The Status of Human Rights Organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa


Since Senegal attained independence in 1960, the country has functioned with a liberal democratic, constitutional system of government. A multi-party system has been the norm of the Senegalese polity. One legacy of the country's colonial history is that Senegal has produced one of Africa's best intelligentsia. Senegal is a country of ethnic and religious diversity, which has a cosmopolitan outlook on issues. It has, on the whole, a tradition of pluralism, with a highly-organized civil society, including trade unionists, students, academics and other professionals. The pluralistic character of the society is expressed through the lively, albeit often elitist, discourse which is reflected in the spectrum of print media which exists in the country. Senegal has also had strong legal and political institutions since independence.

The Senegalese Constitution of 1963 proclaimed respect for freedom and liberties and provided for their protection. It protects political liberties, the right to form trade unions, rights of the individual, freedom of worship, right to property and other economic and social rights. The country has ratified or acceded to ten international human rights covenants and conventions without any reservations. It also ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights in 1982.

Since 1988, however, the Senegalese state has been sliding gradually into a type of "democratic authoritarianism." Certain articulate sectors of the society challenged the election results of 1988 as having been rigged, and considerable violence ensued. Since that time, the government appears to be narrowing the space for civil society. One study, for example, indicates that from February 1988 to the beginning of November 1993, the government authorized only three applications related to the right to assemble and demonstrate. As recently as March 8, 1994, the authorities refused permission for a number of groups to demonstrate in celebration of International Women's Day.

The continuous invocation of ordre publique (public order) by the government is perceived by many human rights NGOs as a pretext to violate the right to assembly. The state appears for some time now to have resorted to the politics of confrontation. The result is that much of the political and social cohesion which existed before is now threatened, and there are signs of fragmentation. Confidence in political and legal institutions, such as the judiciary, has also been shaken.

There are other factors which are sources of political cleavages. The separatist movement in southern Senegal (Casamance) is one. The government has responded to the Jolas' quest for secession with repression by the security forces. Over the last five years or so Amnesty International and Senegalese NGOs have recorded several instances of torture and unlawful detention in that region.

The deportation of black Mauritanians to Senegal put great pressure on the government to meet its obligations under the refugee conventions. The deportation resulted in conflict between the two countries, and as a consequence, many Arab Mauritanians were killed by individuals in Senegal, apparently in reaction to the killing of black by Arab Mauritanians.

A phenomenon which has made subtle inroads into Senegalese political life is religion. The country is 95% Muslim and 5% Catholic. Many people feel that the government is being held hostage by religious leaders called marabouts, who wield considerable influence both within the government and in society as a whole. The concern is that their interests are not necessarily harmonious with human rights standards and the interests of human rights advocates. Women's rights organizations, in particular, have been alarmed at the emerging fundamentalism. The government itself has been sufficiently frightened by the activities of one sect to proscribe it. There is also creeping corruption in Senegalese politics as a result of the need to pacify the marabouts and other political cronies. These factors, coupled with the recent currency devaluation, has created considerable social tension, evidence of which can be seen in the number of prominent opposition politicians who have been detained unlawfully in the name of "state security" since February 1994.

This is the socio-political context within which human rights NGOs in Senegal operate today.


Action des Chrétiens pour l'Abolition de la Torture-Sénégal

(Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture-Senegalese Section)



A group of Christians of all denominations, believing that torture is a very human rights serious violation, and one that is difficult to monitor, came together to advocate for the protection human rights in general, and especially, for the right to be free from torture. Action des Chrétiens pour l'Abolition de la Torture-Sénégal (ACAT-Sénégal) is the Senegalese affiliate of an international federation of similar groups. Other affiliates are in Togo and Benin. Despite the fact that the government had not yet approved its application for NGO status, ACAT-Sénégal was operating as of early March 1994.


ACAT-Sénégal's mandate is to monitor and protect against violations of the individual right to be free from torture.


