News / Africa

Rights Group says Senegal's Security Forces Torture With Impunity

Drew Hinshaw

Human-rights group Amnesty International says Senegal's security forces are continuing to torture prisoners, while its ministers of state continue to block investigations of those claims. A Senegal government spokesman would not confirm or deny the details of the report.

For much of the republic's 50-year history, Senegal's security forces have been perceived as a pillar of the country's uniquely democratic traditions.

Unlike its neighbors Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Guinea Bissau, and nearly every other West African state, the country has never experienced a coup d'etat, and its soldiers rank among U.N. peacekeeping forces the world over.

But in a report published in Dakar, human-rights group Amnesty International said the positive reputation of Senegal's security forces masks a culture of impunity and brutality that Senegalese ministries refuse to investigate.

Security forces in the former French colony, they say, have unlawfully and often haphazardly detained and tortured prisoners, sometimes to point of death

Researcher Salvatore Sagues cites six prisoners he says died in custody, allegedly as a result of torture.

"Very few of the people responsible for these acts are being brought to trial and are being sentenced," Sagues said. "In some cases, the people allegedly responsible of these cases are merely transferred to another police station, which is a very bad sign because it shows to the family that people will not be punished, and it shows to the security forces that they can continue torturing people without being held to account."

Sagues said lawyers seeking to investigate cases implicating police and soldiers must first obtain prosecution orders from the Armed Forces or Interior Ministry.

"This prosecution order very often arrives very late or never, which means that the executive power has a de-facto veto forbidding, preventing the ministry of justice to open inquiries," he added.

Analysts say the report is a sign that Senegal's liberal reputation is at odds with its poor performance on many human-rights indicators.

A May study by research group Afrobarometer reported that less a third of Senegalese citizens told pollsters that they lived in a "real democracy."

That is the lowest percentage of 20 African countries studied except Zimbabwe and Madagascar.

Sagues says such problems are a long legacy of a government that never fully came to terms with what he called "massive human-rights abuses" committed during the military's 30-year campaign against separatists.

An offer of amnesty to soldiers accused of those abuses stifled any meaningful investigation on behalf of the victims and their family, he said.

"This amnesty was promulgated before any investigation, which means the amnesty is just some sort of let us forget what happened," Sagues said. "There are many people who are still wounded either mentally or physically as a result of this conflict, who were never recognized as victims, who never received reparations, and this is just unbearable for them."

Sagues said if Senegal seeks to convince the world that it is dedicated to human rights, it can start by trying former Chadian leader Hissene Habre. The ex-military leader is accused of orchestrating 40,000 killings during his eight year tenure. In a meeting Tuesday with Amnesty International, Sagues says the Justice Ministry reported being 95 percent ready to start the trial.

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