Senegal: Torture: the Casamance case

April 30, 1990

Senegal: Torture: the Casamance case

Senegal ratified the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment on 21 August 1986 but the Convention only entered into force on 26 June 1987. Most of the cases reported by Amnesty International occurred between 1983 and 1987 although there have been cases reported in 1988 and 1989. Even though many of the cases reported to Amnesty International pre-date the entry into force of the Convention, nevertheless the United Nations Declaration against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, adopted by the General Assembly in 1975, had already called on all governments, including the Republic of Senegal, to respond to reports of torture by setting up independent and impartial inquiries. Such investigations have proved a vital mechanism in establishing not only whether torture takes place, but how and why. It is only when such information is available that governments are equipped with the appropriate knowledge to take action to eliminate torture. Amnesty International is concerned that if further arrests of government opponents take place in Casamance, a framework may not yet be in place to ensure that torture does not take place.

In 1989 Amnesty International received details about one further case of torture in Senegal. Information about the case had not been received at the time Amnesty International's May 1989 memorandum was prepared, although the victim in question, Jean-Pascal Badji, had already been tortured and had died in April 1989. He was a songwriter attached to a group of singers in Balankine in the vicinity of Bignona. He was arrested by members of the armed forces (whereas most of those mentioned in Amnesty International's memorandum were arrested by the gendarmerie) and was apparently suspected of being a member of the independence movement. He died soon after his arrest reportedly as a result of torture inflicted

while he was in military custody. Amnesty International has asked the government to investigate the circumstances of his death and is at present awaiting a response.

Casamance region is situated in the south of Senegal and extends from the southern border of the Gambia, south across the lower reaches of the Casamance River to Senegal's southern borders with Guinea-Bissau. The main towns are Ziguinchor, Kolda, Bignona, Vélingara and Sédhiou. Lower Casamance, situated around the mouth of the Casamance River, is the main area where activists have called for independence. The main ethnic groups in this area are the Diola, Mandjak and Ballante. Rice cultivation has been the main economic activity in Casamance for many centuries and Casamance is one of the most fertile regions in Senegal. In spite of the spread of Islamic and Christian religions, in Casamance many traditional rituals, local customs and religious beliefs are still practised.

Critics of the Senegalese Government's policies in Casamance allege that since independence from France in 1960, the Casamance region has been marginalized from the rest of the country in both economic and social terms, and that most senior posts in the region's local administration have been monopolized by northerners, particularly those from the Wolof ethnic group. They also accuse the government of allowing many wealthy northern families to acquire large properties in Casamance to the detriment of local small-scale farmers. Similarly they complain about the lack of respect which, they say, northern settlers and civil servants show towards local traditions and customs.