ACAT-Sénégal is governed by a General Assembly which meets biannually. It has an Executive Committee made up of the President, Vice-President and General Secretariat. The General Secretariat is responsible for the implementation of the policies and programmes adopted by the General Assembly.


ACAT-Sénégal has:

- disseminated information on torture in the media;

- embarked upon sensitization programmes;

- published bulletins on issues of torture; and

- held seminars and conferences on torture.

Association des Jeunes Avocats Sénégalais

(The Association of Young Senegalese Lawyers)



The Association des Jeunes Avocats Sénégalais (AJAS) was registered as an NGO in 1976 and is an affiliate of the Association des Jeunes Avocats de l'Afrique de l'Ouest.


The mandate of AJAS is:

- to reform the legal profession;

- to promote the interest of young lawyers; and

- to protect human rights.


AJAS's office holders are the President, Vice-President, Secretary-General, Secretary for Information and Press, Secretary for Organization and Cultural Activities, and Secretary for External Relations. In addition, there is a a committee which deals with problems of young lawyers.

AJAS's supreme decision-making body is the General Assembly, which meets annually.


AJAS has carried out "legal tours" of the regions of Senegal. During the tours AJAS uses the radio to disseminate information on legal rights, organizes seminars, provides free legal consultation, visits prisons, and takes cases of pre-trial detainees to court.

Association des Juristes Sénégalais

(Association of Senegalese Lawyers)


In 1976 a group of women formed the Association des Juristes Sénégalais to protect the rights of Senegalese women.


The main element of the Association's mandate is to assist in the protection of the rights of women. The organization is also an integral part of a pan-African organization of jurists.


There is a General Assembly which is the supreme decision and policy-making organ. The Assembly elects an Executive Bureau which executes decisions of the General Assembly. The Bureau consists of President, Secretary-General, Coordinator and other secretaries.


The Association has taken up cases in which women have no means of engaging the services of a lawyer. It has also embarked upon educational programmes to sensitize women about their rights.

Association Sénégalaise de Droit du Travail et de la Securité Social

(Senegalese Association on the Right to Work and Social Security)


A group of scholars, jurists, magistrates, social workers and senior administrators formed the Association Sénégalaise de Droit du Travail et de la Securité Social because protection of civil and political rights had received priority over protection of economic, social and cultural rights. The Association was registered as an NGO in 1993.


The Association's objectives are to:

- carry out scientific research on the right to work and social security;

- make information available on these two rights; and

- work towards the application of the research findings.


The Association has a General Assembly as its supreme decision-making body. The Executive Committee, which implements decisions of the General Assembly, is made up of the President, Vice-President, Secretary-General, Treasurer and Assistants.


The Association has thus far carried out no activities, in part because it is a fairly new organization, but also because the relevant materials are difficult to come by.

Centre d'Informations Juridiques du Réseau Africain pour le Développement Integré

(Centre for Legal Information of the African Network for Integrated Development)



A number of African intellectuals came together to create a pan-African network to focus on the problems of peasants on the continent. The Centre d'Informations Juridiques of the Réseau Africain pour le Développement Integré (CIJ-RADI) is an integral part of this and is designed to help all persons who are in need of legal assistance, but do not have access to a lawyer. The organization has branches in Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, and the Central African Republic.

The Senegalese section became legally operative as an NGO in 1989.


CIJ-RADI's mandate is to:

- assist the population in knowing their rights and duties; and

- facilitate access to justice for the defence of their rights.

The Centre d'Informations Juridiques offers its services in all areas of the law, with particular emphasis on the rights and duties of tenants and land owners, family law (marriage, divorce, maintenance, and so on), and the rights of workers.


CIJ-RADI's decision-making body is a General Assembly composed of its members. There is also a national bureau made up of the President, Vice-President, and Secretary-General.



