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Senegal: UN experts urge respect of fundamental freedoms ahead of elections

UN experts on Tuesday urged authorities in Senegal to ensure that political parties, journalists, and human rights defenders exercise their rights to freedom of association, assembly, and expression during the electoral period.

The experts previously raised concerns with the government about the prosecution and detention of opposition leaders and their supporters.

They also welcomed the release of over 500 detainees, among them opposition leaders Ousmane Sonko and Bassirou Diomaye Diakhar Faye, last week, even if it was only days before the presidential elections scheduled to be held on March 24.

“We urge authorities to uphold the fundamental freedoms necessary for an inclusive and meaningful democratic process and end restrictions on public freedoms that the country has witnessed in recent years,” the experts said in a statement.

They noted that Senegal had witnessed unprecedented mass protests across the country since March 2021, in response to the arrest and trial of opposition leaders.

“Since then, several opposition leaders and supporters, journalists, and human rights defenders have reportedly been arrested, killed, or injured as a result of excessive use of force by law enforcement,” the experts said.

“Senegalese authorities appear to have resorted to frequent restrictions on public freedoms, bans on protests, and temporary internet shutdowns,” the experts said, pointing to the negative impact on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and peaceful demonstrations by members of the political opposition and civil society.

“Arrests and bans on demonstrations are dangerously restricting the civic and political space that is an essential part of any democratic society,” the experts said.

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They stressed that the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association are essential components of any democracy, allowing citizens of all ages to express their political opinions and creating the conditions for dialogue between the opposition and the majority that are essential to preserving the country’s democratic gains.

“We urge Senegalese authorities to create conditions conducive to the exercise of public freedoms, and in particular, the rights of peaceful assembly, association, and expression during the electoral period,” the experts said.

Meanwhile, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Joanna Wronecka, on Tuesday voiced deep concern over the escalation in the exchanges of fire across, and increasingly beyond, the Blue Line—the demarcation line separating Lebanese and Israeli armed forces.

Briefing the Security Council in a closed-door meeting, Wronecka emphasised the need to restore calm, urging compliance with international humanitarian law to protect civilians.

She highlighted the danger posed by the incomplete implementation of Resolution 1701 to Lebanon, Israel, and regional stability, calling for a political process addressing the root causes of conflict.

“I have reminded relevant stakeholders of all parties about their obligation to comply fully with international humanitarian and human rights law, namely to protect civilians,” she said in a statement by her Office (UNSCOL)

Adopted in 2006, the resolution, among other points, called for the full cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hizbollah, the deployment of the Lebanese armed forces in southern Lebanon, and the establishment of a demilitarized zone between the Blue Line and the Litani River.

In a related development, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNFIL}) marked its 46th anniversary, renewing calls for full demilitarisation and movement towards a political and diplomatic solution.

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Aroldo Lázaro, the Head of Mission and Force Commander, commended the work of the more than 10,000 military peacekeepers from 49 countries and the civilian staff.

Despite relentless and daily exchanges of fire since the Gaza war began, they had stayed their course in monitoring the fast-evolving situation in south Lebanon and assisting local communities, he said.

Lieutenant General Lázaro also paid tribute to the over 330 mission personnel who have lost their lives serving there. (NAN)

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