Ethiopian FlagCivic Freedom Monitor: Senegal

Introduction | At a Glance | Key Indicators | International Rankings
Legal Snapshot | Legal Analysis | Reports | News and Additional Resources
Last updated 12 December 2017


The tradition of associations is deeply entrenched in Senegalese culture, which is why almost all Senegalese participate in an organization, whether it is family-based, professional, political or religious. However, the first contemporary forms of associations, or non-governmental Organizations (NGOs), date back to 1921 and were often cultural and sports-oriented.  During the French colonial period, trade unions were also a common form of association. 

With the drought of the 1970s, organizations devoted to development began to emerge. Their numbers grew in the 1980s because of the increase in economic programs designed to support the poorest populations of Senegal. In the 1990s, the first human rights organizations were established, and they played a major role in the country’s democratization processes. The strong mobilization of women’s organizations in the 1990s and early 2000s also allowed important gains in gender equality, especially with the passing of the Law on Gender Parity in 2010.  Today, Senegalese civil society is strong and capable of defending human rights and the interests of the most vulnerable local populations, especially those in rural areas.

Senegalese civil society is governed by common law. Organizations carry out their activities freely so long as they respect the laws and regulations in force.  This generally favorable framework has allowed for a large number of associations to gain the recognition of the Ministry of the Interior, but many unregistered organizations are also active.

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At a Glance

Organizational Forms

Associations, Foundations, and NGOs.

Registration Body Ministry of Interior (Associations); Ministry of Finance (Foundations): Line Ministry (national NGOs); Ministry of Foreign Affairs (international NGOs.)
Approximate Number

There are approximately 11,600 associations: 5,000 community associations; 2,500 sporting and cultural associations; 2,000 religious associations; 700 professional associations, including 250 trade unions, 300 educational, and 150 health associations; and more than 200 political associations.

According to figures provided by the Directorate of Community Development of the Ministry of the Family, 487 registered NGOs work in Senegal, including 303 national organizations and 184 foreign organizations.
Barriers to Entry To gain NGO status and enjoy all the benefits that status, including exemptions, the organization must have existed for two years as an association.
Barriers to Activities Groups whose goal and activities are contrary to penal laws or directed against “public order” are prohibited.
Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy The Penal Codecriminalizes the production and dissemination of 'immoral material' online and empowers the authorities to restrict access to 'illicit content' online.
Barriers to International Contact No legal barriers.
Barriers to Resources No legal barriers.
Barriers to Assembly 72 hours advance notification requirement; restrictions on places where participants may gather.

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Key Indicators

Population 13,300,410 (July 2013 est.)
Capital Dakar
Type of Government Federal Republic
Life Expectancy at Birth

Total population: 61.32 years
Male: 59.29 years, Female: 63.42 years (2015 est.)

Literacy Rate

Total population: 57.7% (Male: 69.7% %, Female: 46.6%) (2015 est.)

Religious Groups Muslim 95.4% (most adhere to one of four main Sufi brotherhoods), Christian 4.2% (mostly Roman Catholic), animist 0.4% (2015 est.)
Ethnic Groups Wolof 38.7%, Pular 26.5%, Serer 15%, Mandinka 4.2%, Jola 4%, Soninke 2.3%, other 9.3% (includes Europeans and persons of Lebanese descent) (2015 est.)
GDP per capita $2,100 (2012 est.)

Source: The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2010.

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International Rankings

Ranking Body Rank Ranking Scale 
(best – worst possible)
UN Human Development Index 170 (2015) 1 – 187
World Bank Rule of Law Index 46 (2014) 100 – 0
World Bank Voice & Accountability Index 47 (2014) 100 – 0
Transparency International 64 (2016) 1 – 176
Freedom House: Freedom in the World Status: Free
Political Rights: 2
Civil Liberties: 2 (2017)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index
60 (2017) 177 – 1

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Legal Snapshot

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International Agreements Ratification* Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Yes 1978
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1) Yes 1978
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) Yes 1978 
Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR) Yes 2009
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) Yes 1972
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Yes 1985
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (OP-CEDAW) Yes  2000
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Yes 1990
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW) Yes 1999
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) Yes 2010
Regional Treaties    
African Charter on Human and People's Rights (ACHPR) Yes 1982
African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child Yes 1992

Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community

Yes 2001

Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa

Yes 2003

Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights

Yes 2003


* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty

Constitutional Framework

Senegal is a state under the rule of law and committed to the principles defined in the preamble of the Constitution  of January 22, 2001. Article 8 of the Constitution guarantees all citizens fundamental individual liberties, economic and social rights, as well as collective rights, including the freedom of association. Article 12 states that all citizens have the right to freely form associations, economic, cultural, and social groups, as well as societies, on the condition of respecting the formalities declared by the laws and regulations.
A constitutional reform voted in March 2016 includes 15 points of modification related to presidential mandate, the composition of the Constitutional council, democratic accountability and new civil rights. 

