Senegal: Unfair trials of senior opposition members spark human rights concerns ahead of UN review

Senegal must make guaranteeing fair trials a priority and immediately stop intimidation and harassment of opposition leaders and crackdown on dissent, which has increased in the run up of the 2019 presidential elections, Amnesty International said today in its submission to the country’s UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

The submission, Senegal: All talk no action, highlights cases where senior members of the political opposition or 'terrorism related suspects’ have been jailed after unfair trials, held in lengthy pre-trial detention, or denied access to lawyers. Amnesty International has also raised other human rights concerns including clampdown on peaceful assembly and excessive use of force, curtailed freedom of expression, discrimination and impunity for human rights violations.

Judicial independence and fair trials cannot be fully guaranteed in a country where the Supreme Judicial Council counts the President of the Republic and the Minister of Justice as its members
François Patuel, Amnesty International West Africa researcher

 “Judicial independence and fair trials cannot be fully guaranteed in a country where the Supreme Judicial Council counts the President of the Republic and the Minister of Justice as its members,” said François Patuel, Amnesty International West Africa researcher. ”

“It should come as little surprise that trials against opposition figures are widely seen as politically motivated, undermining public trust in the judiciary. If Senegal wants to show UN member states that it is committed to protecting and promoting human rights, then it must undertake key reforms to its justice system. This includes ensuring that judicial officials are able to carry out their functions impartially, independently and without any interference.”

Amnesty International is calling on Senegal’s authorities to amend laws relating to the Supreme Judicial Council and the statute of magistrates, in order to remove the President of the Republic and Minister of Justice from the Council.

Unfair trials

Examples of unfair trials highlighted in the Submission include that of Khalifa Sall, opposition leader and Mayor of Dakar. He was arrested in March 2017, on charges including criminal conspiracy, forgery and falsification of records, misappropriation of public funds, fraud and money laundering. He was denied bail on several occasions. In July 2017, while in detention, he was elected to the Parliament. In June 2018, the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ruled that the detention of Khalifa Sall was arbitrary and argued that his rights to presumption of innocence, to parliamentary immunity and to be assisted by his lawyers had been violated.

As of July 2018, at least 30 people were in detention for 'terrorism-related offences', and several of these had been held for more than 48 hours prior being taken before a judge. Among these were Imam Ndao, who was arrested on 27 October 2015 at his home in the city of Kaolack and brought before an investigating judge 11 days later. He was charged with “act of terrorism” and “justifying terrorism”. The security forces refused to let Imam Ndao speak with his lawyers during the first four days of his detention and spent almost three years in prison. On 19 July 2018, Imam Ndao was acquitted of the 'terrorism charges' but sentenced to one month suspended sentence for illegal possession of weapons. He was released after being in prison for almost three years.

In March 2015, the Court for the Repression of Illicit Acquisition of Wealth sentenced Karim Wade, a former minister and son of former President Abdoulaye Wade, to six years imprisonment and a fine of approximately EUR 210,744,000 for illicit acquisition of wealth. The Court does not meet international and regional fair trial standards, particularly as it does not allow for appeals of the verdict. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights considers the “entitlement to an appeal to a higher judicial body” to be an “essential element of a fair trial”. In April 2016, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found the pre-trial detention of Karim Wade to be arbitrary, including because of delays in court proceedings and differential treatment. Karim Wade was released after being granted a presidential pardon in June 2016.

Crackdown on dissent

Peaceful assemblies organized by political parties or human rights defenders are often banned and dispersed by Senegal’s police and gendarmerie using excessive force. Those who are perceived to be the organizers of such protests often face reprisals and arbitrary arrests.

In May 2018, students protesting against delays in paying scholarships at Gaston Berger University Campus in Saint-Louis clashed with the gendarmerie. One of the students, Fallou Sène, died from gunshot wounds. To date, there is no information showing that the government is actively seeking to establish responsibilities for and hold suspected perpetrators to account for the allegations of excessive use of force.

The authorities also continue to curtail the right to freedom of expression and to target artists, journalists, human rights defenders and political activists who express dissent. Examples include the case of Barthélémy Dias, an opposition leader and mayor of Mermoz-Sacré-Cœur, a neighborhood of Dakar. On 17 April 2018, Dias was sentenced to six months in prison for “contempt of court” for criticizing the court’s decision to sentence the Mayor of Dakar Khalifa Sall.

After protracted legal proceedings, there have been breakthroughs in some cases related to excessive use of force, torture and deaths in custody. However, in most cases light sentences that do not reflect the gravity of the crime were handed down. No commanding officers have been held to account for failing to prevent the violations.

Ahead of the 2019 elections, Senegal must guarantee and ensure that journalists, opposition leaders, government critics and human rights defenders are free to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly without fear of reprisals
François Patuel

“Ahead of the 2019 elections, Senegal must guarantee and ensure that journalists, opposition leaders, government critics and human rights defenders are free to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly without fear of reprisals,” said François Patuel.

“With Senegal’s human rights record in the spotlight, now is the time to take bold measures to ensure that the rights of everybody in the country are fully respected and protected.”
Background

Senegal’s human rights record was last reviewed in 2013 during its second UPR. While Senegal met its commitment to bring former Chadian President Hissène Habré to trial, Amnesty International is concerned about Senegal’s failure to implement a number of recommendations it had accepted during the second review, including to respect and protect the right to freedom of expression, the rights of women and children, and to strengthen national human rights institutions.

Amnesty International remains concerned about impermissible restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly, the use of excessive force against peaceful demonstrators, deaths in custody, and arbitrary arrests and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.