• BAHRAIN: ‘Had there been civic freedoms, the authorities would have known of the deep suffering at Jau Prison’

    JawadFairoozCIVICUS speaks about the situation of political prisoners on hunger strike in Bahrain withJawad Fairooz, founder and director of Salam for Democracy and Human Rights (Salam DHR).

    Founded in 2012, Salam DHR is a human rights civil society organisation (CSO) registered in France, Switzerland and the UK. It undertakes research and advocacy for the advancement of democracy and human rights, mainly in relation to Bahrain, but also in the wider Gulf and Middle East and North Africa regions.

    Maryam al-Khawaja, daughter of imprisoned human rights defender Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, intends to return to Bahrain imminently to ensure her father gets medical treatment and press for his immediate and unconditional release. Yet she, too, faces possible arrest. What’s your assessment of the situation?

    Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, 62, a dual Danish-Bahraini citizen, is the co-founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and has a long history of activism. He was arrested by the government of Bahrain in 2004, 2007 and again amid mass unrest in April 2011. After this he faced a grossly unfair trial before a military court, including on charges of ‘seeking to overthrow the government’. He was tortured in pretrial custody and since his arbitrary imprisonment he has been repeatedly denied access to adequate healthcare.

    On 9 August he joined some 800 other hunger strikers. They called for an end to lockdown policies that require them to spend up to 23 hours of the day in their cells, the suspension of solitary confinement, the opportunity for collective or congregational prayer in Jau Prison’s mosque, face-to-face meeting rights with family members without a glass screen and access to healthcare commensurate with that available to the public, among other improvements in prison conditions.

    On 13 September the mass hunger strike ended with the authorities reportedly meeting many of these demands. This came as Bahrain’s Crown Prince visited Washington, DC, where he met with senior members of the Biden administration: the problem had to go away.

    Maryam nevertheless intends to travel and she has our full support. We continue to call for Abdulhadi’s immediate and unconditional release. The Danish and European Union (EU) authorities must do more.

    What is at the core of this problem is the absence of civic space in Bahrain. If there was space for independent civil society, then CSOs would have effectively alerted the authorities to prison conditions and they could have addressed the situation. An independent civic space makes it possible to find a balance in government conduct.

    What does this mean for Maryam al-Khawaja and our courageous colleagues travelling with her? It means they should be allowed to enter Bahrain and make their demands. The government should engage with them in a spirit of transparency. The absolute worst that could happen is for dissent to be tolerated just a little bit more. While this seems unlikely to happen, it is what the government should do. We wish them all Godspeed.

    How is it possible to conduct human rights activism in such a closed environment? How does Salam DHR do it?

    Bahrain has closed civic space. Government officials decide which CSOs can be registered and who can stand for their boards. They prevent people from engaging in public life who have no criminal records or public complaints but rather perhaps a past association with a political movement or party that was unfairly banned years ago.

    The Bahraini constitution provides for freedoms and safeguards similar to many other states, but the reality is that the government continues to carry out arbitrary arrests and stage unfair trials for acts that are not internationally recognised as crimes. The authorities torture detainees and use the death penalty, despite domestic opposition and international condemnation. They have stripped hundreds, including myself, of citizenship, depriving us of even the right to have rights in our homeland. They use the digital space to monitor and punish dissent and to foment religious and sectarian strife.

    Activists linked with Salam DHR cannot, in effect, exercise their right to peaceful assembly, let alone openly campaign for freedoms of association and expression, the release of prisoners unfairly tried and imprisoned or a moratorium on the death penalty. They would risk arrest if they did that.

    Yet engaging in civic activism is not totally impossible, only very challenging. Alongside CIVICUS and other partners, Salam DHR engages with allies and like-minded activists as well as the few CSOs that openly but cautiously raise human rights concerns so that the wider Bahraini society hears our message. We echo and amplify their appeals.

    We are a catalyst: we help Bahraini activists access platforms to reach domestic and international audiences and provide training and development opportunities such as internships. Alone and in partnership with others, we research, document and publicise developments, grounding our message in article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity to take part in the conduct of public affairs.

    How useful for advocacy purposes was theglobal event held by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in Bahrain’s capital, Manama, in March 2023?

    It was mixed: Danish parliamentarians and those from other countries addressed human rights issues and the absence of an independent civic space. The IPU’s human rights team raised concerns about freedom of expression and violations against Bahraini parliamentarians. But despite the IPU’s affiliated status with the United Nations (UN), the government still denied access to independent observers and human rights organisations, denying them either visas or access and turning at least one around at the airport. This was the authorities once again restricting civic space.

    A few days before the IPU meeting officially began, Bahraini lawyer and activist Ebrahim Al-Mannai called for parliamentary reforms on social media. He and three others who shared his post were arrested for publishing material that could ‘disturb public order’.

    At the event itself, the government appeared uninterested in seriously engaging with visiting parliamentarians on human rights issues, despite attempts from the Danish delegation and representatives from Finland, Iceland and Ireland. Our message is clear: open up civic space, free up CSOs and political parties and liberate discourse, otherwise the cycle of political unrest will continue.

    Reports indicate that the mass hunger strike in Jau Prison has ended. What’s your assessment of this episode?

    The painful August 2023 mass hunger strike was wholly avoidable. It happened mainly due to the government’s stubborn and short-sighted refusal to allow civic space to exist even to a minimum degree. Had there been freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly, they would have known of the deep suffering at Jau Prison. If you don’t let people say what they think, then public life can only lurch from crisis to crisis.

    The hunger strike was the expression of the accumulation of a number of factors that have been present in Bahraini prisons for years and it was based on grievances that have been repeatedly expressed: prison conditions and ill treatment of prisoners amounting to torture. The abuses worsened and conditions deteriorated during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, medical neglect resulted in the deaths of two prisoners, Hussein Barakat and Abbas Mallalah.

    We appeal once more to the authorities to allow for the opening of civic space and provide a social vent to end the cycle of human rights crises we face.

    Is the international community doing all it can to support the struggle for democracy and human rights in Bahrain?

    International human rights organisations, UN treaty bodies and Special Procedures and partner states, for instance in the context of the UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review process of Bahrain, have all joined us in calling on the government of Bahrain to abide by its international human rights obligations, starting with the basic step of letting people have a voice in public life.

    Today, 15 September, is International Day of Democracy, and we are joining the UN in calling on the government of Bahrain to empower the next generation by ensuring that their voices are included in the decisions that will have a profound impact on their world. In his address, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has warned that ‘walls are closing in on civic spaces’. Those walls are also the walls of Jau Prison, where it took 800 detainees’ unjust suffering for the government to even take notice.

