Senegal is a republic dominated by a strong executive branch. In February voters re-elected Macky Sall as president for a second term of five years in elections local and international observers considered generally free and fair. The government postponed until mid-2020 local municipal elections originally scheduled to take place in December.
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 major cities. The army also reports to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces, but the government did not have effective mechanisms to punish abuse and corruption.
Significant human rights issues included unlawful or arbitrary killing by the government; torture and arbitrary arrests by security forces; harsh and potentially life-threatening prison conditions; lack of judicial independence; criminal libel; corruption, particularly in the judiciary, police, and elsewhere in the executive branch; trafficking in persons; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and forced child labor.
The government took steps to identify, 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 seventh year. Sporadic incidents of violence occurred in the Casamance, but they were associated more with criminal activity than directly with the separatist conflict. Individuals associated with various factions of the separatist Movement of Democratic Forces of the Casamance (MFDC) continued to rob and harass local populations. There were occasional accidental contacts, skirmishes, and arrest of MFDC units by security forces. Mediation efforts continued in search of a negotiated resolution of the conflict, which began in 1982. The government regularly investigated and prosecuted these incidents.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government occasionally limited these freedoms.
Freedom of Expression: Blasphemy, security, and criminal defamation laws are in place and were occasionally enforced.
On July 16, the government indicted and placed under arrest activist Guy Marius Sagna, a member of the Front for a Popular Anti-Imperialist Revolution and Pan Africanism movement (FRAPP-France-Degage), a civil society organization that rallies against French interests in the country. FRAPP-France-Degage posted a false warning on its Facebook page denouncing France for allegedly planning a bomb attack. Sagna later obtained release on bail, although his case remained pending.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent journalists regularly criticized the government without reprisal. Private independent publications and government-affiliated media were available in Dakar, although their distribution in rural areas was irregular.
Radio was the most important medium of mass information and source of news due to the high illiteracy rate. There were approximately 200 community, public, and private commercial radio stations. Although an administrative law regulates radio frequency assignments, community radio operators claimed a lack of transparency in the process.
Although the government continued to influence locally televised information and opinion through Radio Television Senegal (RTS), more than 10 privately owned television channels broadcast independently. By law the government holds a majority interest in RTS, and the president directly or indirectly controlled selection of all members of the RTS executive staff. Beyond RTS all other public media outlets including the Senegalese Press Agency and the Le Soleil daily journal were controlled by members of President Sall’s ruling party, appointed by Sall; reporting by these outlets often carried a progovernment bias.
Violence and Harassment: On June 29, officers of the DIC of the Gendarmerie raided the home of Jean Meissa Diop, senior journalist of media group Walfadjri. DIC officers claimed they were searching for a journalist who had accused a senior member of the ruling party of corruption in a recent press article. According to Diop, DIC officers entered his house without presenting a warrant, invaded his privacy, searched his room, and were excessively rough in handling his family. The DIC later apologized publicly to Diop and his family for the “misunderstanding,” while denying they used any violence and noting the intervention took place during business hours. (see also section 1.d. and section 1.f.).
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists occasionally practiced self-censorship, particularly in government-controlled media.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The government sometimes restricted freedom of peaceful assembly, but generally respected freedom of association. The Ministry of Interior must approve protests in advance.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.
In-country Movement: MFDC banditry and the risk of landmines restricted movement in some parts of the Casamance.
Foreign Travel: The law requires some public employees to obtain government approval before departing the country. Only the military and judiciary enforced this law for their employees, however.
f. Protection of Refugees
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Since the president must approve each case, delays of many years in granting refugee status remained a problem. Refugee advocates reported the government rarely granted refugee status or asylum. The government, however, generally allowed those with pending and some with rejected asylum claims to remain in the country.
The government did not offer all asylum seekers due process or security, since the same committee that examined appeals filed by denied asylum seekers had examined their original cases. Police did not arrest denied asylum seekers for staying illegally in the country. Police did arrest asylum seekers if they committed crimes, but authorities generally contacted UNHCR in such cases to verify their asylum status and ensure they deported no one with a pending claim.
Durable Solutions: Since 1989 the country has offered protection to Mauritanian refugees, who were dispersed over a large area in the Senegal River valley along the Mauritania border and enjoyed free movement within the country. According to UNHCR, most of the remaining 14,400 Mauritanian refugees have indicated a desire to remain in the country permanently.
