(See Below for Case Law, Evidence of Public Attitudes, NGOs that Assist or Advocate on LGBTI issues, and Country of Origin LGBTI Specialists)
Senegal has ratified many of the UN Human Rights Conventions and has made binding international commitments to adhere to the standards laid down in these universal human rights documents.
Senegal is a member of the Economic Community of West African States. While this organisation’s main aim is to integrate the regional economies of West African countries, it has a subsidiary aim to protect human rights through the Economic Community of West African States’ judicial organ, the Community Court of Justice.
Same-sex activity is criminalised in Senegal. Article 319 in the Senegalese Penal Code states that ‘whoever will have committed an improper or unnatural act with a person of the same sex will be punished by imprisonment of between one and five years’. The maximum penalty will apply if the act was committed with a person below the age of 21. Alongside the prison sentence there is a fine ranging from 100,000 to 1,500,000 francs.
During the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2013, Senegal received several recommendations aimed at repealing Article 319. The government of Senegal rejected them, noting that the article shall be interpreted as a punishment for ‘unnatural acts’ committed in public and that so far nobody has been imprisoned for ‘homosexuality’ in the country (See ILGA 2016 Report on State-Sponsored Homophobia).
There are no laws to protect LGBTI individuals.
The Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) ruled that a homosexual man fleeing Senegal had a well-founded fear of persecution, given the enforcement of anti-gay laws in the country. The CJEU also declared that a person’s sexual orientation is so essential to a person’s identity that they should not be forced to renounce it. The court decided that therefore it was not a reasonable expectation for a person to conceal his homosexuality in his or her country of origin, or exercise restraint in expressing his or her sexual orientation. The CJEU underlined that there must be sufficiently serious violations of fundamental rights to constitute persecution within the meaning of the Geneva Convention.
Applicant v USA – No. 11341, San Francisco Immigration Court, 28 January 2015
A San Francisco Immigration Judge granted Convention Against Torture (CAT) relief to a bisexual man from Senegal. The man was chronically homeless and feared persecution because of his sexual orientation and also because of his involvement with a rebel group, The Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC).
Applicant v Belgium (Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons), No. 134833, Belgian Council for Alien Law Litigation, 9 December 2014
Belgian Council for Alien Law Litigation finds that the initial rejection of an asylum application by a Senegalese national was too subjective and did little to displace the applicant’s general credibility and legitimate fears of persecution. The court advances that the individual faces a serious risk of persecution on account of his homosexuality and that protection provided by the authorities would not be guaranteed on his return.
This Italian Supreme Court judgement asserts that criminal sanctions against homosexual acts under Article 319 of the Criminal Code of Senegal constitute a deprivation of the fundamental right to live one’s own sexual and emotional life in freedom and are sufficient in themselves to justify granting refugee status. The case was returned to the court of appeal.
PUBLIC ATTITUDES AND/OR STATE’S CAPACITY TO PROTECT
State and political attitudes
In the spring of 2013, the U.S. pressured the Senegalese government to decriminalise same-sex relationships. The President of Senegal responded by issuing a press release, stating that the ‘state has never considered such an option [to decriminalize homosexuality]’ and in light of ‘cultural values’ same-sex relationships cannot be decriminalised.
Treatment by the authorities
Human Rights Watch published a 95-page report entitled ’Fear for Life: Violence Against Gay Men and Men Perceived as Gay in Senegal’. HRW interviewed male victims who have been subject to threats and violence by the police and others in the community. The men who were interviewed describe being insulted, beaten, stripped, threatened and tortured in prison, and attacked and blackmailed. The police often fail to protect those who suffer vigilante violence on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender expression.
While it appears that in the past the police authorities have mainly targeted gay men, recent reports show that the number of women arrested for suspected same-sex conduct is increasing. Despite this, a recent report by the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board suggests that the government is responding to international scrutiny and the number of successful prosecutions of LGBTI is decreasing.
In December 2015, 11 men were arrested allegedly guilty under Article 319. All of them were released afterwards, but the case triggered a surge of homophobia.
In August 2015, seven men were sentenced to 6 months jail under Article 319 of the Penal Code.
In July 2015, the Senegalese journalist Tamsir Jupiter Ndiaye was ordered to return to prison to serve a six month sentence for homosexual acts, notwithstanding the fact that the defendant gave a different account of the facts. The journalist had been already convicted in 2012 under the same allegation.
In 2013, four women were freed after being arrested on allegation of same-sex relationship laws because of insufficient evidence to convict them under Article 319.
According to the 2013 Pew Global Attitudes Project, 96% of Senegal’s residents believe that same-sex relationships are a way of life that society should reject.
In early 2014, a music video by Senegalese singer Ouzin Keita was published on YouTube. To date, it has had nearly 800,000 views. Numerous people in Senegal criticised the dancer and called him ‘gordjiguène’, a word which translates into ‘man-woman’ in Wolof (language of the Wolof people in Senegal, the Gambia and Mauritania) and is often used as a slur for a gay person. This abuse is indicative of the societal attitude towards transgender and intersex individuals in Senegal.
Four men were arrested for attacking five men suspected of being gay in 2014. This was a rare instance of the police authorities standing up for the rights of gay people. However, it was revealing that there was a popular protest organised by locals urging the authorities to release the men.
In 2016, a man was threatened by students on the allegation of being gay.
NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS (NGOs)
Association Prudence serves the LGBTI community of Senegal by advocating for equality, protesting Senegal’s unjust laws and securing legal representation for those facing discrimination, including those who need to seek asylum abroad. Association Prudence became the first organization of gay Senegalese to be officially recognized in Senegal
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN SPECIALISTS
Dr Charles R. Dotou
Dr Charles R. Dotou, MD, Ph.D. (2000), University of Dakar; MA (2001), Diplomatie et Strategie Etudes, Centre d’Etudes Diplomatiques et Strategiques, Paris; MSc (2008), Health Economics, University of York, UK. Dr Dotou worked as a medical consultant at the Principal Military Hospital in Dakar, and provided consultancy services for the UN Fund for Population Activities and the Fonds d’Appui aux Initiatives de Bases en Afrique (FAIB). In 1994, he founded an organisation to support LGBTI sufferers of HIV/AIDS and raise awareness of the disease. His international source of support had to be kept anonymous. From 1995, Dr Dotou was involved in fund-raising for HIV/AIDS on World Aids Day. It was suspected by the general Senegalese public that the primary interest of this fund-raising was to treat the LGBTI community. As a result he was personally subjected to vicious attacks and forced to leave the country. Since being granted asylum in the UK, Dr Dotou has been an active volunteer for FGM and LGBTI NGOs. He is prepared to write expert reports for persons seeking asylum due to sexual orientation from Senegal and neighbouring countries.
‘Living in shadows: Life as a gay in Dakar’ Africanews 9 April 2021
FEATURE-‘Fighting for survival’, Senegal’s gay community is on its own’ Thomson Reuters 27 September, 2018
‘Lesbians in Senegal just want a place where they can be themselves’ The World,02 August 2017
Last update: October 2021