    But the UN has also let neighbouring United Arab Emirates, which is as closed as Bahrain, host the forthcoming COP28 climate change summit. Lack of civic space means there can be no activism for climate justice in Bahrain – for instance, no public demands for accountability can be expressed over costly and environmentally damaging land reclamation in Bahrain’s northeast, which has already eroded the livelihood of fishing communities. We need to be able to address these challenges openly, with a rights-based approach, to avoid a future calamity.

    And powerful states that could be putting some pressure for change are avoiding the issue. Right now, Bahrain’s Crown Prince is wrapping up meetings with senior Biden administration officials, none of whom appear to have raised civic space concerns or addressed the needless suffering of 800 Bahraini prisoners. The UK has removed Bahrain from its list of ‘countries of concern’ at the same time as it trumpeted a billion-dollar Bahraini investment in the UK. In October the EU will recommence its cycle of so-called human rights dialogues.

    The international community’s inexplicable complacency over the festering human rights quagmire in Bahrain will further embolden the government in crushing civic space. Many leaders miss the point when it comes to Bahrain and its Gulf neighbours: they appear to accept the facade of what is presented as pragmatic autocracy and appear to accept regional rulers’ colonial-mindset contention that democracy will destabilise the region.

    Democracies have in fact produced the most stable, enduring and dynamic systems in the world. Human rights and democracy are essential for Bahrain and its neighbours because their deficits continue to be the primary cause of resentment and unrest. A security-based approach does not remedy these problems. Bahrain’s history has shown these methods to be a failure, as it has endured continuous waves of mass unrest followed by violent crackdowns.

    Authoritarianism and the forms of violence it fosters are the real destabilising forces, a cycle that can only be broken through the recognition and enactment of democratic rights. The first step towards this goal is simply letting civic space exist.

    Civic space in Bahrain is rated ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Salam for Democracy and Human Rights through itswebsite and follow @SALAM_DHR and@JawadFairooz on Twitter.

  • BAHRAIN: ‘This election is make-believe: its only role is to provide a veneer of democracy’

    JawadFairoozCIVICUS speaks about the election being held today in Bahrain withJawad Fairooz, founder and director of Salam for Democracy and Human Rights (Salam DHR).

    Salam DHR is a human rights civil society organisation (CSO) founded in 2012 to undertake research and advocacy for the advancement of democracy and human rights, mainly in relation to Bahrain, but also in the wider Gulf and Middle East and North Africa regions.

    Jawad Fairooz is a former Bahraini parliamentarian. In the 2010 election his political group, al-Wefaq, won 18 out of 40 seats, becoming the largest group in the Council of Representatives. They all resigned in repudiation of the repression of protests in 2011, and Jawad and another parliamentarian were arrested, tortured and ill-treated in detention. In November 2012, while he was visiting the UK, the government withdrew his citizenship, making him stateless. He became a campaigner against statelessness and for the rights of the stateless and founded Salam DHR in 2013.

    What is the significance of today’s election?

    Elections matter, or at least they should. In Bahrain, elections for municipal councils and the 40-seat parliament, the Council of Representatives, are held every four years, with possible runoffs where no candidate obtains a majority.

    Between 2002 and 2010, these elections were carried out in a context where civil society had become relatively more vibrant. They continued – even if only just – to carry the promise that parliament would take an increasingly larger and more responsible role in deepening democracy and freedoms and ensuring the continuing existence of civil society.

    Far more than now, they showed elections are a pivotal moment for social and political renewal – for those who will shape society to engage with civil society and to accommodate differing social and political views. Elections can create a sense of shared ownership, and in a context of tolerance and acceptance they can foster a vibrant and responsible civil society. They can help build a culture of human rights.

    But that is not the case with today’s election.

    This one reflects an ever-shrinking civic space. Parliamentarians’ institutional power has weakened, as they too operate under limited civic space. The government is inclined to seek less qualified parliamentarians whose conduct it will be able to control. To further weaken and subordinate parliament to the government’s will, the King recently issued a decree giving more power to parliament’s chair, a government loyalist, to determine the body’s workings. This will further extend government writ and further chill civic space.

    This election, like those of 2014 and 2018, is controlled or stage managed in a way that makes it clear that its only role is to provide a veneer of democracy. It’s make-believe.

    But let’s be clear: it is also an opportunity for us to get back to work on our own renewal, to locate openings and fissures and pry them open, and to chip away at walls enclosing us, in Bahrain, in the Gulf and across the region. An opportunity to look forward.

    Flaws notwithstanding, we need to engage with the new parliamentarians. Will the government let them engage with independent civil society? It looks unlikely, but we will try, both through bilateral parliamentary visits and in the context of the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s General Assembly, which will be held in Bahrain’s capital, Manama, in March 2023. We need to start organising now so that global parliamentarians can help carry our voices and those of international civil society to the heart of Manama.

    We also need to plant the seeds for civil society activism around COP28, which will take place a year from now in neighbouring United Arab Emirates, where civic space is non-existent. We just can’t stop now, however bleak the situation of Bahrain or the Gulf may seem. This cycle of unfair elections is done, but our task to continue to look for avenues of engagement and activism continues apace. We are looking forward.

    Have further restrictions been imposed on civic space in the run-up to the election?

    Not really, as most of the damage was already done.

    In December 2014, the authorities imprisoned Ali Salman, the leader of al-Wefaq, the largest political association. He was arrested for protesting against the parliamentary elections, which al-Wefaq boycotted because promised reforms had not been implemented. In 2015 he was sentenced to four years in prison on charges such as inciting hatred, disturbing the peace and insulting public institutions, but he was acquitted of the most serious charge, of inciting political change, which could carry a life sentence.

    He appealed, but so did the prosecutor, who demanded a stricter sentence, and in 2016 his prison sentence was increased to nine years. Further charges were subsequently added and in 2017 he was accused and tried for the crime of ‘spying for Qatar’. For having tried to mediate in Bahrain’s conflict with Qatar, the authorities handed him a life sentence.

    In July 2016, a court in Bahrain dissolved and banned Al-Wefaq after accusing it of fostering violence and ‘terrorism’. In May 2017, the main non-sectarian political association, Wa’d, was shut down as well, also under accusations of advocating violence, supporting terrorism and inciting crimes.

    In advance of the 2018 parliamentary election, the government amended the NGO law, extending restrictions on who could establish or be on a CSO board, irrespective of the organisation’s nature – this applies even to organisations working on sports, working with the community or providing charitable services. It also forbade all those linked to banned political parties from engaging with CSOs.

    In addition, anyone sentenced to more than six months’ imprisonment, even if subsequently pardoned by the King, convicted in error or provided with a ‘no objection certificate’, is now deprived for life of voting rights and the right to stand for election. Likewise, all those who for whatever reason did not take part in the previous election have been banned from taking part in the next.

