Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination examines report of Senegal

15 August 2012

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined sixteenth to eighteenth periodic report of Senegal on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Introducing the report, Fode Seck, Permanent Representative of Senegal to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said since Senegal’s ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 1972, it had been committed to fighting racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Because of its unique history and geography, Senegal was nicknamed ‘the country of hospitality’. Cases of racial discrimination in Senegal were not unique to the country, but thankfully the integration of different cultures and ethnicities did not leave much room for those phenomena to occur. Senegal focused on prevention, through the promotion of an open society based on a culture of peace and tolerance in which “sanankunya” or ’joking relationships’ played a traditional role.

During the discussion, Experts noted that Senegal had a long democratic tradition, a population of 11.4 million and was both a transit and destination country for migratory flows. Experts asked questions about human rights institutions, new anti-discrimination legislation, gender equality and female genital mutilation, as well as foreign street children forced into begging. Problems affecting the Senegalese fishing population, caste-based discrimination and measures to protect and repatriate refugees were also discussed. The conflict in the Casamance region was raised, as well as the ancient custom of “sanankunya” or ’joking relationships’.

Speaking in initial concluding remarks Kokou Mawuena Ika Kana Ewomsan, Country Rapporteur for the report of Senegal, thanked the delegation for its detailed answers on Senegal’s legislation and human rights mechanisms, refugees, the Casamance region, gender equality and discrimination in general. It was wonderful to see Senegal spreading its culture and its commitment to human rights, and the Committee hoped that the political situation in Casamance could be peacefully resolved in the near future.

In concluding remarks Mr. Seck thanked the Committee for the very professional interactive discussion on a Convention that was held in great importance in Senegal. The war against racial discrimination was a daily one, and Senegal admired the Committee’s work to that end. Mr. Seck said he would like to see the Committee hold a session outside of Geneva one day, hopefully in Senegal.

The delegation of Senegal included representatives of the Directorate of Human Rights within the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Women, Children and Feminine Entrepreneurship, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Permanent Mission of Senegal to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue its concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Senegal towards the end of its session, which concludes on 31 August.

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. this afternoon to review the combined eighteenth to twentieth periodic report of Fiji (CERD/C/FJI/18-20).


ALEXEI AVTONOMOV, Committee Chairperson, reminded the delegation and the Committee that today’s meeting – as with all country reviews conducted in public by the Committee – was being webcast live over the Internet, and anyone in the world could watch it. Hopefully Senegal was watching! The live webcast can be accessed via the following link:

Report of Senegal

The combined sixteenth to eighteenth periodic report of Senegal can be read via the following link: (CERD/C/SEN/16-18).

Presentation of the Report

FODE SECK, Permanent Representative of Senegal to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said since Senegal’s ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 1972, it had been committed to fighting racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Because of its unique history and geography, Senegal had a crossroads role and was nicknamed ‘the country of hospitality’. The global economic crisis was a challenge, but nevertheless Senegal spared no effort to seize different opportunities to advocate for greater mobilization of the international community, to eliminate discrimination and to strengthen the framework for punishment for such discrimination at both a national and an international level. Cases of racial discrimination in Senegal were not unique to the country, but thankfully the integration of different cultures and ethnicities did not leave much room for those phenomena to occur. Senegal focused on prevention, through the promotion of an open society based on a culture of peace and tolerance in which religious leaders and traditional leaders played an open role. Furthermore, the historical Mandé Charter refered to “sanankunya” which was a social characteristic that allowed different ethnicities to enjoy ’joking relationships’ with each other in order to build friendship.

The provisions of the Convention had been transposed into national law, including criminal legislation relating to civil, political, economic and social rights, as well as the labour code. Those provisions encompassed all of Senegal’s territory, both rural and urban areas. A 2010 law provided for parity between men and women in elections, and the National Assembly that was voted in as a result of those elections counted 65 women among its total 85 members. A new Senate would soon be established based on the same principles of gender parity. Gender equality had also been assured in employment, the military, finances and inheritance. The fight against trafficking in persons continued, while measures to help children who begged on the streets – most of whom came from neighbouring countries – had been extensive. Following its ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a law was adopted to ensure equal opportunities for persons with disabilities.

