Senegal MPs debate contentious amnesty billWed, 06 Mar 2024 19:29:41 GMT

Senegalese MPs on Wednesday debated an amnesty bill covering acts linked to deadly protests in recent years, a controversial text aimed at calming the crisis sparked by the presidential election delay.The bill has faced criticism that is is shielding perpetrators of serious crimes, including homicides, and its passage is not certain.A vote is expected later on Wednesday, with the debates throughout the afternoon indicating it will be close.The amnesty is part of President Macky Sall’s response to the turmoil sparked by his last-minute postponement of the presidential election, originally scheduled for February 25.  The poll delay triggered deadly protests in the traditionally stable West African country, which is still awaiting a new election date.  Senegal’s Constitutional Council could announce a new date at any moment.Adding to the air of uncertainty, it is still unclear what will happen if an election is not held before the end of Sall’s term on April 2.An amnesty law could plunge the country further into the unknown.Questions have swirled around whether an amnesty would be applied to imprisoned opposition figure Ousmane Sonko, and what this would mean for his possible return to the presidential race.The bill would grant an amnesty for all offences or crimes, whether tried or not, committed between February 1, 2021 and February 25, 2024 “relating to demonstrations or having political motivations”.The text’s rapporteur, Abdoulaye Diagne, said Wednesday that acts of torture were excluded from the scope of the law.- ‘Amnesia law’ -Senegal witnessed several episodes of deadly unrest between 2021 and 2023, triggered in particular by a bitter stand-off between Sonko and the state.Dozens were killed, hundreds injured, and hundreds more arrested in riots which saw clashes with security forces and major damage to property.Sonko, who came third in the 2019 presidential election, has been detained since July 2023 and was disqualified from this year’s presidential race.Senegal experienced renewed deadly unrest in February after the delay to the election. The presidency has said the amnesty is intended to “calm the political and social climate”.The law “has reconciliation as its sole objective… President Macky Sall is not hiding any bad intentions,” said Farba Ngom, an MP from the president’s camp, during the debate.Dozens of opponents could be freed as soon as the law is published, but many political and social actors oppose the bill.They fear it will be used to exonerate government and security officials for the deaths of protesters. “Our duty is to ensure that this violence, these blunders, these crimes, these tortures, these physical, psychological and moral assaults do not go unpunished,” former detainee Pape Abdoulaye Toure, 26, told AFP, three weeks after his release from prison.”This law is a licence to continue murdering the Senegalese people. Amnesty law, amnesia law, not in my name. Justice for the murdered and tortured,” said opposition MP Guy Marius Sagna during the parliamentary debate.The bill is also not unanimously supported by the president’s parliamentary camp, which holds a precarious majority. A section of civil society and the opposition continues to demand an election before April 2 when Sall’s term expires.But they have recently struggled to mobilise in large numbers. A “Resistance Front” comprising a citizens’ group and the vast majority of the 19 candidates currently qualified for the presidential election only managed to gather around 200 people in the capital Dakar on Wednesday afternoon, according to an AFP journalist.Sall on Monday received the conclusions of a “national dialogue” recommending elections be held on June 2 and suggesting he remain in office until his successor is installed.The president, who has been in power since 2012 but is not standing for re-election, has said he will seek the opinion of the Constitutional Council.