    Having crushed civic space for years, in the run-up to the 2022 election the authorities only needed to ensure that calm persisted. To that effect, in September the Ministry of Municipalities Affairs issued vaguely worded regulations that appeared to link electioneering and religion. Among other things, these regulations banned the holding of meetings in public religious centres and other public places such as educational facilities. They appeared aimed at the majority Shi’a community for whom such centres have often become the only places where they – we – are allowed to gather.

    What are the conditions for civil society like in Bahrain?

    In Bahrain, the very existence of a civil society – let alone an independent one – depends on the political will and whim of the government: the Ministry of Labour and Social Development controls the licensing of all CSOs.

    The newly amended NGO Law redefined who could establish and run a CSO and prohibited members of banned political bodies from setting up a CSO. These new rules were applied in January 2022 to forbid two peaceful women activists, Zainab al-Durazi and Safia al-Hasan, taking up the board positions to which they had been freely elected in a women-focused CSO. The two women had been linked to the banned group Wa’d.

    Do some of the activities of CSOs whose directors are demonstrably loyal to the state help and support society’s needs? Of course they do. We need them and we commend such organisations. But they are not independent.

    Those perceived as not personally loyal to the government and its leaders do not get licences to operate any CSO and are not allowed to be on supervisory boards, in any sector, in total contravention to international law and practice, and completely against the wishes of Bahraini people. A thorough vetting process ensures this remains the case.

    All CSOs must obtain permission to engage in any way with non-Bahraini bodies such as foreign or international human rights groups or to meet with foreign Bahrain-based diplomats. If they get permission and the meeting takes place, the government requires the participation of a Foreign Ministry representative and the preparation of notes for the meeting, subject to approval. If this is not done, the representative of the CSO risks criminal charges or the closure of the organisation.

    The absence of an independent civil society means that any consultation that does take place is performative – just for show. The authorities don’t typically take the limited civil society that is loyal to the government into account, so independent voices are simply not even in the picture.

    If the government only consults those of whom they approve, and even then, only barely, how will that shape government policy? How can it capture the concerns and wishes of the wider population? How is this sustainable? Well, it isn’t. It is unwise and risks creating conditions similar to those that resulted in a national crisis in 2011.

    What would it take to build democratic institutions in Bahrain?

    Recent history has shown that democratic institutions are difficult to build and easy to lose. In Bahrain and the Gulf, the human rights movement does not call for removal of X so that they be replaced by Y. Instead, we build case studies from each country to show the inequities of laws and practices, and we campaign on that. The reform of specific practices, in certain areas – the administration of justice, the freedom of assembly – is achievable if the authorities in Bahrain and across the Gulf actually engage with human rights groups and United Nations human rights bodies.

    We need the Bahraini authorities to provide some genuine representation of the people by the people. We are ready to have a real, genuine dialogue with the authorities, but there needs to be a level playing field. If, despite the restrictions placed on them, the parliamentarians elected in this election step up, then we will have a chance to make a difference going forward. But just as we dare to dream and act, they need to do so too.

    What kind of support does Bahraini civil society need from the international community?

    We need more engagement. We need states and friends in international civil society to step up and explain the character and vision of the democratic society that the majority of Bahrainis seek; to explain that it does not represent a threat but rather an unlocking of potential.

    We need international civil society counterparts to engage in international fora, not only to reflect and project our voice but also to emphasise the role and inherent legitimacy of Bahraini civil society to the Bahraini authorities.

    We need our international partners to put pressure on the government’s human rights oversight bodies – the Ombudsman’s office, the Special Investigative Unit and the National Institution for Human Rights – to provide real rather than cosmetic redress, accountability and reform. Some of these oversight bodies have helped migrant workers facing abuse, but even then, their scope has been limited as they have failed to address underlying unjust laws or practices.

    We need help and expertise to collate evidence to mount realistic claims for accountability in jurisdictions that have provisions for sanctioning, such as the Global Magnitsky Act that the US government uses to sanction foreign government officials deemed to be human rights offenders,

    We need international civil society to press the government of Bahrain to explain why it has failed to adhere to the international conventions to which it has acceded, or why it has not acceded to additional standards such as optional protocols, or been clearer about imposing a moratorium on the death penalty.

    Civic space in Bahrain is rated ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Salam for Democracy and Human Rights through their website and follow @SALAM_DHR and@JawadFairooz on Twitter.

  • GABON : « L’espace civique et les conditions des droits humains étaient difficiles sous l’ancien régime »

    GeorgesMpagaCIVICUS échange sur le coup d’État militaire au Gabon avec Georges Mpaga, président exécutif national du Réseau des organisations libres de la société civile du Gabon (ROLBG).

    Au cours des dix dernières années, le ROLBG s’est concentré sur les disparitions forcées, les exécutions extrajudiciaires, la torture et les détentions arbitraires. Il plaide en faveur de l’espace civique au Gabon e l’Afrique centrale et mène des campagnes sur les conditions de détention inhumaines.

    Que pensez-vous des récentes élections au Gabon et du coup d’État militaire qui s’en est suivi ?

    Les élections du 26 août ont été indubitablement frauduleuses, comme l’étaient les précédentes. Le régime du dictateur prédateur Ali Bongo avait interdit les missions d’observation internationales et domestiques ainsi que la présence de la presse internationale. Le ROLBG a été la seule organisation à mettre en œuvre une observation citoyenne à travers le système de tabulation parallèle des votes. Par la volonté despotique de Bongo, l’élection s’est tenue dans des conditions totalement irrégulières, en violation flagrante des normes et standards internationaux en la matière. Les scrutins s’étaient déroulés à huis clos, dans une opacité qui a généré une fraude électorale à grande échelle et des résultats tronqués.

    Le 30 août 2023, l’intervention salutaire des forces de défense et de sécurité a mis un terme à cette forfaiture. Pour moi en tant qu’acteur de la société civile, ce qui vient de se passer au Gabon n’est nullement un coup d’Etat, c’est tout simplement une intervention militaire menée par des patriotes au sein de l’armée, sous le leadership du Général Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema, qui a mis fin à une imposture de 56 ans, un système prédateur et un cycle infernal d’élections truquées souvent jalonnées de violations massives des droits humains. C’est notre lecture de la situation et c’est l’avis général de la population gabonaise qui vient d’être libérée d’une dictature et d’une oligarchie criminelle.

    Pour quoi l’intervention militaire s’est-elle produite maintenant, après tant d’années de règne de la famille Bongo ?

    L’intervention militaire du 30 août se justifie comme une réponse à la volonté du clan Bongo et son Parti démocratique gabonais de se maintenir au pouvoir de gré ou de force à travers des élections frauduleuses et la répression policière orchestrée par des forces de défense et de sécurité instrumentalisées et aux ordres de l’ancien président.