Since Senegal’s last report to the Committee in 2002, a national observatory for detention facilities had been established; in 2006 a law was adopted to make schooling obligatory for 10 years from the age of 6 to 16; an early-years childhood programme aimed to improve care, teaching, healthcare and food provisions for children younger than six had been launched, which particularly focused on children from the poorest backgrounds; healthcare provisions for the elderly had been put in place; dialysis had been made free for children; jobs that were previously reserved for men – such as customs officials and the police – had been opened to women; and in March 2011 a National Observatory for Parity was created. The situation in Casamance region was dealt with and Senegal sought to ensure the peaceful existence of all nationalities there. On the subject of castes, there could be individual behaviour which limited marriage to within people of a certain social group, but that was not State sanctioned and violated the State law of equality. No institutional or ideological measures prevented any person, from any caste, from assuming any political or administrative function.

Questions by the Experts

KOKOU MAWUENA IKA KANA EWOMSAN, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the Report of Senegal, noted that Senegal had a population of 11.4 million, based on its 2002 census, and was externally bounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Mauritania to the north, Mali to the east, and Guinea and Guinea-Bissau to the south. It was both a transit and destination country for migratory flows. It was a semi-Presidential country with a long democratic tradition: one of the oldest in the sub-region. There was some violence reported around the last Presidential election but Senegal dealt with that in an exemplary manner. Senegal had ratified several human rights instruments and incorporated them into domestic law. Senegal had adopted the Committee’s competence with regard to individual complaints, and was one of the first countries to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Why Senegal continued to resist the idea of transposing certain provisions into its domestic law was a question the Committee would like answering, given certain members of its population had been subject to mass human rights violations. However, Senegal had a series of departments and individuals who were responsible for human rights. The Senegalese Human Rights Committee had lost its A-type accreditation, unfortunately, as it had stopped conforming with the Paris Principles; could the delegation tell the Committee what measures they were taking to rectify that?

Over half of the population lived below the poverty threshold. Up to 50 per cent of the population was unemployed. Rural poverty was rife and unemployment affected young people greatly. Young people were therefore prepared to face the dangers of migration in order to find work. Inequalities in terms of socio-economic situations were rife and women were seriously affected by discrimination. While the Committee did not deal with women’s rights in particular, they looked at the situation when gender violations tied in with racial discrimination, particularly in terms of ethnicity and nationality. Agreements with European companies had led to over-fishing, which had affected the Senegalese fishing population. The population was made up of around 20 ethnicities. In 2002, around 118,000 persons migrated from Senegal; 84 per cent men and 16 per cent women. Those migrants were primarily young people. Recent immigration accounted for 2.1 per cent of the population, mainly from Guinea. The population was mostly Muslim, with a small percentage of Christians, and some other religious groups.

The Rapporteur said that the ethnic situation was a sensitive one in Africa, but the Committee needed more information on ethnic groups that may face discrimination; diversity must take into account all different groups across the board. It seemed some organizations forced children to beg: 90 per cent of child beggars in Senegal were Talibée, and over half of them came from abroad. The Rapporteur noted the Government’s strategic plan to get those children off the street and reintegrated into society, including education. Could the delegation give more information on the success, or lack thereof, of that programme? Senegal was subject to trafficking of women and labour exploitation: how had Senegal’s National Plan of Action to Combat Human Trafficking, Particularly Women and Children, been developed. The lack of birth certificates in poor and rural populations was an obstacle to the provision of education for children. The Labour Code prevented foreign workers from carrying out union activities: could more information on overturning that be provided? Could information on the situation of refugees, particularly Mauritanian refugees living in the north of the country, be provided? At least 20,500 refugees from Mauritania had been repatriated between 2007 and 2010. The remaining 3,500 should benefit from reintegration assistance, but had no identity documents and so could receive no benefits or access to education.

