Senegal security forces violating human rights with impunity: report

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[JURIST] Senegalese security forces are engaging in systematic torture, often leading to the death of those detained, according to a report [text, PDF] released Wednesday by Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website]. AI claims that this leaves victims’ families with no recourse against security forces because the prosecution of members of the security forces must be approved by the ministries of Interior or Defense. These actions, all of which constitute severe violations of Senegal’s international human rights obligations under the Convention Against Torture [text], often go unpunished and are even condoned by courts and government officials, according to the report. The report explains the importance of recognizing human rights and ending impunity:

As long as the state officials responsible for human rights violations know that their status means they almost certainly will never have to account for their acts, every Senegalese citizen or individual on Senegalese territory or within Senegalese jurisdiction risks being subjected to acts of torture and other human rights violations that will put their life at risk. Similarly, as long as the wall of impunity is not broken down, the victims of violations and their families cannot hope to obtain justice and reparations. Ensuring justice represents not only the condition sine qua non of full and complete physical and psychological rehabilitation of victims and their families, but also constitutes one of the foundations of the rule of law.

The report goes on to cite the case of former Chadian president Hissene Habre [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] as a prime example of Senegal’s “contempt” for the rule of law. The Senegalese government has refused to extradite [JURIST report] Habre, despite ongoing international pressure to prosecute him for crimes against humanity. The report concluded by recommending several steps that must be taken in order to end human rights abuses in Senegal, including investigating all deaths in custody and torture allegations, instructing security forces to observe international human rights law, ending arbitrary detentions and repealing laws criminalizing homosexuality.

In 2009, the African Court on Human and People’s Rights (AfCHPR) [official website] found that it lacked jurisdiction [JURIST report] to hear a case against Senegal on whether charges against Habre should be dropped. Habre has been accused of involvement in the murder or torture of more than 40,000 political opponents during his rule from 1982 to 1990. He later fled to Senegal after being removed from power in 1990. Belgium has sought to try him under the principle of universal jurisdiction, but Senegal has long refused extradition. Earlier that year, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website] denied [JURIST report] Belgium’s request to compel Habre’s extradition. Belgium had accused Senegal of violating international law, including Article 7 of the Convention Against Torture, by not trying Habre in Senegal, where he has lived under house arrest since 1990. The ICJ found that assurances made by Senegal that Habre would remain in custody until trial were sufficient and that “the risk of irreparable prejudice to the rights claimed by Belgium is not apparent.”

Read more detail on JURIST – Paper Chase

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