    Les forces armées gabonaises sont intervenu pour éviter un bain de sang et remplacer le régime incarné par Bongo : un régime inamovible qui s’est montré impitoyable envers le peuple gabonais, entaché de relations clientélistes, d’affaires louches, de corruption prédatrice et de violations généralisées des droits humains et des libertés fondamentales, le tout sanctionné par des élections frauduleuses.

    En résumé, le coup au Gabon ne s’inscrit pas dans une tendance régionale, mais est le résultat d’un processus purement interne résultant des 56 ans de dictature et son corollaire de violations des droits humains et de destruction du tissu économique et social du pays. Les évènements en cours au Gabon ont évidemment des répercussions dans la région d’Afrique centrale, foyer des plus grandes dictatures d’Afrique.

    Quel est votre point de vue sur les critiques internationales concernant le coup d’État ?

    La société civile a favorablement accueilli l’intervention militaire qui a sonné le glas de plus d’un demi-siècle de forfaiture et de prédation au sommet de l’Etat. Sans cette intervention, nous aurons assisté à une tragédie sans précédent.

    L’armée gabonaise, sous la houlette du Comité pour la transition et la restauration des institutions (CTRI), la junte militaire au pouvoir, a permis au pays d’échapper à un drame aux conséquences incalculables. Vu sous cet angle, les militaires sont des héros à célébrer. Dès sa prise de pouvoir, le Général Oligui s’est employé à fédérer un pays qui était profondément divisé et traumatisé par si longtemps de gestion calamiteuse par la famille Bongo et les intérêts mafieux qui les entouraient.

    L’attitude de la communauté internationale est inacceptable pour la société civile, les défenseurs des droits humains et la population gabonaise, qui ont longtemps payé un lourd tribut. Quand en 2016 Bongo a planifié et exécuté un coup d’état électoral suivi d’atrocités contre les populations civiles qui s’étaient opposées à la mascarade électorale, la communauté internationale s’était tue laissant les populations civiles gabonaises face à leur bourreau. Au regard de ce qui précède, nous rejetons catégoriquement les déclarations de la communauté internationale, singulièrement la Communauté Économique des États de l’Afrique centrale et l’Union Africaine, deux institutions qui encouragent les tripatouillages de constitutions et les présidences à vie en Afrique centrale.

    Quelles étaient les conditions de la société civile sous le régime de la famille Bongo ? Pensez-vous qu’il y ait une chance que la situation s’améliore ?

    L’espace civique et les conditions d’exercice des libertés démocratiques et les droits humains étaient difficiles sous l’ancien régime. Les droits de d’association, de réunion pacifique d’expression étaient bafoués. De nombreux militants de la société civile et défenseurs des droits humains dont moi-même, ont séjourné en prison ou furent privés de leurs droits fondamentaux.

    Maintenant, avec l’arrivée du régime de transition, nous notons un changement fondamental, une approche globalement favorable à la société civile. Les nouvelles autorités travaillent désormais de concert avec toutes les forces vives de la nation y compris la société civile qui a été reçue le 1er septembre par le Général Oligui et ses pairs du CTRI, et votre humble serviteur était le facilitateur de cette rencontre. Le président de transition, qui a prêté serment le 4 septembre, s’est engagé à travailler pour restaurer les institutions de l’Etat et les droits humains et démocratiques et respecter les engagements nationaux et internationaux du Gabon. Le signal fort a été donné le 5 septembre par la libération progressive des prisonniers d’opinion dont le leader de la plus grande confédération syndicale de la fonction publique gabonaise, Jean Remi Yama, après 18 mois de détention arbitraire.

    L’espace civique au Gabon est classé « réprimé » par leCIVICUS Monitor.

    Contactez Georgessur sa pageFacebook et suivez@gmpaga sur Twitter.

    Les opinions exprimées dans cette interview sont celles de la personne interviewée et ne reflètent pas nécessairement celles de CIVICUS.


  • GABON : « Sous l’ancien régime la société civile n’était pas prise en compte »

    PepecyOgouliguendeCIVICUS échange sur le coup d’État militaire au Gabon avec Pepecy Ogouliguende, experte en droits humains, gouvernance, genre et médiation de paix et fondatrice et présidente de Malachie.

    Malachie est une organisation de la société civile gabonaise qui lutte contre la pauvreté et promeut le développement durable et l’égalité des sexes. Elle est active dans plusieurs domaines, notamment la protection de la biodiversité, l’aide en cas de catastrophes naturelles, le soutien médical, notamment auprès des personnes vivantes avec le VIH/SIDA, et l’éducation aux droits humains, particulièrement auprès des couches sociales les plus vulnérables.

    Que pensez-vous des récentes élections au Gabon et du coup d’État militaire qui s’en est suivi ?

    Le 30 août 2023 aux environs de 3h du matin la Commission Gabonaise Électorale a annoncé les résultats de l’élection présidentielle qui donnaient le président, Ali Bongo, gagnant. Quelques minutes plus tard, les militaires annonçaient avoir pris le pouvoir. Il est important de souligner qu’il ne s’agit pas d’un coup d’État, mais d’une prise de pouvoir par les militaires. Cela trouve sa justification dans le fait que cela s’est déroulé sans effusion de sang.

    Cette élection était entachée d’irrégularités et l’annonce de ses résultats allaient conduire à des contestations bien que légitimes mais qui se seraient soldées par des violences. Je tiens donc ici à saluer l’acte de bravoure des forces de défense et de sécurité.

    Les militaires ont ensuite dissous l’ensemble des institutions du gouvernement et ont mis en place un Comité de Transition pour la Restauration des Institutions (CTRI).

    Votre organisation a-t-elle pu observer les élections ?

    Non, mon organisation n’a pas pu observer les élections pour la simple raison qu’aucun observateurs internationaux et nationaux n’étaient admis. Cette élection s’est déroulée dans une opacité totale. Comme tous les Gabonais, j’ai effectivement constaté que les déclarations ne correspondaient pas aux résultats des urnes.

    La prise du pouvoir par les forces de défense et de sécurité dans cette circonstance particulière de défiance des populations envers les autorités et de suspicion profonde quant à la vérité des urnes s’apparente plutôt à un sursaut patriotique.

    Pour quoi l’intervention militaire s’est-elle produite maintenant, après tant d’années de règne de la famille Bongo ?

    Nos forces de défense et de sécurité ont au même titre que la population, constaté de nombreuses irrégularités et plusieurs dysfonctionnements de l’appareil étatique ces dernières années. Ils ont donc décidé de mettre fin à ce régime qui ne correspondait plus aux aspirations des Gabonais.

    Les militaires ont profité des élections du 26 août dernier pour mettre fin au système en place en prenant leurs responsabilités pour sauver la nation et l’État de droit. Aussi, le but de cette prise de pouvoir est de « redonner aux gabonais leur dignité ». Comme l’a dit le porte-parole du CTRI, « c’est enfin notre essor vers la félicité ».

