Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Senegal

Political context

The re-election of Mr. Abdoulaye Wade to the presidency of the Republic in the first run of the February election was the dominant event in the public life of Senegal in 2007. When he came to power in 2000, Mr. Wade enjoyed overwhelming popular support and a comfortable majority in the National Assembly, thanks to the victory of his party, the Democratic Senegalese Party (Parti démocratique sénégalais – PDS), and of his allies in the parliamentary elections in 2001; however the country's economic situation and the politico-institutional crisis1 changed the political balance. The parliamentary elections held on June 3, 2007 were indeed won by the presidential party, allied to several small parties in the Sopi Coalition, but signs of division appeared in the presidential camp and the opposition, which had come together in a united front against what was judged to be autocratic power, boycotted the elections. A sign of growing tension was the fact that several presidential candidates received threats,2 and the President of the National Assembly, Mr. Maki Sall, was subjected to strong pressure to resign, following the Assembly's proposal to organise a hearing of the Chairman of the board of control of the National Agency for the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (Agence nationale de l'organisation de la conférence islamique – ANOCI), who is none other than the President's son.

The country has long been considered to be an example of democracy in Africa and of respect for the independence of the media. It would appear however that the threshold of tolerance of free forms of expression, particularly when those in power are challenged, has decreased in recent years, and that protection of fundamental rights has deteriorated.

The delay in implementing the mandate given by the African Union "to put Hissène Habré on trial, on behalf of Africa" also led to doubts about the real will of the Government to deal with the case and to fight impunity. The Senegalese Minister of Justice did indeed announce, in July 2007, that the former Chad dictator would be judged by the Criminal Court, but at the end of 2007 no date had been fixed.3 The disproportionate budget advanced for covering the costs of the trial, supposed to be partly covered by the European Union, would appear to be a dilatory move designed to delay the trial. Since then two important judicial reforms have however been passed by the National Assembly: the integration into domestic law of the provisions of the 1984 United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and a reform of the Criminal Court allowing for an effective right of appeal, two measures that had for a long time been called for by the legal profession and human rights defenders.

The economic situation also caused considerable tension. 2007 was marked by trade union or student demonstrations, which were put down, leading to fears that the freedom of peaceful assembly could be increasingly restricted. For instance, in November 2007, a demonstration protesting against the high cost of living, in particular against the increase of prices of staple commodities and against the prohibition of street vendors, was repressed, despite the fact that the trade union organisations had been authorised to organise the march.

Intimidation of defenders and smear campaigns against them

In addition to interrogations by the Criminal Investigation Division (Division des investigations criminelles – DIC), which the authorities try to use in order to criminalise political and public action, NGOs are constantly faced with public statements by the authorities calling them into question, with the aim of discrediting their action. For instance, during a press conference in July 2007 on clandestine migration of Senegalese, the Minister of the Interior, Mr. Ousmane Ngom, declared that "the human rights organisations such as the African Engagement for the Defence of Human Rights (Rencontre africaine pour la défense des droits de l'Homme – RADDHO) have no longer any reason to exist". The Secretary General of this organisation, Mr. Alioune Tine, was questioned several times by the police concerning arms found in the association's premises by a plainclothes policeman. The arms, decommissioned and stored by the association, had in fact been allocated by the general staff of the army in the framework of sensitisation campaigns for destroying weapons organised by RADDHO since 2003, in order to contribute to the establishment of lasting peace in Casamance. In the past, RADDHO had already received serious threats. It seems that the affair was orchestrated in order to discredit the action of the association in the eyes of public opinion and hinder its activities.

Censorship of any criticism of the authorities

For several years, Government officials have been practicing a form of censorship against a number of authors, journalists and intellectuals who criticise the regime, by blocking their works. When they are published abroad, they are stopped by the customs and sent back to the publisher. Publishers in Senegal refuse to print such works, for fear of reprisals, in particular tax harassment.

It would appear that a further step was taken in 2007. The Dakar Prosecutor General initiated legal proceedings against a journalist, Mr. Abdoulatif Coulibaly, in connexion with his last book, whereas the last three, which were banned, had not led to judicial proceedings. The author, the publishing house and the distributor were charged with "distribution of defamatory and insulting works" attacking the Director of the Senegalese national lottery. And yet the book, which is about the relations between the authorities and the lottery, was sent by the author to the National Commission Against Corruption, which in a report published on November 12, 2007 called for the Director of the lottery to be tried for corruption.

Several journalists were also arrested following articles critical of the Head of State or the army, such as Mr. Pape Amadou Gaye, responsible for the Courrier du jour. The latter was arrested by the DIC on November 1, 2007 after his newspaper had published an article calling on the Government to assume the responsibility for finding solutions to the problems caused by the rise in prices, expressing the view that the army was the only authority capable of obliging the Government to do its duty. On November 6, 2007, he was charged with committing an "offence against the Head of State liable to endanger State security, and an act that could lead to the disobedience of the army". He was placed in detention, and then released on November 8, 2007. The major role that seems to have been played by the President and the Government, first in initiating proceedings against the journalist and then in having the case dropped by the Prosecutor, leads to fears of increasing interference by the executive in judicial affairs, seriously jeopardising the independence of the Senegalese justice.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

1 The parliamentary elections were postponed twice; they were planned initially for May 2006, and then postponed in order to be linked to the presidential elections. Finally the two elections were held in February and June 2007.

2 In particular Mr. Moustafa Niass, Mr. Amath Dansokho, Mr. Ousmane Tanor Dieng and Mr. Idirssa Seck, who were severely called into question by the President of the Republic.

3 Former Chad President Hissène Habré is suspected of over 40,000 political assassinations and systematic acts of torture committed between 1982 and 1990. Living in Senegal, he was indicted pursuant to a complaint lodged by Chadian victims, on the basis of the universal jurisdiction of Senegalese courts for crimes of torture. The Supreme Court first ruled that the Senegalese courts did not have jurisdiction. Following the mandate given by the African Union, Senegal passed a law in February 2007 allowing Senegalese courts to judge the most serious crimes, in particular crimes of torture, on the basis of universal jurisdiction.


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