. However, members of armed MFDC factions boycotted the conference, and attacks by alleged armed members of the MFDC continued.

Killings and arrests of civilians by the army

In January the army launched several "combing" operations against the MFDC in the region of Ziguinchor, the Casamance main city. Soldiers arrested about 10 women suspected of supporting the MFDC in the region of Nyassia. All were reportedly released days later. Other civilians suspected of being members of the MFDC were tortured before being released.

  • In February, Sidi Diédhiou, a farmer, was killed by the army. He had been detained while working in his field and was taken to a nearby military camp apparently because he stayed out late at night. Sidi Diédhiou was reportedly shot in the back in the presence of another detainee. The soldiers claimed that he had tried to flee.

Abuses by the MFDC

Several attacks against civilians were carried out by alleged members of one of the MFDC's armed wings. The attacks mainly involved the robbery of people travelling by road in Casamance. During such attacks, unarmed civilians were beaten and some were shot after reportedly revealing their "non-Casamance" names.

  • In August, six vehicles were stopped by alleged armed members of the MFDC near Diegoune. After seizing belongings, the attackers ascertained the identity of the travellers and killed two of them who did not have Casamance names – Serigne Sarr and Saliou Diop. A third man, Aliou Mboup, was seriously wounded.

Threats to freedom of expression

Journalists continued to be harassed and intimidated.

  • In March, Fanta Badji and Mame Cira Konate, two women journalists with Radio Manore FM, a community radio station for women, were assaulted by riot police from the Groupement mobile d'intervention (GMI – Mobile Intervention Group). The women were covering a police operation involving the forcible removal of inhabitants of an illegal settlement in Dakar.
  • In October, Sophie Malibeaux, a correspondent with Radio France Internationale, was arrested and expelled from the country. She was arrested in Casamance while covering a meeting of the MFDC in Ziguinchor. She was taken by police to Dakar for questioning and expelled because of alleged "tendentious" coverage of political discussions in Casamance.


Impact on women in Casamance

Despite formal commitments by the authorities to investigate past human rights violations, no steps were taken to institute an inquiry into the large-scale violations committed by the security forces in Casamance in the past decade. As a result of this impunity and lack of redress, dozens of women whose husbands "disappeared" after being arrested by security forces or were abducted by alleged MFDC armed members had to cope with uncertainty about the fates of their husbands and with economic hardship. In December in Dakar, AI launched a report and campaign to highlight the plight of these women and their families and to ask for justice and redress for them.

  • After the "disappearance" of her husband, who was arrested by security forces in Casamance in August 1999, Khady Bassène's life became much harder. Because the authorities refused to acknowledge the "disappearance", she could not obtain her husband's death certificate, which was needed to obtain his pension.

Failure to bring to justice perpetrators of violations

The justice system persistently failed to bring to justice perpetrators of human rights violations.

  • In September a police auxiliary arrested in October 2001 in connection with the killing of Balla Gaye was acquitted by a military court even though the State Prosecutor said that the investigation into the case had not been completed.

Hissein Habré

The repeal in July of a Belgian law which allowed the pursuit of foreign leaders for war crimes did not affect the ongoing complaint lodged in Belgium against former Chadian President Hissein Habré who lives in Senegal. In 2001 President Wade had announced his readiness to hand over Hissein Habré to stand trial in a third country for gross human rights violations.


In July a Mauritanian military officer, Lieutenant Didi Ould M'Hamed, who had sought refuge in Senegal because he was suspected of involvement in an attempted coup in Mauritania, was extradited to Mauritania. The extradition, which was recommended by the Indictments Chamber of the Dakar Court of Appeal and endorsed by President Wade, breached Senegal's international human rights obligations that forbid any extradition to a country where the person would be at risk of torture or other serious human rights violations.

AI country visits

AI visited Senegal in December to meet the authorities and investigate human rights.

This 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.