    Quel est votre point de vue sur les critiques internationales concernant le coup d’État ?

    La communauté internationale a simplement appliqué les textes sans au préalable analyser le contexte. Le contexte du Gabon est bien particulier.

    La célébration dans les rues des principales villes du pays montre à quel point le régime en place n’était plus désiré, mais seulement toléré. Ces scènes de liesse populaire observées qui contrastent avec la condamnation de la communauté internationale devraient interpeller celle-ci, l’inviter à revoir son approche davantage tournée vers la sauvegarde à tout prix de la stabilité souvent au détriment d’un réel progrès social, du développement ou encore de la croissance économique... bref, du bien-être du plus grand nombre.

    Tous les membres de la communauté internationale qui se sont exprimés ont condamné le « coup d’État » et assuré qu’ils suivaient avec intérêt l’évolution de la situation au Gabon tout en rappelant leur attachement au respect des institutions. Les réactions des organisations internationales ont été très fortes : les Nations unies ont condamné et l’Union Africaine (UA) et la Communauté économique des États de l’Afrique centrale (CEEAC) ont suspendu le Gabon car ce « coup d’État » a été directement assimilé à ceux qui ont précédemment eu lieu dans la région. Les États-Unis se sont quelques peu démarqués en affirmant qu’ils travailleraient avec leurs partenaires et les populations pour soutenir le processus démocratique en cours. C’est en cela que nous attendons le reste de la communauté internationale pour nous aider à œuvrer à la construction d’institutions fortes.

    Nous saluons les États qui ont bien compris la nécessité de ce changement. Nous condamnons les sanctions de l’UA et celles de la CEEAC. La communauté internationale devrait accompagner les États dans le respect des lois et constitutions et veiller au respect de la démocratie et des droits humains.

    Pensez-vous que ce coup d’État s’inscrit dans une tendance régionale ?

    Il faut avant tout rappeler que pour le cas du Gabon, il s’agit d’une prise de pouvoir des militaires et non d’un coup d’État au sens strict du terme. Il est effectivement le résultat d’une mauvaise gouvernance, de la non prise en compte des besoins des populations notamment les besoins sociaux mais aussi d’une soif de changement. Elle peut avoir une connotation régionale en ce sens que la plupart des populations africaines vivent les mêmes difficultés - chômage des jeunes, pauvreté, manque d’accès aux soins de santé - et aspirent à de grands changements. Lorsque la population ne se sent pas prise en compte dans les politiques mises en place elle est frustrée.

    Nous n’excluons pas la possibilité que cela ait un impact chez nos voisins. Il n’est pas trop tard pour que les régimes en place en Afrique centrale saisissent cette occasion pour repenser la manière de servir le peuple.

    Quelles étaient les conditions de la société civile sous le régime de la famille Bongo ? Pensez-vous qu’il y ait une chance que la situation s’améliore ?

    Au Gabon, le fonctionnement des organisations et associations est régie par la loi 35/62 qui garantit la liberté d’association. Cela dit, sous l’ancien régime la société civile n’était pas prise en compte. Elle ne participait que partiellement à gestion de la chose publique.

    Certains leaders notamment syndicaux pouvaient être victimes d’arrestations ou d’intimidations si le régime estimait qu’ils faisaient trop de zèle. Plusieurs leaders dans la société civile gabonaise se levaient pour dénoncer des arrestations arbitraires liées aux opinions et positionnements.

    Au même titre que les Gabonais, la société civile s’est réjouie du changement. La société civile dans son ensemble s’est engagée à prendre activement part aux actions et reformes menées par les autorités au cours de la transition qui iront dans le sens du respect des droits humains, l’équité et la justice sociale, la préservation de la paix ainsi que la promotion de la bonne gouvernance.

    Le CTRI vient d’autoriser la libération de quelques figures de la lutte syndicale au Gabon et de prisonniers d’opinion. Aux vues des premières décisions prises par le CTRI, le meilleur est à venir. Je peux, sans risques de me tromper, dire que le Gabon de demain sera meilleur. Aujourd’hui on perçoit une lueur d’espoir.

    L’espace civique au Gabon est classé « réprimé » par leCIVICUS Monitor.

    Contactez Malachie via sonsite web ou sa pageFacebook.

    Les opinions exprimées dans cette interview sont celles de la personne interviewée et ne reflètent pas nécessairement celles de CIVICUS.

  • GABON: ‘Civic space and the conditions for the exercise of human rights were difficult under the former regime’

    GeorgesMpagaCIVICUS discusses the military coup in Gabon with Georges Mpaga, National Executive President of the Network of Free Civil Society Organisations of Gabon (ROLBG).

    Over the past decade, ROLBG has focused on enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, torture and arbitrary detention. It advocates to improve civic space in Gabon and Central Africa and campaigns on inhumane detention conditions.

    What’s your opinion on Gabon’s recent elections and subsequent military coup?

    The 26 August elections were undoubtedly fraudulent, as were the previous ones. The regime led by predatory dictator Ali Bongo had banned international and domestic observer missions and international media. ROLBG was the only organisation that carried out citizen observation through the parallel vote tabulation system. Because of Bongo’s despotic will, the election was held under totally irregular conditions, in flagrant violation of international norms and standards. The vote count was held behind closed doors, in an opaque context that allowed for large-scale electoral fraud and falsified results.

    On 30 August 2023, the salutary intervention of the defence and security forces put an end to this aberration. For me, as someone from civil society, what has just happened in Gabon is by no means a military coup; it is quite simply a military intervention led by patriots within the army, under the leadership of General Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema, that put an end to a 56-year imposture, a predatory system and an infernal cycle of rigged elections often punctuated by massive human rights violations. This is our reading of the situation, and it is the general opinion of the Gabonese people, who have just been freed from a criminal dictatorship and oligarchy.

    Why has military intervention taken place now, after so many years of Bongo family rule?

    The military intervention on 30 August was justified as a response to the desire shown by the Bongo clan and its Gabonese Democratic Party to remain in power by will or by force, through fraudulent elections and police repression orchestrated by the defence and security forces, which were instrumentalised and took orders from the former president.

    The Gabonese armed forces intervened to avert a bloodbath and replace the Bongo regime: an unrelenting regime that was ruthless towards the Gabonese people, tainted by clientelist relationships, shady business deals, predatory corruption and widespread violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, all sanctioned by fraudulent elections.

    In this sense, the coup in Gabon is not part of a regional trend, but the result of a purely internal process resulting from 56 years of dictatorship and its corollary of human rights violations and the destruction of the country’s economic and social fabric. However, the events underway in Gabon obviously have repercussions in the Central African region, home to some of the worst of Africa’s dictatorships.

    What’s your perspective on international criticism of the coup?

