Senegal | Freedom House

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Freedom in the World 2006

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Members of Senegal's political opposition in 2005 accused President Abdoulaye Wade of being increasingly authoritarian as the country headed toward presidential elections in 2007. They pointed to efforts to have Idrissa Seck-a former close ally of Wade and his most formidable political rival should he choose to run in 2007-face embezzlement charges. Meanwhile, the Group of 8 in June annulled Senegal's external debt.

Since independence from France in 1960, Senegal has escaped military or harsh authoritarian rule. President Leopold Senghor, an acclaimed poet and noted academic in France, exercised de facto one-party rule under the Socialist Party (PS) for more than a decade after independence. Most political restrictions were lifted after 1981. Abdou Diouf, of the PS, succeeded Senghor in 1981 and won large victories in unfair elections in 1988 and 1993.

Abdoulaye Wade's victory in the presidential poll in 2000-his fifth attempt to win the presidency- overturned four decades of rule by the PS. Wade, of the Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS), captured 59.5 percent of the runoff vote, against 41.5 percent for Diouf. The election was judged to have been free and fair by inter-national observers.

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 at two, and giving women the right to own land for the first time. President Wade dissolved the National Assembly, which had been dominated by the former ruling PS, and elections were held in April. A coalition led by Wade won 89 of the 120 seats available, followed by the PS with 10; smaller parties captured the remainder of the seats.

Preliminary peace accords between the government and the separatist Movement of the Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) were signed in 2001. The geographic isolation of Casamance, which is separated from much of the rest of Senegal by The Gambia, helped contribute to a feeling of marginalization that sparked the conflict in 1982; ethnically, the people of Casamance identify more with their southern neighbors in Guinea-Bissau than with northern Senegalese. A subsequent peace accord was signed in December 2004, and the government and MFDC met to decide how to implement the accord's provisions. A handful of breakaway factions of the MFDC rejected the peace agreement, and sporadic attacks on civilians and military patrols occurred in 2005, although they were less frequent than in previous years.

In 2004, Wade dismissed Idrissa Seck as prime minister on suspicion that he was trying to challenge Wade's leadership of the PDS. The National Assembly in August 2005 voted to force Seck to face embezzlement charges before a special high court reserved for criminal allegations against government officials; opposition leaders said that they would try to have the vote rescinded. The government charged that Seck, deputy leader of Wade's PDS, had misappropriated funds designated for public works projects. Seck was then charged with endangering national security and ordered to prison until trial. Seck, who denied any wrongdoing, was to be tried in the High Court of Justice; it would be the first time in more than four decades that a case has been filed in the court. Seck is considered President Wade's most formidable political rival should he choose to run in 2007.

In May, Abdourahim Agne, the vocal leader of the small center-left Reform Party, was arrested and charged with threatening the state after he urged people to take to the streets to demand Wade's resignation.

Senegal's economy has enjoyed modest growth since the mid-1990s. In June, the Group of 8 (G8) annulled Senegal's external debt along with the debts of several other African nations. Senegal became a member of a contact group between African countries and members of the G8 to help, in part, increase African domestic and foreign trade.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Citizens of Senegal can change their government democratically. 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 1998 legislative polls and the presidential elections in 2000. Elections for the 120-seat, unicameral National Assembly are held every five years. The president is elected by popular vote every five years. The president appoints the prime minister.

Members of Senegal's political opposition opposed an idea put forth by President Abdoulaye Wade to postpone National Assembly elections from 2006 until 2007 to coincide with presidential elections in an effort to cut costs. Wade said that the extra money would help victims of massive flooding in Senegal in 2005. Opposition leaders accused Wade of seeking to change the electoral calendar to deal with problems within his PDS.

There are more than 75 legally registered political parties in Senegal. Major parties include the PDS, the PS, the Alliance of Forces for Progress (AFP), the Union for Democratic Renewal (URD), and the National Democratic Rally (RND).

Although the government has initiated reforms to strengthen the rule of law and improve transparency, corruption remains a problem. Senegal was ranked 78 out of 159 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Freedom of expression is generally respected, and members of the independent media are often highly critical of the government and political parties. There are about 20 independent radio stations, some of which broadcast in rural areas. More than a dozen independent newspapers and three government-affiliated newspapers are available. The state owns the only national television station. There is liberal access to the internet.

The government does not carry out formal censorship, but some self-censor-ship is practiced because of criminal laws against "discrediting the state" and disseminating "false news" that Wade has promised to repeal. A national security provision, Article 80, criminalizes any "maneuver or act that might compromise public security or cause serious political disturbance." Mandatory detention follows for anyone charged under the law. The Interior Ministry closed Senegal's leading private radio station, Sud FM, for several hours in October 2005 after the station interviewed Salif Adio, a breakaway hard-line leader of the Casamance rebellion. Authorities questioned employees and stopped all Sud FM transmissions for about 10 hours. Officials said the interview threatened state security and banned rebroadcasts of it.

Religious freedom in Senegal, which is over 90 percent Muslim, is respected. Rivalries between Islamic groups have sometimes erupted into violence. Some of Senegal's most powerful men are the leaders of the country's Islamic Sufi brotherhoods. Academic freedom is guaranteed and respected.

Freedom of association and assembly is guaranteed, but authorities have sometimes limited these rights in practice. Human rights groups working on local and regional issues are among many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that operate freely. Although union rights to organize, bargain collectively, and strike are legally protected, there are some restrictions on the right to strike. Most workers are employed in the informal business and agricultural sectors. Nearly all of the country's small industrialized workforce is unionized, and workers are a potent political force.

Poor pay and lack of tenure protections create conditions for external influence on a judiciary that is, by statute, independent. High-profile cases often attract considerable interference from political and economic elites. Uncharged detainees are incarcerated without legal counsel far beyond the lengthy periods already permitted by law. Prison conditions are poor. In December 2004, the National Assembly voted to abolish the death penalty; Senegal has not carried out any executions for four decades.

Pressure mounted in 2005 on the government of Senegal to extradite former Chadian president Hissene Habre, who has lived in exile in Senegal for 15 years. A group of Chadian citizens said that they were victims of torture under Habre's regime and want him arrested and extradited to Belgium for trial. In September, a Belgian judge issued an international arrest warrant for Habre for crimes against humanity and torture. New York-based Human Rights Watch said the move was as significant as Spain's arrest warrant for General Augusto Pinochet of Chile. In 2000, a Senegalese court had charged Habre with torture and crimes against humanity, but the country's highest court ruled that he could not stand trial for crimes committed outside the country. Wade has said that he has no objection to Habre's extradition.

No members of the security forces believed to be responsible for human rights violations in the past have been charged or prosecuted. Three human rights groups in Senegal denounced a February amnesty law as a "law of impunity" which gives amnesty to politically motivated crimes committed in Senegal and abroad between 1983 and 2004; Wade approved the measure.

The government has made an effort to achieve ethnic and regional balance in military and civilian positions of power.

Constitutional rights afforded women are often not honored, especially in rural areas, and women enjoy fewer opportunities than men for education and formal sector employment. Despite governmental campaigns, domestic violence against women is reportedly common. Many elements of Sharia (Islamic law) and local customary law, particularly those regarding inheritance and marital relations, discriminate against women. Although Senegal banned female genital mutilation in 1999, it is still practiced among some ethnic groups. The government and NGOs have been working to educate the population about the health risks of the practice. In May, Senegal adopted a law on human trafficking that provides penalties of up to 30 years in prison.