Senegal : Campaign turns into repression, reflecting President Wade’s "human rights" balance sheet

Press release
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Arrest of Cheikh Bamba Dieye, February 17, 2012

FIDH and its member organisations and partners in Senegal, RADDHO, ONDH and LSDH, strongly condemn the systematic repression of all peaceful demonstration in central Dakar, including dozens of arrests of opposition demonstrators in the last 72 hours. Our organisations urge Senegalese authorities to stop the ongoing political repression immediately, to release those arbitrarily arrested and comply with Senegalese law authorising the conduct of peaceful demonstrations.

For nearly three days now, all events in downtown Dakar have been systematically and forcibly dispersed with dozens of demonstrators arrested. On Wednesday, 15 February, an event organised by the citizens’ movement M23 was roughly dispersed. This was followed by the particularly violent repression of an event organised by the collective ’Y’en a Marre’ on 16 February. Here, violent dispersal was accompanied by the arrest of twenty collective members (including several leaders) and the subsequent mistreatment of these detainees. On 16 and 17 February, the presidential candidates themselves, and their supporters, became targets of repression. Cheikh Bamba Dieye, candidate of the Front for Socialism and Democracy/Benno Jubel (FSD/BJ), was arrested for some hours on 17 February during a demonstration march at the Obelisk Place, as was Ibrahima Sene, Head of the Independence and Work Party (PIT). Moreover, Idrissa Seck, Rewmi ("the State") party candidate, came under fire from tear gas canisters, while the event of independent candidate, Ibrahima Fall, was banned by the prefect of Dakar despite organisers having secured authorisation and instruction from the National Autonomous Electoral Commission (CENA).

"The Senegalese authorities cannot violate Senegalese law" said FIDH President, Ms Souhayr Belhassen. "We need the authorities come to their senses and allow opponents and citizens their public and political expression, or face the penalty of being treated as an authoritarian regime that gags democracy" she added.

The government justifies its repression of demonstrations by reference to an order issued by the prefect of Dakar in July 2011 banning all public demonstrations in the centre of the capital. Aside from the fact that it withholds collective and individual freedoms in violation of Senegalese constitutional provisions, this ban is clearly unlawful under Article 61 of Senegal’s Election Code. This provides that "all candidates and all voters can freely organize meetings and demonstrations throughout the territory under the conditions prescribed by law". These conditions require a statement 24 hours prior to the administrative authority, a prescription met by all organizations who have sought to demonstrate in recent days. Indeed, in a decision dated 13 October 2011, the Supreme Court of Senegal itself ruled that a ban on a similar Radhho demonstration in December 2010 by order of the prefect of Dakar was an "abuse of power" and constituted an "attack on freedom of assembly."

The situation in Senegal deteriorated further yesterday when a tear gas canister was thrown into the great El Hadji Malick Sy mosque, in the Plateau neighbourhood, near downtown Dakar. This angered hundreds of faithful and echoed the attack on Dakar cathedral last year. More worryingly, an Agence France Press (AFP) reporter witnessed a policeman drawing his gun and opening fire during the incident, retrieving a 9 mm bullet and an unfired bullet. This raises fears of escalating repression and use of means contrary to United Nations principles on the use of force.

"On the eve of such an important deadline for Senegal, the highest authorities must demonstrate accountability and healing, allowing democracy to speak freely as required by law" said Me Sidiki KABA, FIDH Honorary President.

Indeed, plainclothes men armed with shotguns riding in unmarked 4X4’s, some with their faces covered by black hoods, were reported to be chasing demonstrators. These reports have been confirmed by on site correspondents from AFP and Reuters.

Moreover, Friday’s violence, where a policeman received a head injury, saw a dozen people wounded, including two Western journalists. Since the end of January, the violent repression of demonstrations and popular protest has generated a toll of 5 dead, including one policeman, dozens injured and dozens arrested.