    Civil society welcomed the military intervention because it sounded the death knell for more than half a century of deceit and predation at the top of the state. Without this intervention, we would have witnessed an unprecedented tragedy.

    The Gabonese army, under the leadership of the Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions (CTRI), the military junta in power, allowed the country to escape a tragedy with incalculable consequences. Seen in this light, the military should be celebrated as heroes. As soon as he took power, General Oligui set about uniting a country that had been deeply divided and traumatised by such a long time of calamitous management by the Bongo family and the mafia interests around them.

    The attitude of the international community is unacceptable to civil society, human rights defenders and the people of Gabon, who have long paid a heavy price. In 2016, when Bongo planned and carried out an electoral coup followed by atrocities against civilians who opposed the electoral masquerade, the international community remained silent, leaving Gabon’s civilians to face their executioner. In view of this, we categorically reject the declarations of the international community, in particular the Economic Community of Central African States and the African Union, two institutions that have encouraged the manipulation of constitutions and presidencies for life in Central Africa.

    What were conditions like for civil society under Bongo family rule? Do you think there is any chance that the situation will now improve?

    Civic space and the conditions for exercising democratic freedoms and human rights were difficult under the former regime. The rights of association, peaceful assembly and expression were flouted. Many civil society activists and human rights defenders, including myself, spent time in prison or were deprived of their fundamental rights.

    With the establishment of the transitional regime, we are now seeing fundamental change towards an approach that is generally favourable to civil society. The new authorities are working in concert with all the nation’s driving forces, including civil society, which was received on 1 September by General Oligui and his CTRI peers, and I was the facilitator of that meeting. The transitional president, who was sworn in on 4 September, took to work to restore state institutions, human rights and democratic freedoms, and to respect Gabon’s national and international commitments. A strong signal was given on 5 September, with the gradual release of prisoners of conscience, including the leader of Gabon’s largest civil service union confederation, Jean Remi Yama, after 18 months of arbitrary detention.

    Civic space in Gabon is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Georgesthrough hisFacebook page and follow@gmpaga on Twitter.

    The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIVICUS.

  • GABON: ‘Under the old regime civil society was not taken into account’

    PepecyOgouliguendeCIVICUS discusses the military coup in Gabon with Pepecy Ogouliguende, expert in human rights, governance, gender and peace mediation and founder and president of Malachie.

    Malachie is a Gabonese civil society organisation that combats poverty and promotes sustainable development and gender equality. It is active in a areas that include biodiversity protection, aid in the event of natural disasters, medical support, particularly for people living with HIV/AIDS, and human rights education, especially for the most vulnerable groups in society.

    What’s your opinion on Gabon’s recent general election and subsequent military coup?

    At around 3am on 30 August 2023, the Gabonese Electoral Commission announced the results of the presidential election, with incumbent Ali Bongo as the winner. A few minutes later, the military announced they had seized power. It is important to stress that this was not a coup d’état, but a seizure of power by the military. This distinction is justified by the fact that it took place without bloodshed.

    The election was marred by irregularities and the announcement of the results would have led to protests, albeit legitimate, but which would have ended in violence. I would therefore like to salute the bravery of the defence and security forces.

    The military then dissolved all governing institutions and set up a Transition Committee for the Restoration of Institutions (CTRI).

    Was your organisation able to observe the election?

    No, my organisation was unable to observe the election for the simple reason that no international or national observers were admitted. The election was conducted in total secrecy. Like all Gabonese people, I saw that the announced results did not correspond with the results at the ballot box.

    The seizure of power by the defence and security forces in this particular context of public distrust of the authorities and deep suspicion of the election results is rather akin to a patriotic act.

    Why has military intervention taken place now, after so many years of Bongo family rule?

    Our defence and security forces, along with the public, have observed numerous irregularities and dysfunctions in the state apparatus in recent years. They therefore decided to put an end to this regime, which no longer corresponded to the aspirations of the Gabonese people.

    The military saw an opportunity in the 26 August election to end the current system by assuming their responsibilities to save the nation and the rule of law. The aim of this seizure of power is to ‘restore the dignity of the Gabonese people’. As the CTRI spokesperson put it, ‘we are finally on the road to happiness’.

    What’s your perspective on international criticism of the coup?

    The international community simply acted by the book without first analysing the context. Gabon’s is a very special case.

    Celebrations on the streets of Gabon’s main cities showed the extent to which the old regime was no longer wanted, just tolerated. These scenes of popular jubilation, which contrast with the international community’s condemnation, should be a wake-up call to the international community, inviting it to review its approach, which is more focused on safeguarding stability at all costs, often to the detriment of real social progress, development or economic growth – in short, at the expense of the wellbeing of the majority.

    All those in the international community who spoke up condemned the ‘coup d’état’ and assured us that they were following developments in Gabon with interest, while reiterating their attachment to respect for institutions. Reactions from international organisations were very strong: the United Nations condemned the coup and the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) suspended Gabon because they directly associated this ‘coup d’état’ with those that had previously taken place elsewhere in the region.

    The USA has distanced itself somewhat by stating that it will work with its partners and the people to support the democratic process underway. This is where we look to the rest of the international community to help us work towards building strong institutions.

    We salute those states that have clearly understood the need for this change. We condemn AU and ECCAS sanctions. The international community should support states in respecting their laws and constitutions and ensuring that democracy and human rights are respected.

    Do you think this coup is part of a regional trend?

    First and foremost, it should be reminded that in the case of Gabon, this was a military takeover and not a coup d’état in the strict sense of the term. It was in fact the result of bad governance and failure to take account of the needs of the population, particularly social needs, but also of the thirst for change. It can have regional impacts in the sense that most African populations are experiencing the same difficulties – youth unemployment, poverty, lack of access to healthcare – and aspire to major change. When people don’t feel taken into account by policymakers, they become frustrated.

    We don’t rule out the possibility that this will have an impact on our neighbours. It is not too late for the regimes in power in Central Africa to seize this opportunity to rethink the way they serve their people.

    What were conditions like for civil society under Bongo family rule? Do you think there is any chance the situation will now improve?

    In Gabon, the operation of organisations and associations is governed by law 35/62, which guarantees freedom of association. That said, under the old regime civil society was not taken into account. It was only partly involved in the management of public affairs.

    Some leaders, particularly trade union leaders, could be arrested or intimidated if the regime felt they were being overzealous. Several Gabonese civil society leaders denounced arbitrary arrests linked to their opinions and positions.

    Like the Gabonese people, civil society is delighted at the change. Civil society as a whole is committed to taking an active part in the actions and reforms carried out by the authorities during the transition, to promote respect for human rights, equity and social justice, the preservation of peace and good governance.