- given advice to clients on legal problems in the areas mentioned above;

- translated the legal texts of Senegal into simple language and published them in brochures;

- collaborated with school teachers, cultural and sport associations, women's groups and other NGOs, in organizing courses in Wolof and French on legal issues and themes of interest;

- prepared contracts and other legal documents for NGOs and some particular business enterprises; and

- trained paralegals working in the rural areas.

Comité Africain pour le Droit et le Développement

(African Committee for Law and Development)



The Comité Africain pour le Droit et le Développement (African Committee for Law and Development) (CADD) was registered as an NGO in 1990, and became operational in 1992. It was created as a pan-African NGO with autonomous branches in Benin, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal.


CADD's mandate is to:

- promote and protect human rights and incorporate the rule of law in democratic and development processes in Africa;

- defend independence of the judiciary and guarantees of individual freedom;

- advise African NGOs on the use of the procedures of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights and UN human rights bodies;

- publicize the various human rights instruments;

- provide legal aid, especially to rural dwellers;

- encourage multi-disciplinary study in the areas of culture, law, development and communication;

- publish a periodic newsletter and occasional papers; and

- organize seminars on human rights and development.


CADD has an Executive Committee of seven members. The Secretary-General's office includes a Programme Officer, Publication and Documentation Officer, Financial and Administrative Officer, and their assistants. The Branch offices are headed by a Director and staffed by an Assistant Administrator and Programme Officers.


CADD has carried out a legal and educational campaign in two regions of Senegal. It has created a 30 member paralegal staff in each of the two regions.

Conseil des Organisations Non-Gouvernmentales d'Appui au Développement

(Council of Non-Governmental Organizations in Support of Development)



The Conseil des Organisations Non-Gouvernmentales d'Appui au Développement (CONGAD) was created and registered as an NGO in 1982 in response to the need to coordinate the mutual assistance between NGOs and the population in development matters. It focused essentially on socio-economic development efforts of rural dwellers, peasants and NGOs designed to improve the conditions of the rural and urban populations.


CONGAD's mandate is to:

- avoid duplication in development assistance projects by exchanging information and experience among the different actors;

- develop good relations with the government by working together in development matters;

- support and assist in the administration of NGOs; and

- reinforce South-South and North-South relations to consolidate exchange.


The supreme decision-making body of CONGAD is its General Assembly, which is made up of the NGOs who are its members. The General Assembly meets biannually to define policies, adopt programmes, and elect the Executive Committee. The Executive Committee is elected for a two-year period to implement decisions and policies of the General Assembly. The Executive Committee is composed of the General Secretariat and a number of Commissions. The General Secretariat is made up of a group of professionals coordinated by the Secretary-General, who is charged with the implementation of programmes. The Commissions are entrusted with different tasks: Information, Research, and Animation.

CONGAD's resources are those of the members of the NGOs. CONGAD also has a network on environment and development.



- organized seminars on the role of NGOs in rural development;

- provided legal aid in rural areas; and

- published a quarterly newsletter.

Council for the Development of Economic and Social Research in Africa



The Council for the Development of Economic and Social Research in Africa (CODESRIA) is a pan-African NGO which was set up in 1973. Its main focus is on African institutes, social science faculties in African universities, and professional organizations. It has its headquarters in Dakar.


CODESRIA's General Assembly is made up of African social science research institutes and faculties that are full members. The Assembly is the policy and decision-making organ. It meets every three years to select an Executive Committee. The Executive Committee is composed of social scientists. The Committee meets at least once a year to review the activities of the Council and appointed committees.

There is also a Secretariat headed by an Executive Secretary who is entrusted with implementing decisions of the General Assembly.


CODESRIA has carried out several activities since its inception. In the human rights area it has

- carried out high level research on the democratization process and human rights in Africa;

- organized a conference on the democratization process;

- organized a conference on Human Rights and Development, with special reference to the Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights;

- sponsored a symposium on academic freedom, research and the social responsibility of the intellectual in Africa; and

- published books, journals, bulletins and working papers on human rights and democracy.