The problems of caste-based discrimination were outlined in the presentation of the report, the Rapporteur said, but there was a need to develop educational strategies to try and change attitudes and help combat racial discrimination. Regarding the situation in the problematic Casamance province, which was situated close to the border with Gambia, Senegal had adopted a decentralization law which in principle would grant autonomy law to local authorities. However, what about other factors, such as local culture? There had been some opening up of the area and the opposition authorities in Casamance had requested dialogue with the Government of Senegal; fortunately the new President of Senegal responded favourably and was ensuring investment in Casamance province.

An Expert said the report, at 15 pages long, was very brief and in fact under the limit set by treaty body criteria. However, in spite of the brevity positive aspects were noted, particularly efforts to strengthen equality between men and women, to protect children, and to fight ethnic discrimination. The Expert also noted with disappointment that no non-governmental organizations were present at the meeting today, and asked the delegation if any non-governmental organizations had been involved in the drawing up of the report.

Measures to prevent caste-based discrimination were promising, said an Expert, but given the lack of complaints in that regard he wondered how effective those measures actually had been. The State party had legislation prohibiting female genital mutilation and other abhorrent practices, but the Committee would like to know what Senegal was doing practically to stop such barbaric abuses taking place.

An Expert said he had observed that Senegalese culture had great emphasis on having consensus and harmony rather than divisiveness, which manifested even in making complaints about racial discrimination. People were shy of ‘rocking the boat’ or annoying anybody by making a complaint. Could the delegation provide a frank analysis on the lack of complaints of racial discrimination?

Many problems in Senegal were economic in nature and could be found in most of the less-affluent countries of the world. Of course Senegal was fast developing, and therefore attracted migrants from its neighbours. The presence of those migrants in a less-affluent country such as Senegal caused problems as they did not usually find a good standard of living, as notably seen by the street children.

An Expert asked to hear more about the ancient custom of “sanankunya” or ’joking relationships’ which allowed members of different ethnicities to make jokes about each other without causing offence. It was a very specific tradition. Was it some kind of social pacification tool and did it smooth the way for friendly relations?

Response by the Delegation

Outlining the culture of Senegal, the Head of the Delegation said that even prior to its independence many small societies and tribes within Senegal were fundamentally democratic. In addition to the historical Mandé Charter of 1236 other unwritten charters existed in West, and all, Africa, showing that Africa was already pre-disposed to human rights. Living together in harmony was not just a slogan; it was a part of daily life in Senegal, as in other African countries. For example, the delegate noted that today was a Christian-religious holiday in Senegal – Assumption – because all religious holidays were commemorated and when they fell on work days they were declared to be paid holidays, which was very significant in a country with a large Muslim population.

An important example of religious harmony in Senegal was that for 20 years, from independence in 1960, the Senegalese population, the majority of whom were Muslim, elected and re-elected a black Christian President, Léopold Sédar Senghor, who had a white Christian wife. Senegal’s second President was Abdou Diouf, a black Muslim married to a black Christian woman, who also led the country for a long time, 19 years. The third President, Abdoulaye Wade, who served from 2000 to 2012, was a black Muslim whose wife was also a white Christian. Those facts should be highlighted as they illustrated the Senegalese spirit. Furthermore, in 1992 the late Pope John Paul II visited Senegal, a small country with just 11 million people, five per cent of whom were Christian. That was a surprise, but the Pope’s dialogue with the youth of Senegal showed that he chose to visit in order to pay homage to small Senegal: small in size but large in terms of its generosity and ethno-religious harmony. The first cathedral in Africa was built in Senegal. Another example of harmony was the mixed cemeteries for Muslims and Christians in the Casamance region, which were significant.

