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Protectors or Pretenders? - Government Human Rights Commissions in Africa, HRW Report 2001




International Standards: The Paris Principles

Important Factors

Examining the Record in Africa

Innovative and Positive Contributions by Commissions

Regional Iniatives

The Role Of The International Community






    The Senegalese CSDH has been relaunched since 1997 with considerable good will from all quarters of the society. The CSDH lacks nothing in terms of transparency and pluralistic participation. The membership is genuinely diverse and does not seek to control or limit the independent activities of its members. In its second meeting, for example, the CSDH emphasized in response to questions from human rights NGOs, that the NGOs with members on the CSDH remained "autonomous" and free to take their own positions.196 The government has acknowledged the importance of the NGOs to make the CSDH function. After congratulating the CSDH on it relaunch, President Diouf announced that: "It now belongs to its members and particularly the human rights organizations to make it live."197

    Clearly the CSDH benefits at this time in being headed by a dynamic president who has considerable stature both in Senegal and internationally. The officials who participate in the commission take the work seriously and interpret the mandate broadly to permit public action and initiative on their part, rather than reserve and deference to other institutions. For example, with respect to problematic cases before the courts, the coordinator saw no problem in "needling" the justice system in order to insure that it performed its task.

    Until now, the CSDH has primarily distinguished itself as a forum for "concertation" and an intermediary between the civil society and officialdom. This is not a minor or unimportant role. Senegalese NGOs have long complained that, while famously sensitive to international pressures, the government ignored local complaints. The CSDH is one case in which international pressure has led to reinforcing the power of local initiative. "The CSDH gives us the chance to exert the same pressure as the international NGOs," a member of Rencontre Africaine pour la Defense des Droits de l'Homme [RADDHO], a prominent human rights NGO, told Human Rights Watch. "Now they have to respond to us."198

    With regard to violations, only one NGO, RADDHO, has taken an active role in seeking to use the CSDH. Most of the communications to the CSDH have come from RADDHO, which is in a regular dialogue with the CSDH. Malik Sow, the coordinator, pointed out that RADDHO's telephone number was on his speed dial at work.

    The CSDH's reliance on NGOs is both philosophical and needs-based, at least at the current time. The CSDH lacks its own investigative means, which also explains the largely passive means of responding to violations. Thus far, the CSDH has not initiated any of its own investigations to determine whether violations exist in individual cases. Moreover, it has not sought to make general comments or give advice on specific laws. This, according to Ibrahima Kane, a former member of the CSDH, now working with the London-based NGO Interights, is a major weakness. According to him, the commission must develop the infrastructure capable of undertaking sustained research. At the same time, other public authorities must enable the CSDH to do its work. When new criminal laws were adopted to reform the criminal procedure and the parts of the criminal code-relative to female genital mutilation, for example-the CSDH was not consulted.

    Nevertheless, the test of the CSDH will come when it passes beyond the role of simple intermediary and has to confront the authorities on real violations. For this, it will require both the continued will and the means of a substantial secretariat. Another test will come when the CSDH is in a position to publish a substantial report on human rights conditions in Senegal, which is required as a part of the annual report, but which it has not yet been able to undertake. Hopefully, the CSDH will undertake these tasks while the spirit of frankness and possibilities continues to prevail.

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