Falana: ECOWAS Must Sanction Senegal for ‘Illegal’ Postponement of Elections

•Says nation’s president manipulating system to favour his surrogate

Emmanuel Addeh in Abuja and Wale Igbintade in Lagos

Senior lawyer, Femi Falana, has urged the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to sanction Senegal for illegally postponing its elections.

He therefore urged the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the ECOWAS to urgently organise an extra-ordinary session to discuss and respond to the deteriorating human rights and rule of law situation in Senegal.

Falana’s call followed President Macky Sall’s decision to call off this month’s elections citing as ‘pretext’ a row over the eligibility of candidates.

“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 human rights lawyer said.

“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.

“Article 2 (1) & (2) of the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance stipulates that: No substantial modification shall be made to the electoral laws in the last six months before the elections, except with the consent of a majority of political actors.

“That all the elections shall be organised on the dates or at periods fixed by the constitution or the electoral laws,” he said in a statement.

In July 2023, Falana said, 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 noted that Sall had been manipulating the democratic process to install his surrogate.

According to him, the illegal postponement of the elections is due to Sall’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 sub-region, 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 December 15, 2008, and as such, the government has a good faith obligation to comply with the provisions of the Charter,” he stressed.

He also noted the provisions of article 3(h) of the African Union Constitutive Act, explaining that un fact, during the 35th 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, he said, remains important to constitutional democracy.

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

He recalled that 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, Falana said, also clearly constitutes a fundamental breach of the constitution of Senegal.

He maintained that 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,” he said.

According to the rights activist, the government of Senegal has severely repressed its people, a ‘ transgression’ he said 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,” he insisted.

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