National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector

Several laws have been passed to implement the Constitutional provisions, including, among others, the following:

- Basic Law No. 65-60 of July 21, 1965, establishing the Penal Code;
- Law No. 68-08 of March 26, 1968, establishing the Civil and Commercial Obligations Code (CCOC), which in 1968 took the place of the French Law of July 1, 1901 on Associations, which remained in effect after Senegal gained independence in 1960;
- Law No. 76-040 of January 16, 1976, on Associations with Goals of Popular Education, Sport, and Culture;
- Decree No. 76-199 of February 17, 1976, Setting the Conditions for Granting the Recognition of Public Utility to Associations;
- Law No. 79-02 of January 4, 1979, Anticipating the Dissolution of any Association whose Activities Harm Public Order;
- Law No. 81-77 of December 10, 1981, on Racial Discrimination, Anticipating the Dissolution of any Association whose Activities are in whole or in part Devoted to Practicing Social, Ethnic, or Religious Discrimination or Inciting such Practices;
- Law No. 84-37 of May 11, 1984, on Economic Interest Groups;
- The Law establishing the Labor Code establishes the freedom to form trade unions as non-profit associations for the defense of the professional and moral interests of their members; and
- Decree No. 96-103 of February 8, 1996, amending Decree 89-775 of June 30, 1989, Setting the Modalities of Intervention of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs);
- Decree No. 2010-1490 of November 10, 2010, amending Decree No. 96-103 of February 8, 1996, setting the modalities of intervention of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).
- Decree No. 2012-554 of May 31, 2012, related to accreditation for election observation in Senegal.
- Decree No. 2015-145, of February 4, 2015, amending Decree No. 96-103, of February 8, 1996, related to the submission of a bi-annual investment program for NGOs intervening in Senegal and to NGO accreditation.
- Decree No. 2015-145, of February 4, 2015 related to the submission of a bi-annual investment program and the control of the sources of funding sources of NGOs interventions.
- Law No. 2016-30 modifying the Penal Code, including combatting terrorism.
- Law No. 2016-35 on the Senegal National Budget for 2017
- Law No. 2017-11 updating the electoral law for the election of the President of the Republic, the deputies, and local councils.
- Law No. 2017-15, instituting a National Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Services, and regional bodies voted to ensure the compliance of commerce chambers to the new economic environment.
- Decree No. 2016-1536 instituting the ECOWAS biometric ID card for all Senegalese citizens.

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

In September 2016, during a three-day workshop, stakeholders from the government, the National Assembly, and journalist associations reached consensus on the project of developing an Information Law called Code de la Presse (Press Code), which is aimed at strengthening the legal and economic environment and the accountability of the media. The next step will involve the adoption of the law by the Council of Ministers before it is submitted to and voted on by the National Assembly.

We are unaware of pending legislative/regulatory initiatives affecting NGOs.  Please help keep us informed; if you are aware of pending initiatives, write to ICNL at

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Legal Analysis

Organizational Forms

The following legal forms exist:

A. Associations

Associations are governed by the provisions of the Civil and Commercial Obligations Code (CCOC) of 1968.  They are formed without any formality other than registration with the Directorate of General Affairs (DAGAT) of the Ministry of the Interior after their application materials are transmitted to DAGAT by the regional governors. Once recognition is obtained, associations must also register at the Directorate of Statistics to obtain a national identification number. 

Associations with Popular Education and Sporting Goals, as well as Cultural Education (SCAs)

Commonly called SCAs, sporting and cultural associations are governed by the provisions of Article 821 of Law No. 68-08 and Decree No. 76-040, which stipulates that the profits resulting from the exercise of their income-generating activities must not be shared among the members. SCAs can receive subsidies from the state under Article 821, Paragraph 3, of the CCOC even when they are not recognized as public utility.

