Senegal: Ending repression and guaranteeing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms

Press release
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Dakar, Paris 28 March 2023 - FIDH and its member organisations in Senegal, RADDHO (African Assembly for the Defence of Human Rights), ONDH (National Human Rights Organisation) and LSDH (Senegal League for Human Rights), voice their extreme concern at the increasing repression of members of the political opposition and journalists. As the date approaches for the presidential election scheduled for February 2024, they call on the national authorities in Senegal to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.

On 16 March this year, the city of Dakar was the scene of violent clashes between Senegal’s law enforcement agencies and supporters of Ousmane Sonko, President of the opposition party, Patriotes africains du Sénégal pour le travail, l’éthique et la fraternité (The African Patriots of Senegal for Work, Ethics and Fraternity (Pastef)) and a member of the National Assembly, on the day he appeared in court. The police cracked down violently on protestors demonstrating their support for him that day. The information received by our organisations and other information relayed by the media detailed the deployment of a large contingent of the security forces, widespread use of teargas and clashes that caused the death of at least one person and injuries to several others. Ousmane Sonko, who had been forcibly taken to court, was unable to appear. His trial was postponed until 30 March.

"It is the responsibility of the Senegalese authorities to ensure that the security forces, in carrying out their mission to maintain order, act in every instance to safeguard the human life and safety of both demonstrators and the civilian population. The disproportionate use of force is to be deplored and in no circumstances constitutes a solution", declared Drissa Traoré, lawyer and FIDH Secretary General.

FIDH, RADDHO, ONDH and LSDH point out that operations to maintain law and order must strictly observe the international and regional instruments to which the Senegalese State is a signatory.

Re-establishing a political climate that respects democracy and human rights

Senegal, which is often cited as an example of democracy in West Africa, has for several years been experiencing a rarely observed wave of protests. The protests have worsened since 2021, particularly with the arrest of Ousmane Sonko. His summons on 3 March 2021 to appear before an investigating magistrate in the context of proceedings launched following a complaint of rape and death threats filed by Adji Sarr, a young Senegalese woman, was marked by five days of demonstrations and unrest, which were violently suppressed. To date, no justice has been served following the deaths of 14 people, 12 of them shot, and the serious injuries sustained by many others.

"We expect the Senegalese authorities to take all measures necessary to establish responsibility and to ensure that the perpetrators of all these acts of violence, whoever they may be, answer for their actions before a competent court", confirmed Professor Mabassa Fall, FIDH representative at the African Union.

Ousmane Sonko is still facing two ongoing legal proceedings, the second arising from a complaint of ‘slander, abuse and forgery and the use of forgery’ filed by Mame Mbaye Niang, Minister of Tourism and member of the presidential party. The latter proceedings have been marked by violence since the initial attempt to open the trial last February. Following the clashes on 16 March this year, the state of health of Ousmane Sonko and several of his supporters is worrisome. FIDH and its member organisations urge the Senegalese authorities to take all measures necessary to ensure that they have access to adequate medical care as a matter of urgency.

All these events are taking place against a backdrop of political tension, a year before the presidential election scheduled for 25 February 2024. The uncertainty maintained by President Macky Sall regarding his possible candidacy for a third term in office is contributing to heightened tensions.

FIDH, RADDHO, ONDH and LSDH call on the Senegalese authorities to respect their regional and international commitments regarding democratic principles. They call on Senegal’s political figures to act to promote calm and inclusive national debate as well as to implement all measures that could ease the tense political climate.

"Only a combination of three important factors, namely respect for the Constitution, an impartial justice system and the immediate launch of a wide-ranging dialogue based on respect for human rights and open to all components of the nation, will enable Senegal to re-establish its historically recognised stability in any sustainable way," declared Alice Mogwe, President of FIDH.

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