Fear for Life: Violence against Gay Men and Men Perceived as Gay in Senegal

Date: December 1, 2010
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Violence against people on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender expression escalated in Senegal starting in early 2008. Men who identify as or are perceived to be gay increasingly became targets of popular vengeance and arbitrary arrests. In research conducted in 2009 and early 2010, Human Rights Watch documented a range of abuses, including police abuse and arbitrary detention, physical threat, assault, and verbal abuse by private individuals, and blackmail, extortion, and robbery.   HRW also examined how media and religious institutions have contributed to the climate of violence.

Although recent panics over homosexuality cast it as a new and foreign phenomenon in Senegal, all anecdotal and documentary evidence suggests that same-sex relations between men as well as women have long existed in Senegalese society, even if the terms have changed over time. What is new is the manipulation of anti-gay sentiment by a few Senegalese political and religious leaders, giving public discourse a particularly vicious turn, which in turn has fed an upsurge in already existing private actor violence targeting gay men and men perceived as gay. Some Senegalese media have contributed to the upsurge by giving prominent coverage to the hate-mongering and offering virtually no counter narrative.

This report helps fill that gap, revealing the impact of violence on individual lives and examining some of the underlying causes of the current intolerance. Two key incidents have exemplified the virulent turn in Senegal-the “gay marriageÀ scandal of February 2008 and the arrest of the “nine homosexuals of MbaoÀ in December 2008. Based on interviews with many of the men involved, this report provides detailed insights into the two cases and the destructive impact they have had on these men’s lives and on the lives of many other Senegalese. The report also details other instances of arrests and police torture of gay men and men perceived as gay as well as violence by non-state actors, and the social context and cultural climate of fear and suspicion in which these attacks take place.

ISBN: 1-56432-719-1
Publisher: Human Rights Watch
Year of Publication: 2010
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