Professional Trade Unions

Professional Trade Unions are governed by Article 6 of the Labor Code. People practicing the same profession or related professions can form a Professional Trade Union.  Three categories are distinguished among Professional Trade Unions, however: federations of employers, unions of salaried workers, and unions of informal sector workers.

Basic community organizations (BCOs)

BCOs are organizations working essentially on a local level that do not have formal status. There is no defined legal framework for these organizations, although they are very widespread, especially in small neighborhoods and rural areas. They have become valuable interlocutors in their fields of activity, such as health, child protection, and rural economic affairs.

B. Foundations

Foundations are legal entities comprised of at least one person and having assets intended for the pursuit of a general interest goal.  They are governed by:

- Law No. 95-11 of April 7, 1995, instituting the foundation of public utility in Senegal; and
- Decree No. 95-415 of May 15, 1995, applying the aforementioned law.

The Ministry of Finance exercises administrative oversight of foundations that are recognized as being of “public utility,” while technical oversight is exercised by the ministry under which the foundation falls.  The state designates the representatives who can sit on the board of the foundation.

C. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs)

NGOs are defined as “non-profit private associations or organizations whose goal is to offer support to development in Senegal and that are accepted in this capacity by the government.” They are governed by the CCOC, and Decrees No. 96-103 and No. 2015-145.

Public Benefit Status

There are two kinds of special status recognized by the law in Senegal.  First, an association may be recognized as “public utility” according to Decree No. 76-193. Second, an association may obtain the status of an “NGO” after receiving approval from the Ministry of Interior following a probationary period of two years of existence as an association.  The CCOC recognizes the special status of NGOs (Article 820) and for authorized foreign associations (Article 825).  

In order for an association to receive recognition of “public utility” status, the following conditions must be met: (i) the association’s activities must have sufficient size and influence; (ii) the field of activity must correspond to a public interest; (iii) the financial situation must be healthy; (iv) the functioning of the association must be democratic and organized according to statutes; and (v) the association must have autonomy of decision-making, especially vis-à-vis public authority.

To obtain the status of an “NGO,” an association must have existed and performed activities in Senegal for two years.  The organization sends a letter of request for approval as an NGO, to which is attached the list of activities for the previous two years of existence. This list also must include (i) the governing statute of the association in two copies with the address of the headquarters; (ii) the receipt of declaration for Senegalese associations (for foreign organizations, the authorization or certificate of registration from the country of origin); (iii) the list of the main members of the directive organ with the exact indication of their age, nationality, profession, and address; (iv) a memorandum presenting the private association or organization making the request; and (v) a program of activities stating possible financial sources.  Furthermore, the association must also file an investment program, which describes what the organization will do as an NGO and the budget to fund its programs, for approval to the Minister of Finance after consultation with a commission formed for this purpose.  The program must have an official duration of two years, at the end of which a joint government-NGO evaluation is organized. Fiscal benefits of NGO status include exemption from duties and taxes on supplies, materials, and equipment, as well as temporary admission of utility vehicles acquired or purchased locally or imported for implementation of the NGO’s programs.

Barriers to Entry

Freedom of association is constitutionally recognized. The registration of an organization with the administrative authority is not mandatory.  Indeed, many associations operate as unregistered groups.

Senegalese law does impose certain barriers on the permissible purposes that an organization can pursue. Article 4 of the Constitution requires organizations “to respect the Constitution, as well as the principles of national sovereignty and democracy.  It is forbidden for them to identify themselves with a race, an ethnic group, a sex, a sect, a language, or a region.” In addition, Article 5 forbids any act of “racial, technical, or religious discrimination that can harm the internal security of the state or the territorial integrity of the Republic, public order, or the republican nature of the state.” In addition, Law 79-02 of January 4, 1979, provides for the dissolution of any association, registered or not, whose activity “harms public order.”

To attain the status of an NGO, the requesting association must have performed activities on the national territory and have existed for two years.  The organization sends a letter of request for approval as an NGO, to which is attached the list of activities for the previous two years of existence. This list also must have (i) the statutes of the association in two copies with the address of the headquarters; (ii) the receipt of declaration for Senegalese associations; for foreign organizations, the authorization or registration certificate from the country of origin; (iii) the list of the main members of the directive organ with the exact indication of their age, nationality, profession, and their address; (iv) a memorandum presenting the private association or organization making the request; and (v) a program of activities stating possible financial sources.