The government continued to permit generally unsupervised and largely informal repatriation of Casamance refugees returning from The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau.
Temporary Protection: The government did not formally grant temporary protection, although the government generally allowed those with pending and sometimes denied asylum claims to remain in the country.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government often did not enforce the law effectively. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. During the year there were reports of government corruption.
Corruption: The National Anticorruption Commission’s (OFNAC) first and only annual report, in 2016, concluded that bribery, misappropriation, abuse of authority, and fraud remained widespread within government institutions, particularly in the health and education ministries, postal services, and the Transport Administration. Since the dismissal of the first OFNAC president in 2016, authorities installed a new president, and the organization has focused on advising judicial officials on corruption, investigating allegations of fraud, and serving as a supervisory body on fraud-related cases.
Financial Disclosure: A 2014 law requires the president, cabinet ministers, speaker and chief financial officer of the National Assembly, and managers of public funds in excess of one billion CFA francs ($1.7 million) to disclose their assets to OFNAC. Failure to comply may result in a penalty amounting to one-quarter of an individual’s monthly salary until forms are filed. The president may dismiss appointees who do not comply. With the exception of disclosures made by the president, disclosures made under the law are confidential and unauthorized release of asset disclosures is a criminal offense.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative but rarely took action to address their concerns.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The government’s National Committee on Human Rights included government representatives, civil society groups, and independent human rights organizations. The committee had authority to investigate abuses but lacked credibility, did not conduct investigations, and last released an annual report in 2001.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, except for security force members, including police and gendarmes, customs officers, and judges. Unions have the right to bargain collectively and strike, with some restrictions. The law allows civil servants to form and join unions. Before a trade union can exist legally, the labor code requires authorization from the Ministry of Interior. Unions have no legal recourse if the minister refuses registration, although authorization is rarely withheld. Under the law, as part of the trade union recognition process, the ministry has the authority to check the morality and aptitude of candidates for positions of trade union officials. Any change to the bylaws of a trade union must be reported to and investigated by the inspector of labor and the public attorney. Additionally, the law provides that minors (both as workers and as apprentices) cannot join a union without parental authorization. The state prosecutor can dissolve and disband trade unions by administrative order if union administrators are not following government regulations on the duties of a union to its members.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and allows unions to conduct their activities without interference. Foreigners may hold union office only if they have lived in the country for five years and only if his or her country provides the same right to Senegalese citizens. Collective bargaining agreements covered an estimated 44 percent of workers in the formal economy. Unions are able to engage in legal proceedings against any individual or entity that infringes the collective bargaining rights of union members, including termination of employment.
The law provides for the right to strike; however, regulations restrict this right. The constitution stipulates a strike must not infringe on the freedom to work or place an enterprise in peril. The law states workplaces may not be occupied during a strike and may not violate nonstrikers’ freedom to work or hinder the right of management to enter the premises of the enterprise. This means pickets, go-slows, working to rule, and sit-down strikes are prohibited. Unions representing members of the civil service must notify the government of their intent to strike at least one month in advance; private sector unions must notify the government three days in advance. The government does not have any legal obligation to engage with groups who are planning to strike, but the government sometimes engaged in dialogue with these groups. The government may also requisition workers to replace those on strike in all sectors, including in “essential services” sectors. A worker who takes part in an illegal strike may be summarily dismissed. The government effectively enforced applicable laws on the right to strike. Penalties for noncompliance include a fine, imprisonment, or both. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The labor code does not apply to the informal sector and thus excludes the majority of the workforce, including subsistence farmers, domestic workers, and those employed in many family businesses. Employees of certain government security institutions, including police, military, and customs officials, are prohibited from unionizing and striking.
The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining with restrictions. Workers exercised the right to form or join unions, but antiunion sentiment within the government was strong. Trade unions organize on an industry-wide basis, very similar to the French system of union organization. There were no confirmed reports of antiunion discrimination during the year.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Many provisions of the law impose imprisonment with compulsory prison labor as a penalty for noncompliance, such as for participation in strikes in “essential services,” for occupying the workplace or its immediate surroundings during strike actions, or for breaching labor discipline deemed to endanger ships or the life or health of persons on board.
The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws against forced labor, and such practices continued to occur in the areas of domestic servitude, forced prostitution, farm labor, and artisanal mining. Forced child labor occurred, including forced begging in some Quranic schools (see section 6). Some children in these schools were kept in conditions of servitude; were forced to work daily, generally in the street begging; and had to meet a daily quota for money or food set by their teachers.
