Committee against Torture hears replies of Senegal

Committee against Torture

7 November 2012

The Committee against Torture this afternoon heard the replies of Senegal to questions raised by Committee Experts on the third periodic report of that country on how it is implementing the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Responding to questions raised by Committee members on Tuesday, 6 November, the delegation of Senegal, led by Fodé Seck, the Permanent Representative of Senegal to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said whenever periods of custody were extended, individuals were informed of their right to a doctor and assistance from a lawyer.  Also, the practice of “retour de parquet” was used only sporadically, caused by insufficient human resources and financial means.  Concerning Hissene Habre, the delegation said that the new Senegalese authorities who came to power after the elections of 25 March 2012, especially President Macky Sall, had made the fight against impunity a priority.  The Present had told the international community that the proceedings against Hissene Habre would start before the end of 2012.  As for the extradition request from Belgium, it was being considered by the Senegalese authorities.

The delegation of Senegal consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Armed Forces, the Ministry of Women, Children and Female Entrepreneurship, the Police and the Permanent Mission of Senegal to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee’s concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Senegal will be issued towards the end of the session, which concludes on 23 November.

The Committee’s next public meeting will be at 10 p.m. on Thursday, 8 November when the Committee will consider the initial report of Gabon (CAT/C/GAB/1).

Response of the Delegation of Senegal

In response to questions and issues raised by Committee members on Tuesday, 6 November, the delegation of Senegal explained that the Criminal Procedural Code dealt extensively with conditions of detention.  Whenever periods of custody were extended with the consent of the Public Prosecutor, the concerned individuals were informed of their right to a doctor and to assistance from a lawyer at their own expense.  Unless requested by the Public Prosecutor, the costs of the medical examination were borne by the person in custody.  The practice of “retour de parquet” was indeed used only sporadically, caused by insufficient human resources and financial means.  Authorities were aware that this practice undermined the administration of justice and therefore continued working to reduce and eliminate “retour de parquet”.

When it gained independence, Senegal had 30 prisons and today it had 37, the delegation went on to say.  An increase of 1,500 places was planned through the establishment of a new facility some 40 kilometres from Dakar.  Likewise, the erection of six regional facilities of 500 places was foreseen, but the funding was not yet secured. 

Several measures had been taken to protect vulnerable persons.  At the judicial level, Senegal had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2009, as well as adopting a social orientation act to help people with disabilities in 2010.  At an institutional level, two new departments had been established under the roof of the Ministry for Health and Social Action in 2012 – the department for the promotion of persons with disabilities and the department for the promotion of the rights of vulnerable groups.  The objective of these initiatives was to ensure the independence of vulnerable groups.  In this spirit, Senegal also envisaged drawing up a charter of equality to facilitate access to education, health services, training and work for vulnerable groups.  Notable in this context was also the cash transfer pilot project in the departments of Kolda and Sedhiou which helped children to access indispensable social services so as to keep them in their communities of origin.

The delegation explained that human rights training was dispensed at the national police school, in addition to educational facilities for other officers.  Members of the police received a total of 54 hours of training on human rights and international humanitarian law, and the introduction of a module on the rights of the child was foreseen for the next cycle.  Senegalese authorities had contacted the Regional Office for West Africa of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2010, with a view to developing a training manual on human rights for defense and security forces.  Authorities also planned to assess the training so as to evaluate its impact on the prevention and the fight against torture.  In this context, it could also be examined whether the Istanbul Protocol should be included in the training curriculum. 

Senegal adopted a law on trafficking in persons and related phenomena in 2005, the delegation went on to say.  In addition, it adopted a national plan of action in 2009 and established a national chamber to fight human trafficking in 2010, along with implementing a strategy to mitigate the risks of trafficking in children more specifically.  These activities had been complemented by measures undertaken by the Ministry of Women, Children and Female Entrepreneurship aimed at reintegrating vulnerable children.  Perpetrators of human trafficking had not gone unpunished either – 13 people had been punished for economic exploitation of children in the form of begging.

As far as female genital mutilation was concerned, the Government had assessed the implementation of the 1999 law which prohibited excision.  This had revealed that the communities practicing excision must be sensitized about this law, and this had been started earlier this year.  Pursuing the holistic cross-border approach promoted by the United Nations, Senegal had also hosted a sub-regional seminar with representatives of neighbouring countries to sensitize decision-makers and actors.  In a similar vein, through an inter-parliamentary conference, it had convened parliamentarians of 28 African countries, attempting to raise their awareness of the texts which prohibited excision.  At the national level, between 2009 and 2011, and thanks to a programme implemented by the Government, 4,452 communities had publicly declared that they abandoned excision.  Efforts raised the percentage of people refraining from excision in 2010-2011 to over 89 per cent in affected regions.  What was more, 11 regional committees had been established under the leadership of the governors of the 12 concerned regions. 

There were no specific studies and therefore no statistics on violence against women and girls, the delegation acknowledged.  But in 2008 a study on the overall situation of gender-based violence had been conducted in the regions of Dakar, Matam, Kolda, Tambacounda and Ziguinchor.  This study included the types and prevalence of cases of violence, the risks and vulnerabilities, as well as the judicial contexts.  Criminal legislation had also been bolstered to enhance women’s rights as far as rape, sexual harassment and incest were concerned.  In addition, the Justice Ministry had established a committee of reflection on violence against women and children.  This committee, which was composed of State representatives and members of civil society, had made several recommendations, many of which were expected to be taken into account in the penal legislation reform.  The committee had notably proposed that requisitions and home visits be allowed at all times, that biotechnical proceedings be used in search of proof, and that abortion be tolerated for rape-caused pregnancies, among other measures. 