There is no particular restriction on the registration of foreign NGOs.  However, they must not pursue a goal contrary to international conventions signed and ratified by Senegal and international instruments for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Barriers to Operational Activity

Paragraph 2 of Article 12 of the Constitution provides that groups whose goals and activities are contrary to penal laws or directed against “public order” are prohibited. With the exception of these two limitations, associations are free in defining their goals, their internal structure, and their activities. Since 2000, Senegal has not forced the dissolution of any NGO. 

Decree No. 2015-145 emphasizes NGOs' compliance with reporting procedures and the prerogative of the Government to control the funding sources of their activities. 

Barriers to Speech / Advocacy

There is no legal limit on the ability to criticize the government. An Amnesty International report in 2017 points out, however, that some provisions in the new Penal Code (Law No. 2016-30), which are intended to combat terrorism, may present threats to the freedom of expression. The report notes that the Code "criminalizes the production and dissemination of 'immoral material' online and empowers the authorities to restrict access to 'illicit content' online." The Government of Senegal has been known to react negatively to such reports from organizations like Amnesty International. 

Senegalese journalists also engaged in public demonstrations in May 3, 2017 to demand an appropriate legal environment, including a Code of the Press, financial viability of the media, and accountability of private media owners.

Barriers to International Contact

There are no restrictions on associations or NGOs contacting or cooperating with any other organization in the country or abroad, as long as they respect the law.  Access to the Internet is also available on the condition that users respect the law.

Certain NGOs like Amnesty International or Transparency International are suspected of being manipulated or controlled by foreign forces, which at times causes violent reactions from the state to the publication of their annual reports.  With the publication of the 2012 Report of Amnesty International, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice sent a letter to the Secretary General of Amnesty International, in which they took offense at certain comments made by the Executive Director of Amnesty’s Senegalese office

Barriers to Resources

There are no legal barriers to domestic or foreign funding.  Associations and NGOs can benefit from both domestic and foreign funding and are free to address donors directly for their fundraising. However, NGOs are subject to the verification of their funding sources by the Ministry of Finance and Plan. (Decree n° 2015-145)

Barriers to Assembly

Senegal recognizes the right to the freedom of assembly. Article 10 of the Constitution states: “Everyone has the right to express and spread freely his opinions by speech, pen, image, peaceful marching, provided that the exercise of his rights does not harm the honor or consideration of others or public order.”  The Constitution protects this freedom through Article 9, which declares that: “Any infringement on freedoms and any deliberate hindrance to the exercise of a freedom are punished by law.” 

Vague Provisions

Legal obstacles to the right to demonstrate lie in a broad interpretation of the notion of disturbance to “public order.”  Generally, the administration has concrete powers via the invocation of certain ideals (social peace, harmonious functioning of economic activity, national defense, public safety, state security) to limit the freedom to demonstrate by using its police powers.  In times of crisis, however, the administrative authorities can declare a state of siege, a state of emergency, or invoke exceptional circumstances to prohibit a demonstration.

Advance Notification

Prior notification to the prefect is required 72 hours before a demonstration. The notice must state the family names, first names, and residence of the organizers and be signed by the responsible parties that reside in the prefecture of the site of the demonstration.  The notice must also state the goal of the demonstration and the site, date and hour of meeting, as well as the proposed route and time the demonstration will end. 

The authority (in this case the prefect) is required to respond at least 48 hours before the demonstration.  If the prefect judges that the projected demonstration is of a nature to disturb public order, it issues an injunction, which is immediately communicated to the organizers.  They can challenge the injunction before the administrative judge (in this case, the Supreme Court) and may request a suspension of execution of the prefect’s injunction.  The Supreme Court can rule on this request for a suspension in a relatively short period (48 hours).  If it is granted, it renders null the injunction against the demonstration.

Although not legally recognized, spontaneous demonstrations are tolerated in practice when connected to cultural expressions, traditional practices and customs, or particular circumstances (e.g., funerals, religious assemblies). 