Our organizations are also concerned about the fate of many protesters arrested for having defied the ban on demonstrations. In addition to the abuse of these persons witnessed in the course of their arrest, it is feared that they are currently being subjected to torture, as often occurs during detention in police stations and gendarmerie brigades.

Wade’s last presidential term marked by human rights regression

Approaching the first round of the presidential elections scheduled for 26 February 2012, our organizations find a grim picture of the last five year period in terms of respect for human rights. Many violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights have been documented by our organizations in Senegal in recent years. The presidential election is an opportunity to take stock of these violations including the excessive violation of democratic principles, civil liberties and judicial independence that has taken place in recent years.

One of the most flagrant violations of these principles was President Wade’s failed attempt to amend the constitution to his advantage by changing the rules of the presidential election less than a year before the election. He eventually abandoned this attempt in the face of popular protest on 23 June 2011. "Tampering with the Fundamental Law would seriously compromise the principles of democratic change. President Wade’s attempt to do so, although stopped, showed his lack of commitment to democratic principles, contradicting the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, which binds Senegal" said FIDH President, Ms Souhayr Belhassen.

Civil liberties have also been affected by restrictions. Demonstrations have been illegally banned, like Raddho’s demonstration in December 2010 and on 15 February 2012. Still some have been repressed by security forces using disproportionate force, including arbitrary arrests and mistreatment, such as M23’s event on 23 June 2011 and the ‘Y’en a Marre’ movement’s event on 16 February 2012 . "Violence against M23 and Y’en a Marre demonstrators by thugs of the regime and supporters of the ruling party have never been subject to investigation" said Me Dioma Assane Ndiaye, President of LSDH. "Conversely, the investigation into the assault against Alioune Tine on 23 June 2011, came to be stalled once all evidence of the involvement of government thugs was in the hands of the Senegalese justice" added Tine’s lawyer, Me Dioma Assane Ndiaye.

Our organisations also condemn the State’s repeated attacks against human rights defenders. These have been perpetrated through public statements by government officials assimilating human rights defenders to political opponents, attacks upon the freedom of expression of civil society representatives, and arbitrary arrests, like that of RADDHO President, Alioune Tine, in January 2012. Tine was finally released without charge after 48 hours of detention in harsh conditions and without access to his lawyer. These attacks have also encompassed the expulsion of FIDH’s Secretary General and the confiscation of copies of the Annual Report of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights (FIDH/OMCT) by Senegalese customs authorities. "These repeated violations of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders converge on the expression of an authoritarian power that rejects any criticism of its governance" lamented Me Sidiki Kaba, Honorary President of FIDH.

Unfortunately, the practice of torture remains topical in Senegal, the LSDH having documented numerous torture cases and engaged the UN Committee against Torture. In recent years about thirty torture cases have been recorded. The LSDH estimates that at least ten of these victims died of mistreatment in detention.

The independence of the judiciary was also challenged in relation to Hissene Habré, former Chadian president, exiled in Senegal and allegedly responsible for grave and widespread human rights violations in Chad. While our organizations had welcomed the adoption of a legal framework conducive to the opening of a trial, as well as financial support granted for this purpose by the international community, Habré’s trial remains absent from news headlines. Violating the international obligation to prosecute or extradite Habré, Wade attempted to expel him to Chad in July 2011, retracting this move at the last minute in light of opposition from the UN and human rights organizations. Under the pretext of a procedural defect, the Indictment Division of the Court of Appeal of Dakar has forced Belgium - where proceedings are initiated against Habré - to formulate a fourth extradition request. "These delaying tactics are unacceptable in a Rule of Law State. Victims of the Habré regime have been waiting for over 20 years for justice" said Alassane Seck, Vice-President of RADDHO.

In light of this unflattering assessment, our organizations call on the future Senegalese authorities to stop these violations and strictly respect Senegal’s commitments to protect human rights.

  • International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  • Rencontre africaine de défense des droits de l’Homme (RADDHO)
  • Organisation nationale des droits de l’Homme (ONDH)
  • Ligue sénégalaise des droits de l’Homme (LSDH)
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