    The CTRI has just authorised the release of some of Gabon’s leading trade unionists and prisoners of conscience. In view of the first decisions taken by the CTRI, the best is yet to come. I can safely say that the Gabon of tomorrow will be better. Today there is a glimmer of hope.

    Civic space in Gabon is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Malachie through itswebsite or itsFacebook page.

    The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIVICUS.

  • SÉNÉGAL : « La situation devient plus tendue au fur et mesure qu’on s’approche des élections de 2024 »

    SadikhNiass IbaSarrCIVICUS échange sur la dégradation de l’espace civique à l’approche des élections sénégalaises de l'année prochaine avec Sadikh Niass, Secrétaire Général de laRencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme(RADDHO), etIba Sarr, Directeur des Programmes de la RADDHO.

    La RADDHO est une organisation de la société civile (OSC) nationale basée à Dakar, Sénégal. Elle travaille pour la protection et la promotion des droits humains au niveau national, régional et international par le biais de la recherche, de l’analyse et du plaidoyer afin de fournir des alertes d’urgence et de prévenir les conflits.

    Quelles sont les conditions pour la société civile au Sénégal ?

    La société civile sénégalaise reste très active mais est confrontée à plusieurs difficultés liées à la restriction de l’espace civique. Elle subit beaucoup d’attaques verbales de la part de certaines lobbies proches du pouvoir qui les considèrent comme des opposants ou faisant la promotion de « contre valeurs » comme l’homosexualité. Elle est aussi confrontée aux restrictions de libertés de manifestations. La société civile travaille dans des conditions difficiles avec peu de moyens financiers et matériels. En effet les organisations de défense des droits humains ne reçoivent aucun soutien financier de l’Etat.

    La situation devient plus tendue au fur et mesure qu’on s’approche des élections de février 2024. Depuis mars 2021, l’opposition la plus radicale et le gouvernement ont tous opté pour la confrontation. Le gouvernement tente d’affaiblir l’opposition en la réduisant au minimum. Il s’attaque particulièrement à l’opposition la plus dynamique, la coalition Yewi Askan Wi (« Libérer le peuple »), dont le principal leader, Ousmane Sonko, est aujourd’hui en détention.

    Toutes les manifestations de l’opposition sont systématiquement interdites. Les manifestations spontanées sont violemment réprimées et se soldent par des arrestations. Le judiciaire est instrumentalisé pour empêcher la candidature du principal opposant au régime, Sonko, et les principaux dirigeants de son parti sont arrêtés.

    Nous avons également assisté ces dernières années à une recrudescence des menaces verbales, physiques et judiciaires envers les journalistes, ce qui constitue un vrai recul du droit à l’information.

    Quels seront les enjeux de l’élection présidentielle de 2024 ?

    Avec la découverte du pétrole et du gaz, le Sénégal devient une destination attrayante pour les investisseurs. La gestion transparente de ces ressources reste un défi dans un contexte marqué par la recrudescence des actes terroristes. Les populations confrontées à la pauvreté voient en cette découverte un moyen d’améliorer leur niveau de vie. Avec la percée de l’opposition lors des élections locales et législatives de 2022 on sent que l’électorat exprime de plus en plus fortement son désir de transparence, de justice et d’amélioration des conditions socio-économiques.

    Le 3 juillet 2023 le président sortant a déclaré qu’il ne participera pas aux prochaines élections. Cette déclaration pourrait constituer une lueur d’espoir d’une élection libre et transparente. Mais le fait que l’État soit tenté d’empêcher certains ténors de l’opposition d’y prendre part constitue un grand risque de voir le pays sombrer dans des turbulences.

    La société civile reste alerte et veille à ce que l’élection de 2024 soit une élection inclusive, libre et transparente. A cet effet elle a beaucoup multiplié des actions en faveur du dialogue entre les acteurs politiques. Également les OSC s’activent à travers plusieurs plateformes pour accompagner les autorités dans l’organisation des élections apaisées par la supervision du processus avant, pendant et après le scrutin.

    Qu’est-ce qui a déclenché les récentes manifestations ? Quelles sont les revendications des manifestants et comment le gouvernement a-t-il réagi ?

    Les récentes manifestations ont été déclenchées par la condamnation de Sonko à deux ans de prison le 1er juin 2023. Ce jour-là, un tribunal s’est prononcé sur l’affaire dite « Sweet Beauty », dans laquelle une jeune femme employée dans un salon de massage accusait Sonko de l’avoir violée et d’avoir proféré des menaces de mort à son encontre. Sonko a été acquitté des menaces de mort, mais les accusations de viol ont été requalifiées en accusations de « corruption de la jeunesse ».

    Est venu se greffer à cette condamnation l’arrestation de Sonko le 31 juillet 2023 et la dissolution de son parti politique, le PASTEF (Patriotes africains du Sénégal pour le travail, l’éthique et la fraternité).

    Les manifestations sont animées par le sentiment que leur leader fait l’objet de persécutions et que les affaires pour lesquelles il a été condamné ne servent qu’à l’empêcher de participer aux prochaines élections. La principale revendication des manifestant est la libération de leur leader et des personnes illégalement détenus.

    Face aux manifestations le gouvernement a opté pour la répression. En effet les autorités considèrent qu’elles font face à des actes de défiance de l’Etat et ont appelé les forces de sécurité à faire usage de la force.

    La répression s’est soldée par la mort de plus de 30 personnes et de plus 600 blessés depuis mars 2021, quand les premières repressions ont commencé. En plus de ces pertes en vies humaines et de blessés on dénombre aujourd’hui plus de 700 personnes arrêtées et croupissent dans les prisons du Sénégal. Nous avons aussi noté l’arrestation de journalistes mais aussi de coupure de signal de chaines de télévisions et de restriction de certaines d’internet.

    Comment la société civile sénégalaise, y compris la RADDHO, travaille-t-elle à la défense des droits humains ?

    La RADDHO travaille au niveau national en aidant les victimes de violations de droits humains, et mène des activités de sensibilisation, d’éducation aux droits humains et de renforcement de capacités.

    La RADDHO collabore avec les mécanismes régionaux et internationaux, notamment la Commission africaine des Droits de l’Homme et des Peuples, le Comité Africain des Experts sur les Droits et le Bien-être de l’Enfant, la Cour Africaine des Droits de l’Homme et des Peuples et le Conseil des Droits de l’Homme des Nations Unies. A cet effet elle mène plusieurs activités de vulgarisations des Instruments juridiques de protection et de promotion des droits humains. En tant que membre observateur de la Commission Africaine des Droits de l’Homme et des Peuples, elle participe régulièrement aux forums de la société civile lors des sessions de celle-ci. Également la RADDHO coordonne la coalition des OSC pour le suivi et la mise en œuvre des recommandations de l’Examen Périodique Universel des Nations unies pour le Sénégal.

