ECOWAS must sanction Senegal for illegal postponement of elections – Falana

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Renowned human rights lawyer Femi Falana, SAN, has called upon the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to promptly convene an extraordinary session to address and respond to the declining human rights and rule of law conditions in Senegal.

Falana’s call came after President Macky Sall decided to postpone this month’s elections, alleging a dispute over candidate eligibility as justification.

According to Falana, “the ECOWAS leaders should consider imposing targeted sanctions including imposing travel bans, asset freezes and other targeted sanctions on Mr Sall and officials of his government responsible for serious violations of the democratic rights of the people of Senegal.”

The statement, read in part: “Imposing targeted sanctions on Mr Sall and officials of his government is consistent with the provisions of ECOWAS treaties and protocols including article 45 (2) of the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance.”

2 (1) & (2) of the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance stipulates that: 1. No substantial modification shall be made to the electoral laws in the last six (6) months before the elections, except with the consent of a majority of Political actors. 2. All the elections shall be organized on the dates or at periods fixed by the Constitution or the electoral laws.”

“In July 2023, President Macky Sall dropped his ambition to run for a third term in this year’s election, ending years of uncertainty over his political future that helped fuel deadly opposition protests.”

“Since then, he has been manipulating the democratic process to install his surrogate. The illegal postponement of the elections is due to President Sacky Mall’s fear that his chosen candidate would be rejected in the polls by the Senegalese people.”

“The postponement of the elections is a constitutional coup, and a major threat to the rule of law and constitutional government not only in Senegal but also across the subregion, especially given planned exit of Burkina-Faso, Niger and Mali from the ECOWAS.”

“The postponement of the elections is also a fundamental breach of the Lome Declaration and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance which Senegal has signed. Senegal signed the Charter on 15 December 2008, and as such, the government has a good faith obligation to comply with the provisions of the Charter.”

“I also note the provisions of article 3(h) of the African Union Constitutive Act. In fact, during the Thirty-Fifth Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the OAU, delegates ‘unanimously rejected any unconstitutional change as an unacceptable and anachronistic act, which is in contradiction of our commitment to promote democratic principles and conditions.’”

“The protection of democratic rights of the people of Senegal and the guarding or constraining of the exercise of government power is so important to constitutional democracy.”

“The postponement of the elections suggests a deliberate ploy by Mr Sall to manipulate the country’s constitution in order to hold on to power against the will of the people and popular aspirations.”

“In 2010, the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government also reminded member states of the need to ‘uphold the rule of law and abide by their own Constitutions, especially with regard to constitutional reforms, bearing in mind that failure to respect these provisions could lead to situations of tension which, in turn, could trigger political crisis.’”

“The postponement of the elections also clearly constitutes a fundamental breach of the Constitution of Senegal. Given the fact that the Constitution is the result of popular participation, a will of the people, grossly violating the Constitution represents both a breach of the covenant between the Senegalese government and the people of the country.”

“By arbitrarily postponing the elections, Mr Sall has clearly shown his reluctance to implement and uphold the Constitution of Senegal and democratic and rule of law principles, something to which the ECOWAS is expressly committed.”

“The postponement of the elections also suggests a typical case of illegal perpetuation of a government beyond the duly defined constitutional period in clear contempt and defiance of the will of the people: the Constitution.”

“The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has observed that the right of a people to determine its ‘political status’ involves the right of citizens to be able to choose freely those persons or party that will govern them and that government by force is incompatible with the rights of peoples freely to determine their political future’, contravening articles 13(1) and 20(1) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”

“The government of Senegal has severely repressed its people. This transgression deserves sanctions.”

“The ECOWAS leaders must act now to compel full and effective compliance with its treaties and protocols and to serve as deterrent to other ECOWAS member states.”