Freedom in the World
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Senegal received an upward trend arrow for holding free and fair parliamentary elections and for approving a constitution in a referendum that provides for greater rights for women.
The people of Senegal adopted a new constitution by an overwhelming majority in January 2001, reducing presidential terms from seven to five years, setting the number of terms to two and, for the first time, giving women the right to own land. The new constitution also allows the president to dissolve the national assembly without the agreement of a two-thirds majority. President Abdoulaye Wade dissolved the assembly, which had been dominated by the former ruling Socialist Party, and elections were held in April. A coalition led by Wade won 89 of the 120 seats available, followed by the Socialist Party with 10. Smaller parties won the remainder. The Wade government in 2001 signed a peace agreement with the Movement of the Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC), but it carried little weight because the separatist group is divided.
Since independence from France in 1960, Senegal has escaped military or harshly authoritarian rule. President Leopold Senghor exercised de facto one-party rule under the Socialist Party for more than a decade after independence. Most political restrictions were lifted after 1981. Abdou Diouf, of the Socialist Party, succeeded Senghor in 1981 and won large victories in unfair elections in 1988 and 1993. The presidential poll in 2000 was judged free and fair by international observers. It was the fifth attempt by Wade, of the Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS), to win the presidency.
Wade in September said that he was in favor of extraditing former Chadian ruler Hissene Habre, who has been living in exile in Senegal since 1990, if a third country could guarantee a fair trial. A collective of Chadians has accused Habre of torture, killings, and executions while in power. A Senegalese lower court decision that Habre could face trial in Senegal was overturned by the country's highest appeals court, which said that Senegal had no jurisdiction to try Habre because his alleged crimes were committed outside Senegalese territory. International and local human rights groups criticized the Wade government in 2000 after what appeared to be executive interference in efforts to prosecute Habre. A Rwandan genocide suspect was arrested in November 2001 in Senegal at the request of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
Senegal's population is mostly engaged in subsistence agriculture. There has been steady growth in the industrial sector, but lack of open competition obstructs independent business development.
The Senegalese have the right to choose their leaders freely. Voting regulations blatantly favored the former ruling party for the first three decades after independence. The party used state patronage and state media to protect its position. Changes to the 1992 Electoral Code lowered the voting age to 18, introduced secret balloting, and created a nominally fairer electoral framework. The National Observatory of Elections, which was created in 1997, performed credibly in overseeing the May 1998 legislative polls and the presidential elections in 2000. The 2000 presidential polls overturned four decades of rule by the Socialist Party as Abdoulaye Wade secured 58.5 percent of the runoff vote, against 41.5 percent for Abdou Diouf. Opposition candidates that had lost the first round of voting rallied behind Diouf.
The national assembly in 1998 voted to add an upper house, or senate, which increased its membership to 140, drawing harsh criticism from minority opposition parties. None of the new members would be directly elected, and one-fifth would be appointed by the president. The upper house was abolished in the 2001 referendum, which brought the number of assembly seats back to 120.
Poor pay and lack of tenure protections create conditions for external influence on a judiciary that is, by statute, independent. In high-profile cases, there is often considerable interference from political and economic elites. Uncharged detainees are incarcerated without legal counsel far beyond the lengthy periods already permitted by law. Muslims have the right to choose customary law or civil law for certain civil cases, such as those concerning inheritance and divorce.
Freedom of association and assembly is guaranteed, but authorities have sometimes limited this right in practice. There are credible reports that authorities often beat suspects during questioning and pretrial detention, despite constitutional protection against such treatment. Reports of disappearances in connection with the conflict in Casamance occur regularly. There are reports of extrajudicial killings by both government forces and MFDC rebels. The government rarely tries or punishes members of the armed forces for human rights abuses. Prison conditions are poor. Human rights groups working on local and regional issues are among many nongovernmental organizations that operate freely.
Freedom of expression is generally respected, and members of the independent media are often highly critical of the government and political parties. There are six independent radio stations, some of which broadcast in rural areas. The government does not carry out formal censorship, but some self-censorship is practiced because of laws against "discrediting the state" or disseminating "false news."
Religious freedom in Senegal, which is 90 percent Muslim, is respected. Rivalries between Islamic groups have sometimes erupted into violence. One association, the Mourid, has often used its strong financial and political influence to back the former ruling Socialist Party.
Constitutional rights afforded women are often not honored, especially in the countryside, and women have fewer chances than men for education and formal sector employment. Despite government campaigns, spousal abuse and other domestic violence against women are reportedly common. Many elements of Islamic and local customary law, particularly those regarding inheritance and marital relations, are discriminatory toward women. The 2001 referendum gave women the right to own land for the first time. Senegal's first female prime minister was appointed in March 2001. Although Senegal banned female genital mutilation in 1999, it is still practiced among some ethnic groups.
Union rights to organize, bargain collectively, and strike are legally protected, but include notification requirements. Most workers are employed in the informal and agricultural sectors. Nearly all of the country's small industrialized workforce is unionized, and workers are a potent political force. The interior ministry must give prior authorization before a trade union can exist legally.