Senegal: States at UN call on government to protect of freedom of expression

Civic Space 4 min read
ARTICLE 19

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the commitments made at the UN by the Government of Senegal, to fully protect the right to freedom of expression in line with international standards, and to guarantee media freedom and the independence of the national human rights institution (CSDH).

The commitments came as part of Senegal’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on 5 November. The UPR is a mechanism of the UN Human Rights Council (UN HRC), through which all UN Member States are reviewed every 4-5 years, and receive recommendations from other states on improving the human rights situation in their country. Senegal last underwent its UPR in 2013.

Ahead of the UPR, ARTICLE 19 had raised concerns that in spite of commitments made in 2013, the situation for the right to freedom of expression had deteriorated, online and offline. Criminal provisions related to ‘false news’, ‘insult against the Head of State’ and offences against ‘good morals’, among others, have been applied against high-profile public figures, creating a chilling effect on freedom of expression across the country.

The new Press Code adopted in 2017 strengthened the sanctions available for those who infringed restrictive provisions criminalising defamation, libel, and insult, among others, in contravention of international human rights law. The call by several States during the UPR to bring national legislation in line with international standards on freedom of expression, including by decriminalising press offences, is a vital step towards promoting the free exercise of this right in the country.

ARTICLE 19’s submission also raised concerns on the lack of progress made in regard to the recommendations accepted by the government during previous UPRs to strengthen the independence of the judiciary, and regulatory bodies, and to strengthen the national human rights commission. The government must follow recommendations by several States during Senegal’s latest review to continue measures to support the national human rights institution and strengthen its financial and administrative autonomy, including intensifying efforts to regain its “A” status under the Paris Principles, as an important step forward in protecting  and promoting human rights in Senegal.

During the review 107 UN Member States gave statements, making 256 recommendations in total. The Government of Senegal has indicated that it supports 228 of these recommendations, including all those related to freedom of expression, committing itself to their implementation in the next 4-5 years. The Government has until March 2019, at the 40th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, to formally provide its final position on the recommendations received on the 5 November.

We urge the government to accept and take action on recommendations on protection of freedom of expression, including by committing to a timeline for legislative reform, in a fully transparent process, ensuring the full and effective participation of all concerned stakeholders, including civil society.  We further call on the government to create an enabling environment for all to freely express themselves, whether through their posts online or through their collective expression during protests, without fear of reprisals, threats, or harassment of any kind.