Senegal's security forces continue to torture suspects held in custody, sometimes to death, leaving all those in detention at risk of serious human rights violations, Amnesty International said in a report released today.
The report Senegal: Land of Impunity documents how in the past three decades very little has improved within the Senegalese justice system. The systematic use of torture to extract confessions remains openly condoned in court proceedings and perpetrators are seldom held to account when their victims die as a result of mistreatment.
"For decades Senegalese men and women have been subjected to cruel and elaborate torture and ill-treatment at the hands of those who should be protecting them," said Salvatore Saguès, West Africa researcher at Amnesty International.
"Senegal's disregard for human rights can be judged by its failure to live up to its international human rights obligations. It does not even apply the guarantees set out in its own national legislation."
Amnesty International's report pulls together comprehensive research conducted between 1998 and May 2010 and contains testimonies from individuals - civilians victims of the past Casamance conflict, common law detainees or groups of people arrested because of their alleged political opinions or sexual behaviour - who describe being electrocuted, burned and asphyxiated while being held by security forces.
The report demonstrates that the Senegalese authorities have rarely investigated cases of deaths in custody, and where investigations have taken place, they have rarely been conducted in a prompt, independent and impartial manner.
On 14 July 2010 29-year-old Abdoulaye Wade Yinghou was arrested as he walked past a demonstration in a Dakar suburb on his way to buy animal feed. Witnesses saw police beat Yinghou with rifle butts at the time of his arrest and again on arrival at the police station.
The following day, Yinghou’s family were told by police officers that his body was in the hospital morgue because he had died following a seizure or illness. However an autopsy revealed facial injuries, broken ribs and a death aggravated by “assault with a (several) hard and blunt object (s).”
In the last three years, at least six people arrested for common law crimes have died in custody, apparently from the effects of torture.
In at least four of these cases, investigations were not opened or completed and the police officers and gendarmes implicated in these acts of torture were not brought to justice.
In order to ensure immunity from prosecution for Senegalese security forces, the authorities have used various political and legal stratagem that have allowed those responsible for these crimes to avoid being made accountable for their acts.
In some cases, the Senegalese authorities have chosen to use a general amnesty which is contrary to international law standards that ban amnesties for serious human rights violations until their perpetrators have been tried.
Another major obstacle to justice, is the fact that in order to call a member of the security forces before a court of law, magistrates must obtain an ordre de poursuites (prosecution order) from the responsible Ministry – typically either the Ministry of the Interior or the Ministry of Defense.
IThe ordre de poursuites serves as a major obstacle and effectively grants de facto power of veto to the interested Ministry leaving the judiciary helpless and depriving the victim’s families of any hope of justice.
At the highest level, Senegal’s contempt for the rule of law is demonstrated by its failure to bring former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre to trial.
Habre fled to Senegal after being forced from power in 1990. Up to 40,000 Chadians are estimated to have been killed during his 8- year rule. Despite repeated injunctions from the UN Committee against Torture and a call by the African Union, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade continues to make excuses for not bringing Habre to justice.
"For common law detainees, groups arrested because of their alleged political opinions or sexuality and victims of Hissène Habré alike, victims find their way blocked by a wall of impunity," said Salvatore Saguès. "Until that wall is broken down, the people of Senegal can have no confidence in the country’s police, judiciary or government."
- Download the report (PDF)
Source: African Activist
In January 2009, nine men were put on trial in Senegal because of their alleged sexual relations with other men. The court ignored denunciations of acts of torture made by the detainees and their lawyers. The court concluded that AIDES Senegal was a "cover to recruit or organize meetings for homosexuals, under the pretext of providing HIV/AIDS prevention programmes". According to "Senegal Land of Impunity":
“While they hit us, they insulted us and called us queers.”
Nine men were arrested in Dakar, on 19 December 2008, after anonymous accusations about their sexual behaviour. Police officers raided the house of Diadji Diouf, the Secretary General of AIDES Senegal, an organization providing HIV/AIDS prevention services to men who have sex with other men.
In March 2009, Amnesty International interviewed these nine men at Rebeuss prison, in Dakar. Most of them said they had been tortured and subjected to homophobic attacks and remarks by the police officers that questioned them and by the prison officers where they were imprisoned.
One of them told Amnesty International:
“The torture began in the flat where we were arrested. A police officer asked us if we were 'goordjiguen' (a Wolof expression meaning gay men and that literally means 'man-woman'). We said no, but the police officers accused us of lying and then took it in turns to slap me. They also hit me on the head and back with their truncheons. Then they told us to kneel down and fold our arms. We were in a circle, with two police officers inside the circle and the other three outside. For at least two hours, until 11 pm, they punched us, hit us with their truncheons and kicked us. Blows rained down on our bodies. While they hit us, they insulted us and called us queers and goordjiguen: ‘You have no shame, men like you, we are going to take you away. You are going to regret being goordjiguen before you even get to court.’ The interrogations were punctuated by blows to the head and body. The police officers who questioned us told us to confess we were gay. Then they handcuffed us together in pairs and took us to the police station. As we left the building, there was a crowd of bystanders, who insulted us and threw stones at us.The men were sentenced to 8 years in prison.
Once we arrived at the police station, the interrogations began again. After we were again repeatedly beaten, we confessed that we were gay but they continued to torture us even after we had "confessed".
On the evening we were taken to the police station, police officers from neighbouring police stations came to see us. Those who had just arrived said: 'We heard you have arrested some queers, we have come here to teach them a lesson'. That evening, five police officers beat us, they punched and kicked us, they also used their truncheons. Another police officer told us we ought to pray we would be brought before a judge quickly because, at the police station, they would hit us ten times with their truncheons every morning and every evening.
On our last day at the police station, I was asked to sign a statement. I asked to read it but they refused to let me. They forced me to sign it.”
The judge sentenced the nine men to eight years in prison for “indecent conduct and unnatural acts and conspiracy.” The judge based his ruling on article 319 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes “improper or unnatural acts with a person of the same sex.” The sentences were more severe than those required by the public prosecutor and they even exceeded those provided for in the Penal Code (a maximum of five years imprisonment). The verdict was announced only a few minutes after the end of the deliberations, which would seem to indicate that the court did not take into account the evidence presented by the defence.The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) recently posted four interviews from lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people from Senegal.
After many protests by national and international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, the nine men were released in April 2009 after the Dakar Court of Appeal overturned their convictions. However, no investigation was made into the serious allegations of torture and most of the men had to enter into semi-clandestinity or leave the country in order to escape hostility and harassment from the general public.
These arrests and convictions occurred in a context of growing hostility towards homosexuals
in Senegal, a hostility that has resulted in arbitrary arrests and homophobic measures of
harassment and discrimination.