The law does not expressly mention counter-demonstrations.  Since any demonstration that does not disturb public order is allowed, it can be assumed that counter-demonstrations are allowed when they respect the law. In practice, counter-demonstrations have occurred during election season.

Time, Place, Manner Restrictions

There are unpublished texts (orders) that forbid, for reasons of security, demonstrations in specific places (e.g., presidential palace, courthouses, short-stay prisons, etc.) and in places considered “sensitive” that are determined by the administrative authority, sometimes without the knowledge of the people.  (For example, during the presidential elections in 2012, the administrative authority decided to forbid demonstrations at Independence Square, which is located near the presidential palace.)

Some demonstrations are forbidden when authorities believe that they interfere with traffic or that they may be accompanied by violence. Such was the rationale for the prohibition of a march on May 8, 2013 of the opposition Senegalese Democratic Party and of street peddlers on November 11, 2012.

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UN Universal Periodic Review Reports Senegal (February 6, 2009)
Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs Mission to Senegal (February 23, 2011)
USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes


U.S. State Department Senegal
Fragile States Index Reports

Senegal: Failed States Index

IMF Country Reports Senegal and the IMF (July 3, 2013)
International Commission of Jurists None
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library


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News and Additional Resources

While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change.  If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at

General News

"It takes more to tango" – cross-movement alliances of youth-led movements in West Africa (August 2017)
In 2011, Keur Gui (a well-known hip-hop group in Senegal), Fadel Barro (a journalist) and other rappers from the suburbs in Dakar raised their voices in Senegal to claim that they were "fed up" with the bad governance of the president and hence were launching the movement Y'en a marre ("We are fed up"). With very limited financial means and little experience in the political sphere, these leaders successfully mobilized the youth – a generation that usually positions itself far away from politics. At first, Y'en a marre independently called for protests to denounce bad governance practices. But when in June the Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade announced changes to the constitution in his favor, many different groups ranging from university students, human rights organizations, and opposition party leaders took to the streets. This led to a massive protest on 23 June 2011 and the formation of a rather loose alliance named Mouvement du 23 Juin (M23) in the aftermath of which Y'en a marre participated.

Consensus on the draft press code (September 2016)
A consensus on the draft press code emerged in Saly-Portudal (Mbour) by all actors (administrative authorities, deputies and journalists). The consensus came at the end of an exchange workshop on this document, which aims to make journalistic activity "more credible". There were "intense consultations to arrive at a draft code for which President Macky Sall attaches particular attention," said Minister of Culture and Communication, Mbagnick Ndiaye.

Senegal consolidating its democracy (April 2016)
Both the length of presidential mandates and the limits to them have been the source of not inconsiderable controversy in Senegalese politics. President Macky Sall was elected in 2012 in part because of his predecessor's attempt to manipulate the systemOne of Sall’s campaign pledges was, in fact, to reduce the presidential term back to five years, beginning with his own.

YEAM youth movement is pro-democracy and anti-violence (April 2015)
Y’en a Marre (we’ve had enough) movement, or YEAM, which is fundamentally opposed to violence, emerged out of hip-hop; it came to prominence during the 2012 presidential election, when it encouraged the young to “make their voices heard” by voting. YEAM called for a “new Senegalese model” which could provide a base for a “citizens’ republic”. YEAM had been set up on 15 January 2011, the day after Tunisia’s president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was overthrown. “[It was] a sign that anything was possible,” said Fadel Barro, 36, a YEAM founder.

President Obama cites Senegalese civil society in UN speech (October 2014)
Speaking before world leaders gathered in New York for the U.N. General Assembly, President Barack Obama called for a unified effort to quell growing instability in the world. Among other messages, he said, "positive change need not come at the expense of tradition and faith. We see it in Senegal, where civil society thrives alongside a strong, democratic government. We see it in Malaysia, where vibrant entrepreneurship is propelling a former colony into the ranks of advanced economies. And we see it in Indonesia, where what began as a violent transition has evolved into a genuine democracy."

Nigeria, Senegal Partner On Women for Democratic Leadership (August 2013)
Nigeria and Senegal are planning to provide women at the grassroots level with leadership and advocacy skills that would enable them contribute meaningfully to the development of their countries. Also, they will learn about participating effectively in the political and socio-economic development of their communities and the nation.

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The foregoing information was collected by the ICNL Civic Freedom Monitor partner organization in Senegal.