Nelson Mandela said “the path to freedom is difficult everywhere”, and so Senegal based itself on democracy, despite the inherent difficulties of that. Human rights were not always easy to deliver, and Senegal was not a rich country – the per capita revenue was about $500 – but Senegal was committed to freedom, peace and democracy nevertheless and respected human rights in difficult conditions.

In recent years Senegal’s human rights institutions had been restructured, although there were still some overlapping mandates. In 2004 the position of Human Rights Commissioner was created then replaced by a Human Rights Delegate, a position which in turn was replaced by the Human Rights Director who led the Human Rights Directorate which acted as an advisory body to the State, and was among the delegation today. The Human Rights Directorate advised the Government on draft laws, bills, and other human rights functions. The Senegalese Human Rights Committee now had an operational headquarters on a new site which would improve its functioning. Its budget would be doubled from a current $35 million to approximately $70 million by the end of 2012. The Institute of Human Rights and Peace was a university institute that carried out teaching and research, and also disseminated awareness of human rights, working in partnership with non-governmental organizations.

In response to a question about women in office, many women held decision-making positions, a delegate confirmed. The first woman was elected to the National Assembly in 1953. In 1978 a woman was elected into Government for the first time. In 1980 a special programme to advocate for the status of women was launched, and in 2000 the first woman launched a campaign to be a Senator and 2001 saw the first woman candidate for Prime Minister. A 2010 law provided for parity between men and women in elections, and the National Assembly that was voted in as a result of those elections counted 64 women among its total 150 members. The first Vice-President of the National Assembly was a woman. There were 50 women in the Economic and Social Council. A delegate gave statistics on the new 2012 Government, which had six women members of whom one was a high-ranking Minister. There were 69,000 men (81 per cent) and over 16,000 women (19 per cent) working in public administration. In the judiciary there were 459 judges of whom 389 were men and 67 (17.22 per cent) were women. Of legal clerks, 16 per cent were women, or 225 clerks. The size of the overall legal corps was 836 people, of whom 17 per cent were women. Measures to continue the promotion and empowerment of women, particularly in rural areas, were extensive.

Turning to the issue of suspended fishing agreements with Russia the delegation said it did not see a link between the Committee’s mandate and fishing, but would answer in the spirit of transparency. It was not fishing agreements that were suspended but fishing licences. The decision made by the authorities in 2006 did not actually target the Russian fleet, rather the European fleet, in order to preserve fishing stocks for Senegalese fishermen, who had asked the Government to help prevent their off-shore fishing resources from being looted, stop the ongoing impoverishment of their fisheries and help maintain the biological balance of Senegal’s fisheries.

Regarding the lack of complaints of racial discrimination, a delegate said an honest answer was that there were few complaints because Senegalese society functioned in such a harmonious manner. Racial discrimination did not occur in Senegal as it did in other countries: the hospitality of the people, the ‘joking relationship’, ensured that, as well as preventative mechanisms. If Senegal was to consider the unfortunate move of encouraging complaints of racial discrimination, they would have to take advice.

Giving more information about the “sanankunya”, the ‘joking, or cousin, relationship’ in Senegal, a delegate confirmed it was not of a legal nature, and it was not a means of solving disputes. It was also not the case that the practice was becoming unfashionable: it was particularly deep-rooted in rural areas but it was still relevant in urban areas, even among intellectuals. A Senegalese philosopher used to speak about openness and the joking relationship, and how it was embedded in society. It was a social practice that allowed people of different ethnicities to have a certain level of familiarity, to make jokes about each other without causing offence, for example making jokes about each others names, traditions or even appearance. It was a deep-rooted practice not only in Senegal and neighbouring countries but across the whole of West Africa.

In 2010 Senegal passed a law which declared slavery to be a crime against humanity, and which was adopted on the fiftieth anniversary of Senegal’s independence. The law fell under the context of a Memorial Law and aimed to ensure ‘a duty to remember’ atrocities such as slavery and the trafficking of black Africans in Senegalese collective memory. Concerning the Senegalese diaspora, a delegate said that today the African diaspora was considered to be the sixth region of Africa, and a 2010 Dhaka festival on the African Renaissance paid tribute to them. Highlighting and promoting the history and culture of persons of African descent was always important in Senegal.