Femmes, Droits et Développement en Afrique

(Women in Law and Development in Africa)



Femmes, Droits et Développement en Afrique (Women in Law and Development in Africa) (FEDDAF) is the Senegalese section of Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF). The idea of creating WiLDAF started at the 1985 Nairobi women's conference. That forum adopted a number of recommendations, including one proposing the creation of an African regional network of women's organizations to implement regional strategies that had been adopted.

In 1989 sub-regional conferences were held in Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Senegal and Botswana, with a view to creating the national branches and regional coordinating offices. Subsequently, in 1990, 65 women from 16 African countries met in Zimbabwe and formally launched WiLDAF--a pan-African women's rights network. FEDDAF, the Senegalese section of WiLDAF, was registered as an NGO in 1992.


WiLDAF's mandate is to:

- facilitate communication between member states of the network in order to exchange experiences;

- reinforce the programmes on women's rights at the national and regional levels;

- improve and defend the rights of women through dissemination of educational materials and information on laws, lobbying and mobilization of women;

- develop a system of rapid response to the violation of women's rights at both the regional and international levels;

- exchange information and coordinate activities with other African NGOs working in the area of women's rights; and

- train paralegals.


WiLDAF's governing body is the General Assembly which meets every three years to study the progress made in implementing strategies. The General Assembly is made up of all the individuals and NGO members of WiLDAF. WiLDAF's Executive Committee is the body charged with the task of implementing decisions made by the General Assembly. It is made up of fifteen members elected by the women's NGOs in each member country of WiLDAF and it meets annually. The regional secretariat is located in Zimbabwe with a coordinator who is elected by the Executive Committee. There are also three Programme Officers.


Since FEDDAF has been operational for only a year, not many activities have been carried out. It has, however, started providing legal aid and it took part in the March 8th International Women's Day celebrations.

Gorée Institute Centre for Democracy, Development and Culture in Africa


The ANC and Afrikaners of South Africa held a meeting in Dakar in 1987, and out of that meeting came the idea of developing a forum for dialogue. The Gorée Institute was created to strengthen the need for cooperation among all South Africans, and between South Africa and the rest of the continent. The Institute was officially launched in 1992 as an NGO, with its headquarters on Gorée Island in Senegal.


The Institute's goals are to:

- promote the study, acceptance and practice of democracy in Africa by using strategies in the fields of interaction, training, research and civic education;

- strengthen the involvement of leaders, individuals and organizations based in civil society, in particular, in all the programmes of the Institute in order to develop a legitimate consensus on what constitutes democracy in the African context;

- assist in the effective networking and strengthening of African democrats and democratic institutions;

- facilitate the exchange of ideas, experiences, hopes and fears amongst Africans from all sectors and all levels of society, in order to promote South-South dialogue and cooperation, as well as to ensure the most effective utilization of African human and other resources; and

- contribute to the regeneration of Africa through the promotion and recognition of culture as a critical terrain for innovation, exploration and communication.


The Institute has organized training seminars and workshops for NGOs on management and administration.

Institut Africain pour la Démocratie

(African Institute for Democracy)



The Institut Africain pour la Démocratie (African Institute for Democracy) (IAD) was created in 1994 on the initiative of the UN Development Program. It is a regional institute established to deal with democratic issues on the continent.


IAD's mandate is to:

- support democratic processes on the continent through, among other things, rendering assistance to governments and parliamentarians;

- participate in dissemination of information and education on the rule of law and human rights in Africa; and

- encourage research and documentation on all aspects of democratization in Africa.


IAD has a six-member staff. Its constitution and structure are yet to be determined.


At the time of the researcher's visit IAD had just started operations, and thus no programmes were yet underway.

