Executive Summary

Senegal is a republic dominated by a strong executive branch. In 2012 voters elected Macky Sall as president for a seven-year term, in elections considered to be free and fair by local and international observers. On July 30, Sall’s coalition won the majority of seats in the National Assembly. Local and international observers viewed the legislative election as largely free and fair despite significant irregularities.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included arbitrary and unlawful killings; torture and arbitrary arrests by security forces; harsh and potentially life-threatening prison conditions; lack of judicial independence; limitations on freedom of speech and assembly; corruption, particularly in the judiciary, police, and executive branches; lack of accountability in cases involving violence against women and children, including female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); child abuse, early and forced marriage, infanticide, and trafficking in persons; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct; and forced labor.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, but impunity for abuses existed.

In the southern Casamance region, situated between The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, a de facto ceasefire between security forces and armed separatists continued for a fifth year. Individuals associated with various factions of the separatist Movement of Democratic Forces of the Casamance (MFDC), however, continued to rob and harass local populations. There were occasional accidental contacts and skirmishes between security forces and MFDC units, leading to deaths and injuries of rebels, and harm to civilians, but neither side conducted offensive operations. Civilian authorities investigate such incidents where security conditions allow. There were no reports of prosecutions of members of the MFDC. Mediation efforts continued in search of a negotiated resolution of the conflict, which began in 1982.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There was at least one report that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

On February 13, a customs officer shot and killed a protester in the village of Sekoto, in the eastern province of Saraya, during a clash with a group of local residents following authorities’ seizure of unregulated gold mining equipment. The two customs officers involved in the case were taken into custody pending an investigation, which was still pending at year’s end.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. Human rights organizations noted examples of physical abuse committed by law enforcement, including excessive use of force as well as cruel and degrading treatment in prisons and detention facilities. In particular, they criticized strip search and interrogation methods. Police reportedly forced detainees to sleep on bare floors, directed bright lights at them, beat them with batons, and kept them in cells with minimal access to fresh air. The government claimed these practices were not widespread and that it usually conducted formal investigations into allegations of abuse. Investigations, however, often were unduly prolonged and rarely resulted in charges or indictments.

As of October 23, the United Nations reported that it had received one allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse against Senegalese peacekeepers during the year. The allegation of transactional sex was made against 14 members of the Senegalese Formed Police Unit serving with the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO); the incidents were alleged to have taken place between November 2016 and March 2017. As of October 23, the investigation was pending identification of the personnel involved. As an interim measure, the UN suspended payments to Senegal for the 14 members of the Senegalese Police Unit serving with MONUSCO who are under investigation.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening due to food shortages, overcrowding, poor sanitation, and inadequate medical care.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was endemic. For example, Dakar’s main prison facility, Rebeuss, held more than twice the number of inmates for which it was designed. Female detainees generally had better conditions than men. Pretrial detainees were not always separated from convicted prisoners. Juvenile boys were often housed with men or permitted to roam freely with men during the day. Girls were held together with women. Infants and newborns were often kept in prison with their mothers until age one, with no special cells, additional medical provisions, or extra food rations.

In addition to overcrowding, the National Organization for Human Rights, a nongovernmental organization (NGO), identified lack of adequate sanitation as a major problem. Poor and insufficient food, limited access to medical care, stifling heat, poor drainage, and insect infestations also were problems throughout the prison system.

According to 2016 government statistics, the most recent available, 25 inmates died in prisons and detention centers in 2016. While perpetrators may have been subject to internal disciplinary sanctions, there have not been any prosecutions or other public actions taken against them.

On August 23, inmate Aly Ba died in custody due to negligence on the part of prison guards at Liberte VI prison in Dakar. According to the Association for the Support and Reintegration of Prisoners, Ba died of an asthma attack after guards refused to provide medical intervention. The Prison Management Office subsequently announced that police had launched an investigation into Ba’s death.

Administration: Authorities did not always conduct credible investigations into allegations of mistreatment. Ombudsmen were available to respond to complaints, but prisoners did not know how to access them or file reports. Unlike in previous years, authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, but there was no evidence that officials conducted any follow-up investigations.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by local human rights groups, all of which operated independently, and by international observers. The National Observer of Detention Facilities had full and unfettered access to all civilian prison and detention facilities, but not to military and intelligence facilities. The national observer lacked funds to monitor prisons throughout the country. It previously published an annual report, but the 2015 and 2016 reports had not been published by year’s end.

