Senegal: One year on from the deaths of 14 demonstrators, the families demand justice

3 March 2022 marks the first anniversary of spontaneous demonstrations in several cities around Senegal. One year on, the need for truth and justice remains urgent for the families of the 14 people who died, 12 of whom were shot by the defence and security forces, said Amnesty International, the Senegalese League for Human Rights (LSDH), and the African Meeting for the Defence of Human Rights (RADDHO) on the occasion of the launch of the campaign “Join us in demanding justice for the victims of Senegal’s violent repression of protests“.

There’s no more time to lose. The justice system must work quickly and independently […].

Seydi Gassama, Director of Amnesty International Senegal

The government had previously announced at a press conference in April 2021 that a commission of inquiry would be set up to establish the circumstances of these incidents and punish those responsible, if necessary. However, no further information was forthcoming in this regard and, in December 2021, the President of the Republic Macky Sall announced that a commission of inquiry was no longer on the agenda and that judicial proceedings were underway with investigations into these incidents.

“There’s no more time to lose. The justice system must work quickly and independently to establish the facts and responsibilities and bring those elements of the defence and security forces who are guilty of excessive use of force and unlawful killings to justice,” said Seydi Gassama, Director of Amnesty International Senegal.

“The Senegalese authorities must be transparent about progress in the ongoing investigation, follow up on the complaints filed by some of the victims’ families, and allow the victims and their families to participate in the judicial process. Impunity for the excessive use of force in Senegal, including the illegal use of firearms, must end,” said Sadikh Niass, Secretary-General of RADDHO.

One of the victims, Cheikh Wade, a 32-year-old tailor, was shot and killed in Parcelles Assainies, a Dakar neighbourhood, by the police. The video of his death was widely circulated on social networks and media in Senegal and around the world. In the video, authenticated by Amnesty International, a police officer can be seen aiming and shooting at Cheikh Wade. A police car then drives up to the body and passes it by, without helping him. Cheikh’s family filed a complaint with the Dakar Court of Appeal but the case has not been followed up to date. His family is still awaiting justice.

The Senegalese authorities must be transparent about progress in the ongoing investigation […].

Sadikh Niass, Secretary-General of RADDHO

“All we want are answers to the cause of my brother’s death. We want justice for him and the other victims, and to know why the police shot him,” said Abdoulaye Wade, brother of Cheikh Wade.

Cheikh Massiré Coly, whose son Cheikh Coly (20 years old) was the first person to be killed during these demonstrations, on 3 March 2021, in Bignona (Ziguinchor region) agrees: “The special investigations brigade [of the gendarmerie] came to my house following the death of my son; they spoke with me in March 2021 and since then there has been no follow-up. The political authorities brought us to Dakar in May 2021 to talk about these incidents with other victims’ families, but all I want is justice for my son’s death. That’s all.”

All we want are answers to the cause of my brother’s death […] AND TO KNOW WHY THE POLICE SHOT HIM.

Abdoulaye Wade, brother of Cheikh Wade who was killed on 8 March 2021

A trend of impunity

Judicial proceedings for excessive use of force or unlawful killings by the police force rarely reach a successful conclusion in Senegal. There has still been no explanation for the death of Fallou Sène, a student shot dead by the police on 15 May 2018 during a demonstration at the Gaston Berger University of Saint-Louis, despite the opening of an investigation. Impunity for excessive use of force against demonstrators will continue to flourish if accountability for the March 2021 demonstrations is not established and reparations to victims and guarantees of non-repetition are not provided.

The security and defence forces must respect and facilitate the exercise of this right [Freedom of peaceful assembly] ON THE PART OF THE POPULATION.

Samira Daoud, Amnesty International's Director for West and Central Africa

The Senegalese authorities must ensure that the defence and security forces respect and protect the Senegalese people’s right to life and to peaceful assembly, in accordance with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Guidelines for the Policing of Meetings by Law Enforcement Officials in Africa. During demonstrations, they must only use force in an exceptional and proportionate manner and, in particular, must only resort to the use of firearms when there is imminent danger to their own lives or the lives of others. Any violation by a member of the defence or security forces must be investigated, prosecuted, and punished.

“Freedom of peaceful assembly is clearly guaranteed by the constitution and international law. The security and defence forces must respect and facilitate the exercise of this right on the part of the population,” said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International’s Director for West and Central Africa.

“The judicial authorities must expedite the investigation into violations committed by the defence or security forces during the demonstrations so that it can be completed as quickly as possible, responsibilities can be clearly established, and reparations envisaged for the grieving families,” said Alassane Seck, President of the LSDH.

Further information:

The March 2021 protests followed the gendarmerie’s arrest of political opponent Ousmane Sonko on his way to a court summons in connection with a rape complaint. The arrest took place after a month of tensions, in the context of the removal of his parliamentary immunity and the arbitrary arrest of several members of his party, Pastef-Les Patriotes, and civil society.

Fourteen people were killed during the five days of demonstrations and nearly 600 more were injured, according to the Senegalese Red Cross. Individuals in civilian clothes armed with sticks, clubs, and firearms were also observed at several sites, beating demonstrators while the security forces looked on, and even using firearms in some locations around the capital.

Internet access was also restricted and the National Audiovisual Regulatory Council (CNRA) cut off the signals of WALF TV and SEN TV for 72 hours, having previously issued a statement warning these two local channels and another, 2STV, that they had seen “repeated calls for the popular uprising” in their programming “via the broadcasting of images of the insurgency on a loop”, and calling on them to “stop this irresponsible coverage”.

In a speech on 5 March 2021, the Minister of the Interior described the demonstrations as “acts of terrorism and banditry” and denounced the presence of “hidden forces” behind them.

On 8 March 2021, Ousmane Sonko was provisionally released by the Senegalese justice system and placed under judicial supervision.