Senegal: Torture: the Casamance case

April 30, 1990

Senegal: Torture: the Casamance case

In response to letters from Amnesty International expressing the organization's concern about allegations of torture and ill-treatment, the Justice Minister has replied on several occasions that the scars mentioned by Amnesty International "may well have been caused by injuries sustained during the struggle put up by people arrested against the law enforcement officers". Several people bearing the scars of injuries, however, were in no way arrested in the act of committing an offence, and some were even arrested several days after the demonstrations or confrontations. Other detainees had taken no part in these events, to our knowledge.

When Amnesty International has urged that an independent and impartial inquiry should be carried out into all allegations of torture, particularly those relating to the treatment of detainees in gendarmerie custody in Casamance, the government has invariably responded by saying that these allegations of torture "of a general nature" are a premeditated method of defence on the part of defendants.

The authorities have also rejected Amnesty International's requests for inquiries, on the grounds that no application for legal proceedings has been made by the defendants' lawyers or families; nevertheless, the UN Convention against Torture places an obligation on the authorities to ensure that an independent inquiry is ordered whenever there are reasonable grounds to believe that an act of torture has been committed.

Replying to Amnesty International, the government has declared that instruction and information on the prohibition of torture form an integral part of the training of security force personnel.

^b=5. Measures to prevent torture

Despite the government's denials that torture has taken place in Casamance, Amnesty International considers that sufficient evidence is available to warrant an official investigation and to necessitate changes in detention procedures to provide greater safeguards for detainees.

The UN Convention against Torture makes it clear that states are obliged to investigate individual allegations of torture. However, in the case of Casamance where there appears to have been a pattern of torture during the 1980s, it would seem most appropriate for the government to set up an independent and impartial commission of inquiry to investigate the allegations of torture on people indigenous to the Casamance region, and on deaths in custody over recent years and to make public the results of such an inquiry. Complainants and witnesses should be protected from

intimidation. It should also be empowered to make recommendations for changes in arrest or detention procedures which might reduce the possibility of torture.

Amnesty International's "Safeguards against Torture" contains a series of recommendations concerning protection against torture. Its Article 13 says:

"As stated in the United Nations Declaration against Torture, governments should ensure that all complaints and well-founded reports of torture are impartially investigated. Complainants and witnesses should be protected from intimidation.

Even if some form of official complaints machinery does exist, there may be a reluctance to use it. Victims of torture may fear reprisals from the security forces. Sometimes, ill-treatment is not reported because the victims do not believe that it will do any good. They may believe that the word of a security official will be given more weight in court than their own testimony. They may wish to protect their families from the fear and anxiety caused by the knowledge that they were tortured. In some societies it is thought undignified to admit to having been tortured. In others, it may be particularly difficult for victims, especially women, to reveal that they have been physically or sexually abused. Just as the existence of allegations cannot be taken as proof of torture, the paucity of official complaints does not demonstrate the absence. Therefore, complaints procedures should provide for an investigation of allegations wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that torture has occurred, even if formal complaints have not been lodged.