Senegal: Torture: the Casamance case

April 30, 1990

Senegal: Torture: the Casamance case

It appears that detainees have been tortured or ill-treated primarily while detained (gardés à vue) by the gendarmerie or other branches of the security forces. At present, the law allows some detainees to be held incommunicado for up to eight days. It is vital that the authorities take steps to protect detainees from ill-treatment during this time. As torture takes place while detainees are held incommunicado, a direct way of preventing torture would be to ensure that they are not held incommunicado. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which Senegal ratified in 1978 states that every individual arrested should be brought promptly before a judge or other authority empowered to exercise judicial power. At a minimum, the detainees should be seen every day by an official who is not involved in their interrogation, preferably a representative of the Procuracy, for under the terms of the law the Procuracy is responsible for upholding legality in all circumstances and therefore has a special responsibility to ensure that prisoners are not subjected to any form of unlawful treatment, such as torture. Moreover, the Standard Minimum Rules for the treatment of prisoners, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations, make provision for a defendant to be allowed to communicate with and to be visited by family, friends and a lawyer (Articles 92 and 93).

Detainees subjected to torture in Casamance appear to have been both kept in custody and interrogated by the same agency - the gendarmerie. The formal separation of these two security functions would allow some further protection for detainees by providing a degree of supervision of their welfare by an agency not engaged in interrogating them.

Strict procedures are also needed to regulate the process of interrogation itself. A clear chain of command within the agency concerned would indicate who is responsible for supervising interrogation procedures and practices and for disciplining those who violate procedures. The procedures could include the regular and personal supervision of interrogation by superior officers, as well as specified limitations on the duration of interrogation sessions and the number of interrogators.

Senegal's Code of Penal Procedure already provides for a number of other safeguards. These include, for example, informing all detainees held for more than 48 hours of their right to a medical examination. In practice, however, these safeguards are known not to have been respected: indeed, those who have requested medical attention are reported to have been laughed at or punished by their guards. Further action is required, therefore, to enforce the safeguards against ill-treatment which already exist in law, but not in practice.

Finally, although the government has regularly indicated in the international arena its opposition to torture, it is not obvious that the instructions received by members of the gendarmerie and other branches of the security forces involved in handling prisoners truly reflect this. It is clear that a strong statement by senior government officials responsible for the security forces, condemning torture and repeating that those responsible for torture will be punished, would in itself be a significant deterrent.

Finally, Article 11 of the United Nations Convention against Torture states clearly that:

"Each State Party shall keep under systematic review interrogation rules, instructions, methods and practices as well as arrangements for the custody and treatment of persons subjected to any form of arrest, detention or imprisonment in any territory under its jurisdiction, with a view to preventing any cases of torture."