Institut des Droits de l'Homme et de la Paix

(Institute for Human Rights and Peace)


The Institut des Droits de l'Homme et de la Paix (Institute for Human Rights and Peace) was created in 1983 after some professors at the Law Faculty of the University of Dakar decided that there was the need to teach and research human rights law. The Institut is an independent body of the Law Faculty; it has its own administration and does not depend upon the faculty financially.


The Institut's main objective is to promote human rights through information dissemination and research.


The Institut is headed by a Director, who has a Secretarial Assistant.


The Institut has:

- supervised students writing their Masters and Doctoral theses on human rights;

- provided human rights instruction to civil servants, journalists, and others;

- published a book on the status of human rights in five African states; and

- held a workshop on specific problems in the use of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights in the protection of human rights.

Ligue Africaine des Droits de l'Homme et des Peuples (Section du Sénégal)

(African League for Human and Peoples' Rights-Senegalese Section)


The Ligue Africain des Droit de l'Homme et des Peuples (African League for Human and Peoples' Rights) was created in Paris in 1985 by concerned Africans and Africanists to promote human rights on the continent. Each country was to create its own autonomous affiliate. The Senegalese section was formed in 1988, and registered as a human rights NGO.


The objectives of the Ligue are to:

- educate the population about their rights; and

- inform citizens about the international human rights treaties Senegal has signed and/or ratified.


The Ligue's membership is made up of lawyers, professors, teachers, students and doctors. The organization's supreme decision-making body is its General Assembly, which meets once a year. There is also an Executive Bureau which is made up of a President, Vice President, Secretary-General, Secretary for Information, Secretary for Documentation, Secretary for Organization, and Secretary for Training.


The Ligue has:

- carried out education programmes at the secondary and primary school levels;

- carried out a human rights education programme for the police and gendarmerie;

- visited a number of prisons in Senegal to assess conditions of prisoners and the extent to which the prisons conform to or depart from the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners; and

- assisted Mauritanian refugees.

Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme

(African Meeting for the Defense of Human Rights)



The idea for the formation of the Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme (RADDHO) dates back to 1988 when a petition was signed condemning the imprisonment and execution of black Mauritanians. It called upon the international community to bring pressure to bear upon the Mauritanian government to put an end to racial discrimination. RADDHO was created in 1990 on the initiative of professors of the University of Dakar with the view to promoting and defending human rights in solidarity with other African nationals on the continent. The RADDHO initiative was welcomed by refugees from countries like Cameroon, Gabon, Mali, Burundi, Rwanda, and Chad, where substantial violations were also taking place.


RADDHO's mandate is to:

- defend, protect and promote civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights;

- work towards the realization of the rule of law, democratic tolerance and conditions for freedom of expression;

- encourage the struggle for total emancipation of Africa and dignity of African persons; and

- work towards peace and solidarity.


RADDHO was registered as an NGO in 1990. The principal organ of RADDHO is its General Assembly, which elects fifteen officials to serve three-year terms under the Secretary-General. There are also four specialized committees to deal with certain specific tasks: Legal, Medical, Information, Women and Children's Rights.


The means RADDHO has chosen for the realization of its objectives include:

- human rights education;

- dissemination of information on human rights in Africa;

- collaboration with African and other international organizations with common objectives; and

- mobilization of public opinion through campaigns about violations, invoking international human rights as well as municipal law.

To date RADDHO has:

- investigated a number of torture cases;

- published documents on violations in Senegal, especially related to prison conditions and torture in Casamance;

- condemned violations of human rights in Senegal in radio and press communiques;

- condemned the mass expulsion of Africans from Zambia and the deportations of Mauritanians;

- organized conferences on:

- human Rights in Senegal;

- violence against Society by African States: Historical and Contemporary;

- freedom of expression of refugees;

- Mauritanian refugees in Senegal;

- participated in the sessions of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights;

- coordinated the activities of the Malian Peoples Solidarity Committee (formed by Malian associations, trade unions, political parties) for the popular events of 1991; and

- celebrated African Refugees Day.

- Nana K.A. Busia, Jr.

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