Members of the International Committee of the Red Cross visited prisons in Dakar and the Casamance.

Improvements: Four prisons began implementing use of a new computer software system containing photographs and biometric data for each inmate, as well as medical information (accessible only by medical staff), date(s) of the inmate’s arrest, of the last court appearance, and the next scheduled court appearance. Prison authorities intended to implement this system in all of the country’s 37 prisons. In some prisons, authorities encouraged prisoners to paint murals on interior and exterior walls; some prisoners who participated in this activity and displayed good behavior obtained conditional release with prison authorities’ support.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention; however, the government did not always observe these prohibitions. This was most notable in the months leading up to the July 30 legislative election when arrests that many perceived as arbitrary and politically motivated occurred.

Detainees are legally permitted to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained; however, this rarely occurred due to lack of adequate legal counsel.


Police and gendarmes are responsible for maintaining law and order. The army shares that responsibility in exceptional cases, such as during a state of emergency. The National Police are part of the Interior Ministry and operate in major cities. The Gendarmerie is part of the Ministry of Defense and primarily operates outside of major cities.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over police, gendarmes, and the army, but the government did not have effective mechanisms to punish abuse and corruption. The Criminal Investigation Department (DIC) is in charge of investigating police abuses but was ineffective in addressing impunity or corruption.

An amnesty law covers police and other security personnel involved in “political crimes” committed between 1983 and 2004, except for killings in “cold blood.”

The Regional Court of Dakar includes a military tribunal, which has jurisdiction over crimes committed by military personnel. The tribunal is composed of a civilian judge, a civilian prosecutor, and two military assistants to advise the judge, one of whom must be of equal rank to the defendant. The tribunal may try civilians only if they were involved with military personnel who violated military law. The military tribunal provides the same rights as a civilian criminal court.


Unless a crime is “flagrant” (just committed or discovered shortly after being committed), police must obtain a warrant from a court to arrest or detain a suspect. In practice, police treat most cases as “flagrant” offenses and make arrests without warrants, invoking the law that grants them broad powers to detain prisoners for long periods before filing formal charges. The DIC may hold persons up to 24 hours before releasing or charging them. Authorities did not promptly inform many detainees of the charges against them. Police officers, including DIC officials, may double the detention period from 24 to 48 hours without charge if they can demonstrate substantial grounds for a future indictment, and if a prosecutor so authorizes. If such extended detention is authorized, the detainee must be brought in front of the prosecutor within 48 hours of detention. For particularly serious offenses, investigators may request that a prosecutor double this period to 96 hours. Authorities have the power to detain terrorist suspects for an initial 96 hours, and with renewals for a maximum of 12 days. The detention period does not formally begin until authorities officially declare an individual is being detained, a practice Amnesty International criticized for the resulting lengthy detentions. Bail was rarely available, and officials generally did not allow family access. Until 2016 a detainee was entitled to a single 30-minute consultation with counsel while in custody. In November 2016 the government enacted changes to the Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code giving defense attorneys access to suspects from the moment of arrest and allowing them to be present during interrogation; this change, however, was not regularly implemented. In theory an attorney is provided at public expense in felony cases to all criminal defendants who cannot afford one after the initial period of detention. In many cases, however, the appointed counsel rarely shows up, especially outside of Dakar. Indigent defendants did not always receive attorneys in misdemeanor cases. A number of NGOs provided legal assistance or counseling to those charged with crimes.

Arbitrary Arrest: In the period leading up to the July 30 legislative election, authorities arrested several high-profile opposition figures and their supporters. Many citizens believed these arrests were arbitrary and politically motivated.

In March authorities in Dakar arrested the city’s mayor Khalifa Sall (no relation to President Sall), an opposition leader, on charges of embezzlement. Sall was subsequently elected to the National Assembly on July 30 while still in custody, and he remained in custody at year’s end. Opposition figures and human rights advocates allege that Sall’s arrest and continued incarceration, despite his election and subsequent parliamentary immunity, were politically motivated.

