Raising people’s awareness of their ESC rights in Senegal

Tuesday 22 September 2009 by Cellule Sénégal du Réseau Aoudaghost

The Senegal Unit of the Aoudaghost Network made a booklet in order to raise people’s awareness of their ESC rights.


Human rights are prerogatives recognized to individuals by constitutional norms and/or international conventions guaranteeing their respect.

Economic, social and cultural rights are an integral part of human rights, classified as rights of the second generation. They were for a long time ignored while they include a whole set of people’s essential needs: food, education, housing, health, access to water, working conditions, protection in the event of an accident.

These rights require State intervention to become effective and are therefore sometimes referred to as “freedom through the State.” Nowadays, liberalism has weakened the public services which provided populations with basic services necessary for their survival. Budget restrictions and privatization policies also had a negative effect on ESC rights.

However a few projects and programs implemented by the State of Senegal (schooling of girls, Jaxaay plan, retention basin, and land plan among others) allow the realization of the ESC rights we will have to focus on.


At the internal level, the fundamental standard: the constitution relying on the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, guarantees ESC rights (Art 8).

The different texts of law of the Senegalese State (Family Code, Working Code, Environment Code, Water code ...) also refer to ESC rights.

At the regional African level, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (1981) and its Optional Protocol, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1996) contains ESC rights, such as the right to food.

At the international level, Senegal has ratified several international conventions including the ICESCR of 1966 (31 articles) which states that every State Party commits to realize ESC rights by its own means and through cooperation. The CEDAW and the CRC among others are various instruments protecting ESC rights and the legal basis for their enforceability.


ESC rights include several types of rights. Here are the main ones:

The right to education

It is a fundamental right necessary to the exercice of other rights. It enables individuals to get out of poverty and benefit from equal opportunities. The right to literacy is included in this right.

Underpriviledged classes, minorities and girls can benefit from positive discrimination (school fee exemption, promotion of girls’ access to school, scholarships for girls…).

The equality and non-discrimination principles must play a part. The importance of education is asserted in several sayings: “Un enfant bien éduqué est le fils de tous” (“A well-educated child is the son of everyone”), “quand un homme n’est pas instruit, son champ de vision se rétrécit” (“When a man has no education, his field of vision gets smaller”)

The right to health

It is the right for everyone to benefit from a better physical and mental health.

The right to work

It includes the right for everyone to have the possibility to earn his or her living through a freely chosen or accepted work.

It includes the right to: security, work hygiene, rest, leisure, unionization, and strike, as well as the protection of pregnant women, working age and equal wages for equal work.

Children are specifically concerned and must not be employed in hard and hazardous work.

Under ministerial decree, home workers benefit from this right as well.

The right to food

It means a regular, permanent and free access, either directly or through purchase to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate food. It is contained in the right to an adequate standard of living, including food, clothing and the right to be free from hunger.

It includes the access to land, water, and seeds of quality (not GMOs). The right to water means a sufficient and physically accessible supply, an affordable cost, and healthy water in acceptable quantity for the personal and domestic use of everyone.

“Hunger is exlusion. Exclusion from the land” (Castro)

Law 64-46 of 17 June 1964 on national estate governs the access to land in Senegal along with the new Agricultural Orientation Law which provides for PAOS (land use and development plans). It is a constitutional right in Senegal.

The right to housing

It means the right to a decent housing, for the respect of the dignity of the person and a decent private life.

It is opposed to forced eviction. The African Charter specifies that the destruction of houses affects prosperity, health and family life.

Cultural rights

This issue is complex as cultural rights are related to values, power issues and the fact that those in power impose their own culture.

The cultural rights of language and ethnic minorities have always been flouted. The situation got worse with globalization which infringes cultural equity.

Cultural rights were reaffirmed in several legal instruments. The 1948 UDHR, Art 27, says that: “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.“ and: “Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.”

The ICESCR mentions the participation in cultural life (art. 15) and so does the African Charter (art. 17).

In the UNESCO Declaration of Principles of International Cultural Co-operational it is said that: “Every people has the right and the duty to develop its culture.”

The Charter enshrines the right to equal enjoyment of the common heritage of mankind and the duty of the State to protect national identity.

Some people think that cultural rights are transversal rights and see the right to education as a cultural right.


The State is first responsible for the realization of ESC rights and must commit to take measures to the maximum of its resources.

It must protect, promote and respect ESC rights as well as all other rights without discrimination.

It must set up necessary funds, especially in favor of the poorest, provide basic infrastructures and allow easy and fair access thereof.

The State creates functional public services to answer people’s fundamental needs in terms of education, health and access to water. The State must comply with a minimum obligation regarding the realization of ESC rights and it must avoid all acts contrary to such obligation (requiring the abandon of a land, forced eviction …).

But at the family and community level, parents, NGOs and other associations have a complementary role to play.

ESC rights have had a positive evolution with the alterglobalist phenomenon and the big movements working on development issues as well as on the right to health and to housing.


Everyday human rights are flouted worldwide but every country must act so that populations have access to an efficient remedy.

States must realize, promote and above all protect ESC rights. In each State there is a court system to apply the law when ESC rigths have been flouted.

At the international level, the ICESCR provides for a Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in charge of monitoring the implementation of the Covenant.

It allows individuals to present “communications” or “complaints”, according to the language used, when their rights have been flouted and all internal remedies are exhausted.

States must submit special and thematic reports to show the degree of fulfillment of ESC rights in their country.

Depending on the States’ deficiencies, NGOs also submit alternative reports. They advocate for the indivisibility, complementarity and universality of ESC rights (RADI, AMNESTY …). They also make sure that means and resources are being dedicated to social expenditures and basic social services, and they ensure that poor communities are taken into account in the development and management of basic social services.

Besides the State and NGOs, there are in Senegal institutions of ESC rights’ promotion and protection: the Senegalese Commitee of Human Rights, the Médiature (institution created in Senegal to solve the conflicts between the administration and the people within its jurisdiction, it is run by a mediator.)

The African Charter of Human Rights provides for the same referral procedure, once all the internal remedies are exhausted.

Appendix: abbreviations

ICESCR: International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
CEDAW: Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
GMO: Genetically modified organism
CRC: Convention on the Rights of the Child
UDHR: Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Aoudaghost Senegal Unit
Headquarters: Adpes Cite Keur khadim
Phone number: (221)778275847
e-mail: adpesa@orange.sn

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