Concerning Hissene Habre, the delegation said that the new Senegalese authorities who came to power after the elections of 25 March 2012, especially President Macky Sall, had made the fight against impunity a priority.  The Present had told the international community that the proceedings against Hissene Habre would start before the end of 2012.  As for the extradition request from Belgium, it was being considered by the legal Senegalese authorities.

Follow-Up Questions from Experts

FERNANDO MARINO MENENDEZ, the Committee Rapporteur for the report of Senegal, expressed thanks to the delegation for the detailed and rigorous answers.  All issues had been addressed and the responses had been absolutely dignified. 

The Committee had received some statistics on significant matters, but Senegal should add to these statistics on issues pertaining to the Convention.  This would be useful both for the Committee and the State party.

Mr. Marino Menendez wondered whether anybody was in prison because of debts in Senegal.  It would seem that prison sentences for deaths had not been totally eradicated.  Also, could the delegation explain whether judges were empowered to bring proceedings, to start complaints? 

Mr. Marino Menendez wanted the delegation to explain the role of local courts, saying it would appear that mediation was being used in cases of low-level social conflicts.  How did this form of community justice operate?

The delegation had addressed most of the individual cases the Committee had brought to it and two of the cases had already been addressed in Senegal’s written answers, the Rapporteur noted.  However, it had been informed that in some cases the proceedings dragged on for too long.  Five years for the investigation of torture was too long: when the court proceedings were overly lengthy, the physical signs of torture could disappear.

The Rapporteur welcomed that the fight against impunity for torture would be stepped up under the new President.  That was why he was struck that the prosecution of police officers was taboo; it would appear that the proceedings against law enforcement personnel were kept secretive.  Could the delegation explain whether such proceedings were judicial or administrative?  If they were administrative, how could they be secret? 

CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, the Committee Co-Rapporteur for the report of Senegal, acknowledged that the State party had harmonized its practises, asked different bodies to produce reports and stressed the need to work with vulnerable groups.  All of this was very important, but it was also very important to establish deadlines, the Co-Rapporteur underlined. 

The Committee must know what was happening on the ground.  When asking for statistics on domestic or sexual abuse, for instance, the purpose was for Senegal to develop public policies and to see which measures were effective and which were not. 

The delegation had provided information on cases of convictions of people who had economically exploited children, the Co-Rapporteur said, underlining that this was very significant.  Often a conviction had a greater effect than training cases as it served as an example and a deterrent.  For the Committee to assess the usefulness of the convictions, it would be good to know whether a fine, a prison sentence or a mixture of both had been handed down.

Amnesty International had disclosed a document on five alleged cases of torture, all of which had resulted in death.  Senegal had answered that investigations were still underway and that only one case went to trial.  The sentence which had been handed down was short and did not mention torture.  In the Committee’s experience, qualifications of torture sometimes became something else, like ill-treatment or abuse, which went hand in hand with lower sentences.  This ran counter to the Convention – the sentence should be commensurate with torture.  One was led to ask the question whether this did not point to the fact that criminal law was being misused.  Could the delegation also comment on reparations, the Co-Rapporteur requested, asking whether this was provided for all cases of torture. 

The Committee had also been told of a case whereby somebody drowned when escaping from prison in handcuffs.  Experience showed that in such cases victims had actually been killed.  Had there been investigations to ascertain the exact circumstances and had the alert been given straight away when the disappearance had been noticed?

A Committee member asked whether Senegal had any concrete plans to raise the number of lawyers – it had the lowest rate per inhabitant in the world.

An Expert said the delegation gave the cosmetic answer that the judiciary was independent enough.  The Committee however had the impression that the judiciary was weak and kept weak.  The Committee barely heard about this issue. 

Another Expert wondered whether the delegation could give statistics of courts applying the law according to which confessions obtained under torture were not admitted in courts.

Response by the Delegation

The judiciary was independent, the delegation affirmed.  For instance, the Minister of Justice never chaired the committee which appointed the judges.  It might be that the information the Committee had was not in keeping with reality. 

There had indeed a case where a handcuffed person had drowned, but this was not an escaping prisoner but somebody taken by police who jumped into the river handcuffed and drowned.  In any case, disciplinary measures had been applied to the law enforcement officials involved.

The delegation acknowledged the five cases of alleged torture which led to death but reassured that enquiries had been conducted into all cases. 

Regarding the other comment, indeed, there had been a case which turned out to be grievous bodily harm rather than torture.  That had been the judicial decision. 

The sentences handed down for economic exploitation of children included prison sentences, fines and a mixture of both.  In September 2010, 13 people had been sanctioned for this crime.  Where the parents did not press charges, the Criminal Code empowered civil society to join the court cases as affected parties. 

With regards to female genital mutilation, Senegal’s rationale was to consolidate what it had already achieved.  It had made significant strides in combating this practice and efforts to change the mindset of people were ongoing as they were speaking.  Today, Senegal was a benchmark in this field. 

Nobody was in prison in Senegal for debt bondages; this had been abandoned in the middle ages.  While there were provisions for this in criminal law, these were not being used in civil cases. 

The delegation agreed that there were only few lawyers in Senegal.  The problem was that the quota for this profession was set by lawyers themselves.  Nonetheless, the delegation took note of the Committee’s comments and agreed that the numbers of lawyers should be improved.  It would seem that there was some momentum in the country for this and efforts would be undertaken for engaging in a comprehensive reflection progress.    

The delegation was pleased that the Committee had taken note of Senegal’s local courts.  These courts, of which there were 11, had been created in 1999, the aim being to establish a proximity between citizens and the courts.


For use of the information media; not an official record