The rights of refugees were always respected. Marking the Year of Refugees, Senegal adopted the slogan that ‘one refugee away from home was one too many’. Senegal was a signature to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. To improve the protection of refugees Senegal recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on manufacturing digital identity card for refugees. So far 8,000 such cards had been made: they were signed by the Ministry of the Interior and had the same status as a valid identity document as National Identity Cards held by Senegalese nationals.

Regarding the situation of Mauritanian refugees, a delegate said all who wished to could return home in full security and dignity and would be helped, but repatriation was voluntary. Mauritanian refugees who wished to stay in Senegal would undergo a local integration programme. However some refugees did not want to return home nor undergo the integration programme, and instead wanted to be repatriated to a third country. It was not up to Senegal to ask a third country to take in Mauritanian refugees, some of whom were unfortunately currently undergoing a hunger strike.

In Senegal all persons who undertook professional activity, including migrant workers, benefitted from protection under Senegalese law. All foreign nationals may freely belong to a trade union, and after five years working in Senegal they could create or lead a trade union or an association, as long as their own country accorded the same rights to Senegalese nationals in a spirit of reciprocity. The same rules applied for social security coverage. However in Senegal a foreigner was not allowed to create a political party.

Currently Senegalese women who married foreign men could not pass on their nationality to their husband or any children resulting from the partnership. However, the Nationality Code was being reformed to allow Senegalese women to pass on their nationality to a foreign husband and subsequent children.

Female genital mutilation was an old social tradition that unfortunately still went on in some areas of Senegal and other African countries. Senegal banned it in its 2001 Constitution. Senegal passed a further law to provide sanctions for people found guilty of committing female genital mutilation. That law created several categories of infection and set out that it was a crime if its practice led to the death of the victim. A five-year plan to implement the law had been rolled out, but there were difficulties in its implementation, mainly from fighting a social practice based on tradition. In 2010 a second plan of action, in partnership with the United Nations Fund for Children and the United Nations Population Fund, was launched, which had a more progressive approach. A new study of both State and non-State actors showed a need to raise awareness among communities that were still carrying out female genital mutilation.

Senegal had also implemented a United Nations-recommended cross-border approach to tackle the problem of female genital mutilation, and held a sub-regional programme which brought together many countries to tackle the problem, in order to avoid the risk that Senegalese nationals would take their girls to other countries in order to commit female genital mutilation, as the neighbouring countries had not yet made it an illegal act. At a national level, a survey in 2009 showed that 12,000 communities were practicing female genital mutilation in 1997, but today 4,400 had publically announced a ban on the practice. In 2010 it was estimated that about 71 per cent of the population had abandoned the practice. That was a result of an awareness-raising programme which targeted the communities and taught human rights, as well as education in schools and work with the Ministry of Justice in punishing perpetrators. Regional committees on eliminating female genital mutilation had also been created, consisting of healthcare professionals, community leaders and members of the judiciary. There had been efforts to convert the women who carried out the mutilations and to train them in entrepreneurship activities, such as micro-businesses. Some of those women had been sent to other countries for training, in particular to India to learn about solar energy, and subsequently many of those women were enjoying a new role in their communities.

The 2005 law on trafficking in persons and related practices and the 2006 law to fight trafficking in children and the worst forms of child labour were just some of the measures used to eliminate trafficking, which focused on prevention and social mobilization. From 2008 to 2010 a three-year strategy to fight the worst forms of child labour had been in place as well as a literacy programme for children, ran in partnership with the International Organisation of La Francophonie, as girls who were not in school were at greater risk of being trafficked. Every department in Senegal had an action plan to fight trafficking and risk areas were identified where resources needed to be concentrated.