    Quel soutien international la société civile sénégalaise reçoit-elle et de quel soutien supplémentaire aurait-elle besoin ?

    Dans le cadre de leurs missions, les OSC sénégalaise reçoivent des appuis de la part d’institutions internationales telles que l’Union Européenne, les agences de coopération bilatérale des États-Unis et de la Suède, USAID et SIDA, et des organisations et fondations tels qu’Oxfam NOVIB des Pays Bays, le NED des États-Unis, la NID de l’Inde et la Fondation Ford, entre autres. Cependant, du fait que le Sénégal a longtemps été considéré comme un pays stable, l’appui reste insuffisant.

    Compte tenu des restrictions de l’espace civique constatées depuis quelques années et de la crise politique, la société civile a besoin d’être soutenue pour mieux assister les victimes de violations de droits humains, pour contribuer à l’avènement d’une véritable culture des droits humains, et pour travailler à l’élargissement de l’espace civique et le renforcement de l’Etat de droit, de la démocratie et de la bonne gouvernance.

    L’espace civique au Sénégal est classé « entravé » par leCIVICUS Monitor.

    Contactez la RADDHOsur sonsite web ou sa pageFacebook, et suivez@Raddho_Africa sur Twitter.

  • SENEGAL: ‘The situation is becoming more tense as we approach the 2024 elections’

    SadikhNiass IbaSarrCIVICUS speaks about the deterioration of civic space in the run-up to next year’s elections in Senegal with Sadikh Niass, Secretary General of the African Meeting for the Defence of Human Rights (Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme,RADDHO), andIba Sarr, Director of Programmes at RADDHO.

    RADDHO is a national civil society organisation (CSO) based in Dakar, Senegal. It works for the protection and promotion of human rights at the national, regional and international levels through research, analysis and advocacy aimed at providing early warning and preventing conflict.

    What are the conditions for civil society in Senegal?

    Senegalese civil society remains very active but faces a number of difficulties linked to the restriction of civic space. It is subjected to many verbal attacks by lobbies close to the government, which consider them to be opponents or promoters of ‘counter-values’ such as homosexuality. It is also confronted with restrictions on freedom of assembly. Civil society works in difficult conditions with few financial and material resources. Human rights organisations receive no financial support from the state.

    The situation is becoming more tense as we approach the February 2024 elections. Since March 2021, the most radical opposition and the government have opted for confrontation. The government is trying to weaken the opposition by reducing it to a minimum. It is particularly targeting the most dynamic opposition group, the Yewi Askan Wi (‘Liberate the People’) coalition, whose main leader, Ousmane Sonko, is currently in detention.

    All opposition demonstrations are systematically banned. Spontaneous demonstrations are violently repressed and result in arrests. The judiciary was instrumentalised to prevent the candidacy of the main opponent to the regime, Sonko, and the main leaders of his party have been arrested.

    In recent years, we have also seen an upsurge in verbal, physical and legal threats against journalists, which is a real setback for the right to freedom of information.

    What will be at stake in the 2024 presidential election?

    With the discovery of oil and gas, Senegal is becoming an attractive destination for investors. Transparent management of these resources remains a challenge in a context marked by an upsurge in terrorist acts. Poverty-stricken populations see this discovery as a means of improving their standard of living. With the breakthrough of the opposition in the 2022 local and legislative elections, we sense that the electorate is increasingly expressing its desire for transparency, justice and improved socio-economic conditions.

    On 3 July 2023, the incumbent president declared that he would not compete in the next elections. This declaration could offer a glimmer of hope for a free and transparent election. But the fact that the state is being tempted to prevent leading opposition figures from running poses a major risk of the country descending into turbulence.

    Civil society remains alert and is working to ensure that the 2024 elections are inclusive, free and transparent. To this end, it has stepped up its efforts to promote dialogue among political players. CSOs are also working through several platforms to support the authorities in organising peaceful elections by monitoring the process before, during and after the poll.

    What triggered the recent demonstrations? What are the protesters’ demands and how has the government responded?

    The recent protests were triggered by Sonko’s sentencing to two years in prison on 1 June 2023. On that day, a court ruled on the so-called ‘Sweet Beauty’ case, in which a young woman working in a massage parlour accused Sonko of raping her and making death threats against her. Sonko was acquitted of the death threats, but the rape charges were reclassified as ‘corruption of youth’.

    This conviction was compounded by Sonko’s arrest on 31 July 2023 and the dissolution of his political party, PASTEF – short for ‘Senegalese African patriots for work, ethics and fraternity’ in French.

    Protesters are driven by the feeling that their leader is being persecuted and that the cases for which he has been convicted only serve to prevent him taking part in the forthcoming elections. Their main demand is the release of their leader and those illegally detained.

    Faced with these demonstrations, the government has opted for repression. The authorities consider that they are facing acts of defiance towards the state and have called on the security forces to use force.

    Repression has resulted in the deaths of more than 30 people and more than 600 injured since March 2021, when the repression first began. In addition to the loss of life and injuries, more than 700 people have been arrested and are languishing in Senegal’s prisons. We have also noted the arrest of journalists, as well as the interruption of television signals and the restriction of some internet services.

    How is Senegalese civil society, including RADDHO, working to defend human rights?

    RADDHO works at the national level to help victims of human rights violations and carries out awareness-raising, human rights education and capacity-building activities.

    RADDHO collaborates with regional and international mechanisms, notably the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Council. To this end, we carry out a number of activities to raise awareness of legal instruments for the protection and promotion of human rights. As an observer member of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, we regularly participate in civil society forums during the Commission’s sessions. RADDHO also coordinates the CSO coalition for the follow-up and implementation of the recommendations of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review for Senegal.

    What international support is Senegalese civil society receiving and what additional support would it need?

    To fulfil their missions, Senegalese CSOs receive support from international institutions such as the European Union, the bilateral cooperation agencies of the USA and Sweden, USAID and SIDA, and organisations and foundations such as Oxfam NOVIB in the Netherlands, NED in the United States, NID in India and the Ford Foundation, among others. However, because Senegal has long been considered a stable country, support remains insufficient.

    Given the growing restrictions on civic space of recent years and the political crisis, civil society needs support to better assist victims of human rights violations, to contribute to the emergence of a genuine human rights culture and to work towards widening civic space and strengthening the rule of law, democracy and good governance.

    Civic space in Senegal is rated ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with RADDHOthrough itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@Raddho_Africa on Twitter.


Canaux numériques

Siège social
25  Owl Street, 6th Floor
Afrique du Sud,
Tél: +27 (0)11 833 5959
Fax: +27 (0)11 833 7997

Bureau pour l’onu: New-York
CIVICUS, c/o We Work
450 Lexington Ave
NY 10017

Bureau pour l’onu : Geneve
11 Avenue de la Paix
Tél: +41.79.910.34.28