In March 2018 the government launched a second phase of Retrait de la Rue, a program to remove children engaged in forced begging in the Dakar area, with some success; however, law enforcement efforts in this area remained weak. The government also revised a 2005 antitrafficking in persons law with an aim to widen its use by prosecutors. The government published additional information related to labor law enforcement.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits some, but not all, of the worst forms of child labor. Regulations on child labor set the minimum working age at 15. Work considered “hazardous”–including most subterranean mining, operation of machines or vehicles, bearing heavy burdens, and working on ships or fishing vessels–is prohibited until age 18. In the agricultural sector children as young as 12 are permitted to work in a family environment. Work deemed “hazardous,” and thus prohibited for children, does not include domestic work or street work, areas in which there is evidence of potential harm to child workers. The law does not always make clear the difference between “dangerous” and “light” work.
Inspectors from the Ministry of Labor are responsible for investigating and initiating lawsuits in child labor cases. The ministry’s investigators can visit any institution during work hours to verify and investigate compliance with labor laws and can act on tips from trade unions or ordinary citizens.
Labor laws prohibiting child labor were not effectively enforced, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of Labor sent investigators to investigate formal workplaces, but they are not adequately trained to deal with child labor problems. Inspectors did not monitor the informal sector, and no cases of child labor were identified in the formal sector. In addition, many areas with prevalent abuses are remote, and inspectors are only located in larger cities. There was no specific system to report child labor violations, largely due to inadequate funding of the Child Labor Division and the Ministry of Labor. The ministry instead relied on unions to report violators. The government conducted seminars with local officials, NGOs, and civil society to raise awareness of the dangers of child labor, exploitative begging, and online exploitation of children.
Most child labor occurred in the informal economy where the government did not effectively enforce labor regulations. Child labor was prevalent in many informal and family-based sectors, such as agriculture (millet, corn, and peanuts), fishing, artisanal gold mining, garages, dumpsites, slaughterhouses, salt production, rock quarrying, and metal and woodworking shops. In the large, informal, unregulated artisanal mining sector, entire families, including children, were engaged in artisanal mining work. Child gold washers, most aged 10 to 14, worked approximately eight hours a day using toxic agents such as mercury without training or protective equipment. There were also reports of children working on family farms or herding cattle. Children also worked as domestics, in tailoring shops, at fruit and vegetable stands, and in other areas of the informal economy.
According to the International Labor Organization, 28 percent of children participated in the labor force. A predominant type of forced child labor was the forced begging by children sent to live and study under the supervision of Quranic teachers (see sections 6 and 7.b.).
Following the president’s announcement of a campaign against child begging in 2016, authorities began removing children from the streets. The first phase of this campaign continued until 2017, but it was largely ineffective in addressing the problem.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
Labor law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on national origin, race, gender, disability, and religion; violators are officially subjected to fines and imprisonment, but these laws were not regularly enforced, and the penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The government did not effectively enforce the antidiscrimination provisions of the law. Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation occurred and was the most prevalent form of discrimination. Men and women have equal rights to apply for a job. Women experienced discrimination in employment and operating businesses (see section 6).
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The national minimum hourly wage was higher than the estimated poverty income rate. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage. Labor unions also acted as watchdogs and contributed to effective implementation of the minimum wage in the formal sector. The minimum wage provisions apply to foreign and migrant workers as well.
For most occupations in the formal sector, the law mandates a standard workweek of 40 to 48 hours, with at least one 24-hour rest period per week, one month per year of annual leave, enrollment in government social security and retirement plans, safety standards, and other measures. The law does not prohibit excessive or compulsory overtime in the formal sector.
Premium pay for overtime is required only in the formal sector. Legal regulations on industry-appropriate occupational safety and health exist, and the government sets the standards. Employees or their representatives have the right to propose whatever they assume would provide for their protection and safety and can refer to the competent administrative authority in case the employers refuse.
The Ministry of Labor, through the Labor Inspection Office, is responsible for enforcing labor standards in the formal sector; those who violate standards are officially subject to fines and imprisonment, but these were not regularly enforced and were insufficient to deter violation. Enforcement of the workweek standard was irregular. Labor inspectors had poor working conditions and lacked transportation to conduct their mission effectively. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health standards were common. Due to high unemployment and a slow legal system, workers seldom exercised their legal right to remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety. A large number of workplace accidents also took place in the informal sector.