Regarding children begging on the streets, a delegate said that Senegal had a specific geographic location and allowed free movement of people, so it was natural that foreign nationals came to the country. A large group of foreign street children were the Talibé children, who attended Quranic residential schools in urban areas and were often forced to beg. Those children, of various nationalities, were accorded the same rights as Senegalese children. The Government attempted to protect children in urban areas from begging through a sponsorship system: nominated adults would take the children under their wing until they could be reintegrated back to the village communities they had first been taken from.

Most Senegalese workers who came from abroad had no access to any form of social protection. Most migrant workers did not have salaried posts. The protection of migrant workers by social security required problems at the international level to be resolved, as well as suitable national legislation.

The conflict in Casamance region, in the south of the country, had been ongoing for over 30 years. It was an eminently political conflict and had nothing to do whatsoever with any form of racial discrimination. Casamance encompassed three regions which were so agriculturally rich that those calling for independence there wanted it so they could lead a small corner of Africa they nicknamed ‘the breadbasket of Senegal’. A symbolic figure of the situation and a leader of the rebellion was a Christian, something many people thought was a key factor, but actually his religion was irrelevant. In the last year the President had sent out decentralized councils to hold meetings and conferences in Casamance, as well as an inter-Ministerial conference. The Casamance situation was problematic, and there was a lack of development there that needed to be addressed. A large sum of money had been earmarked to do that.

Follow-Up Questions

An Expert returned again to the lack of complaints of racial discrimination, and wondered if there were grounds that prevented people from seeking recourse from the authorities. What about caste-based discrimination and also, how did the visa process work? The State party’s strategic approach to eradicating female genital mutilation and child labour was praised, but an Expert made a point about how those approaches would be continued into the future, particularly in ending the worst forms of child labour, such as the forced begging of approximately 50,000 Talibé children in urban areas by Quranic teachers who had taken them from their villages.

An Expert saluted the contribution made by Senegal to democracy and equality and in particular its contribution to the elimination of racial discrimination. Like other colleagues, the Expert said she was disappointed about the absence of Senegalese non-governmental organizations at the meeting, and wondered how the State party might further engage with civil society?

Response from the Delegation

There were no obstacles, including sociological obstacles, that would prevent anybody in Senegal from making a complaint concerning racial discrimination, and officials in many Government departments were trained in receiving complaints. The notion of caste did not have the same meaning everywhere, a delegate said. A typical Senegalese woman was multi-ethnic, and there were no restrictions stemming from caste.

A 2011 decree set out that all people entering into Senegal and applying for a visa must present a return ticket, travel authorization, international vaccination certificates and a valid passport or identity document. Some countries already had visa agreements with Senegal including France, Germany, Belgium, United Kingdom and Mauritania. The cost of a visa was affordable for Africans and non-Africans, although they were more expensive for non-African citizens. The visa process was not difficult or discriminatory, and had been set out in Senegalese law.

Concluding Remarks

KOKOU MAWUENA IKA KANA EWOMSAN, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the Report of Senegal, thanked the delegation for the information on Senegal’s legislation and human rights mechanisms, and its detailed answers to questions about refugees, the Casamance region and more. It was wonderful to see Senegal spreading its culture and its commitment to human rights, and it was hoped that the Casamance situation could be peacefully solved in the near future.

FODE SECK, Permanent Representative of the Mission of Senegal to the United Nations Office at Geneva, thanked the Committee for the very professional interactive discussion on a Convention that was held in great esteem in Senegal. Mr. Seck said he was delighted to see at the recent London 2012 Olympic Games that the International Olympic Committee put the elimination of racism at the forefront of the Games and tackled any elements of racial or religious discrimination towards athletes. The war against racial discrimination was a daily one, and Senegal admired the Committee’s work to that end. Mr. Feck said he would like to see the Committee hold a session outside of Geneva one day, hopefully in Senegal.


For use of the information media; not an official record