Pretrial Detention: According to a 2014 EU-funded study, more than 60 percent of the prison population consisted of pretrial detainees. According to official statistics, among the 9,422 registered prisoners in 2016, 4,383 were pretrial detainees. The law states an accused person may not be held in pretrial detention for more than six months for minor crimes; however, authorities routinely held persons in custody until a court demanded their release. Judicial backlogs and absenteeism of judges resulted in an average delay of two years between the filing of charges and the beginning of a trial. In cases involving allegations of murder, threats to state security, and embezzlement of public funds, there were no limits on the length of pretrial detention. In many cases, pretrial detainees were held longer than the length of sentence later received. The November 2016 modification to the criminal code created permanent criminal chambers to reduce the backlog of pretrial detainees, with some success.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees are legally permitted to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained; however, this rarely occurred due to lack of adequate legal counsel.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judiciary was subject to corruption and government influence. Magistrates noted overwhelming caseloads, lack of adequate space and office equipment, and inadequate transportation, and they openly questioned the government’s commitment to judicial independence. According to Freedom in the World 2016, “inadequate pay and lack of tenure expose judges to external influences and prevent the courts from providing a proper check on the other branches of government. The president controls appointments to the Constitutional Council.” Authorities did not always respect court orders.

On February 1, a member of the High Council of Magistrates resigned; in his resignation letter to President Sall, he pointed to practices on the council that he said undermined transparency and judicial independence, including a lack of council-wide meetings to deliberate on judicial appointments; instead, individual consultations between then justice minister Sidiki Kaba and individual council members were held.


Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and cannot be compelled to testify against themselves or confess guilt. All defendants have the right to a fair and public trial, to be present in court during their trial, to confront and present witnesses, to present evidence, and to have an attorney (at public expense if needed) in felony cases. Defendants have the right to be informed of the charges against them promptly and in detail with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. They also have the right to sufficient time and facilities to prepare their defense. Nevertheless, case backlogs, lack of legal counsel, judicial inefficiency and corruption, and lengthy pretrial detention undermined these rights.

There were positive developments during the year. In May the Ministry of Justice directed all tribunals to release acquitted defendants forthwith, whereas previously acquitted defendants had remained in detention up to three days after acquittal. The penitentiary system also developed software to track pretrial detainees. The system is programmed to automatically notify the relevant tribunal when the pretrial detention time limits for a particular detainee are about to expire, prompting the court to schedule the case for hearing. The system also automatically deducts the time a detainee has spent in pretrial custody from the ultimate sentence imposed upon conviction.

Evidentiary hearings may be closed to the public and press. Although a defendant and counsel may introduce evidence before an investigating judge who decides whether to refer a case for trial, police or prosecutors may limit their access to evidence against the defendant prior to trial. A panel of judges presides over ordinary courts in civil and criminal cases.

The right of appeal exists in all courts, except for the High Court of Justice. These rights extend to all citizens.


There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.


Citizens may seek cessation of and reparation for human rights violations in regular administrative or judicial courts. Citizens may also seek administrative remedies by filing a complaint with the ombudsman, an independent authority. Corruption and lack of independence hampered judicial and administrative handling of these cases. At times prosecutors refused to prosecute security officials, and violators often went unpunished. In matters related to human rights, individuals and organizations may appeal adverse decisions to the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice in Abuja, Nigeria.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

The de facto ceasefire in the Casamance has been in effect since 2012, and President Sall continued efforts to resolve the 35-year-old conflict between separatists and government security forces. Both the government and various factions of the MFDC separatist movement accepted mediation efforts led by neutral parties, including Christian and Islamic organizations. Progress toward resolution of the conflict has been incremental.

Killings: Although neither government forces nor MFDC rebels conducted offensive operations in the Casamance during the year, there were several brief, incidental skirmishes. An undetermined number of MFDC rebels were injured or killed in these encounters.

Abductions: There were no confirmed cases of abductions in the Casamance. There were, however, several incidents related to acts of banditry attributed to MFDC rebels in which civilians were detained or otherwise harmed.

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