The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Senegal is a State Party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Senegal is also a party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the State has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
At regional level, Senegal is a State Party to the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. Article 11 provides as follows:
Every individual shall have the right to assemble freely with others. The exercise of this right shall be subject only to necessary restrictions provided for by law in particular those enacted in the interest of national security, the safety, health, ethics and rights and freedoms of others.
Senegal is also a party to the 1998 Protocol on the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, and has accepted the right of petition to the Court by individuals and non-governmental organisations.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Article 8 of the 2001 Constitution of Senegal (as amended) guarantees the right to freedom of assembly "within the conditions provided for by the law".
Under Article 10, everyone has the right of expression "and to disseminate their opinion freely by ... peaceful march, provided that the exercise of these rights does not infringe the honor and the consideration of others, or the public order".
The primary legislation governing assemblies in Senegal is the 1997 Law on Demonstrations.
Under the Law, prior notification to the prefect is required 72 hours before a demonstration. The notice must stipulate the names and address of the organisers and state the goal of the demonstration and the site, date and hour of meeting, as well as the proposed route and time the demonstration will end. If the prefect determines that the demonstration is of a nature to disturb public order, it can prohibit the assembly. This decision can be challenged before the Supreme Court.
The law does not expressly mention counter-demonstrations.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the State and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
According to the Government of Senegal, in reporting for the 2018 Universal Periodic Review under the UN Human Rights Council, it is "prohibited for the security forces, in the performance of their law-enforcement tasks, to use force except when it is necessary and in moderation, in accordance with operational requirements". The precise legal basis for this is unclear.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
There is not believed to be specific legislation governing use of firearms during assemblies.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2019 Concluding Observations on Senegal, the Human Rights Committee called on the authorities to guarantee and respect the right of assembly and demonstration of the general public, politicians and civil society organizations and to ensure that national legislation governed police use of force in accordance with the ICCPR and international standards.
In its 2019 Concluding Observations on Senegal, the Committee against Torture noted with concern
consistent reports of the use of excessive and disproportionate force by the security forces, including the use of live ammunition and tear gas, to repress political rallies and demonstrations.
The Committee also noted with concern
that a number of people have died as a result of the disproportionate use of force by agents of the State, as in the cases of Yamadou Sagna, Abdoulaye Baldé and Mbaye Mboup.
It regretted that the authorities "did not respond to the requests for information as to whether investigations had been or would be conducted into these events".
The Committee called on Senegal to:
Increase its efforts to systematically provide training to all law enforcement officials on the use of force, especially in the context of controlling demonstrations, taking due account of the Basic Principles on the Use of Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.
In its 2015 Concluding Observations on Senegal, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights did not address the right of peaceful assembly. In 2012, the African Commission adopted Resolution 208 on the Human Rights Situation in Senegal in which it expressed its concern "by the use of force by law enforcement officers who are firing live bullets at peaceful demonstrators resulting in the loss of lives". The Commission stongly condemined
the persistent and serious human rights violations which are tarnishing the electoral campaign, and the use of force against peaceful demonstrators.
In July 2019, in its reply to issues raised by the Human Rights Committee, Senegal noted that, on 14 August 2014,
violent protests took place on the Cheikh Anta Diop University campus in Dakar. The police tried to control the rampaging students and even had to storm the campus. Several students and law enforcement officers were injured in the incident and were treated by the emergency services of the various hospitals in Dakar. Unfortunately, at 4.30 p.m., a student named Bassirou Faye died as a result of a bullet wound. The senior investigating judge, Mahawa Sémou Diouf, investigated the case. He ... sent this police officer to be tried for murder by the criminal division of the Dakar Tribunal de Grande Instance (court of major jurisdiction). The police officer was sentenced to 20 years of forced labour and the State was ordered to pay CFAF 50 million in damages. The verdict was delivered on 24 June 2016.
Ruling on an appeal lodged by the defence, the criminal division of the Dakar Court of Appeal commuted the sentence to 10 years of forced labour and a fine of CFAF 50 million. Mr. Boughaleb’s lawyers have lodged an appeal on points of law with the Supreme Court.
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Senegal:
The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, but the Ministry of Interior must approve protests in advance. In 2018, the government cracked down on assembly rights by banning protests around tense political moments and violently dispersing some demonstrations. In April, for example, authorities banned protests in the center of Dakar ahead of the National Assembly vote on the contentious electoral reform law. Security forces then fired tear gas into the demonstration and arrested several protesters. Authorities also refused to authorize a number of demonstrations during the year, including a planned opposition protest in Dakar in March, which the police also dispersed with tear gas.