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EU-Funded Security Force Under Scrutiny for Role in Senegal's Democracy Protests

Published March 01, 2024
4 months ago

In an unsettling turn of events scaffolded by international aid, the European Union-backed security force, GAR-SI, stands accused of using EU-funded equipment to violently suppress democracy protests in Senegal. A collaborative investigation by Al Jazeera and the porCausa Foundation has brought to light how funds intended to reinforce border security were potentially misused, drawing European oversight into question.

The crux of the turmoil began in 2021, with the controversial trial of Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko. Mass demonstrations erupted, and Al Jazeera and porCausa's investigation suggests that GAR-SI—a special unit built to combat terrorism and cross-border crime—was repurposed to quell these protests. Cultural clashes have escalated since then, witnessing dozens of fatalities tied to these political crossfires.

Initially, the €75 million GAR-SI project was part of the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, aimed at establishing socio-economic stability and curbing migration by controlling border crime. In Senegal, which received over €7 million in funding, the 300-strong GAR-SI force was situated in Kidira, near the Malian border, as part of its strategic positioning. However, visual evidence and eyewitness testimonies imply that the unit's remit stretched beyond its prescribed jurisdiction.

On-the-ground footage, specifically from Mampatim—a village approximately 50km from Kolda in the Casamance region—depicted the use of EU-funded armored vehicles and riot control gear in situations far from any borderlines. These resources coincide with what was allocated for the purpose of law enforcement against cross-border threats.

Revelations about potential human rights violations have drawn sharp criticism. Ousmane Diallo from Amnesty International emphasized the seriousness of redirecting a counterterrorism unit against civilians exercising their democratic rights. Despite acknowledgment from EU spokespeople reiterating GAR-SI's defined scope, the response from Senegalese authorities at the time of publication has been non-committal.

The intricacies of the misuse also lie in administrative malpractices. A confidential report from 2022 indicated that GAR-SI operated inconsistently across the region, with a lack of human rights safeguards and transparency in issuing commands. These internal concerns were coupled with controversies surrounding significant mismanagement by Francisco Espinosa Navas—the head of the GAR-SI Sahel regional project, who was implicated in a broader corruption scandal dubbed the "Mediador" case.

As GAR-SI comes under scrutiny, so does the EU’s due diligence. The aftermath has left a series of unanswered inquests into the legitimacy of governance with EU-funded projects. Furthermore, the ongoing social unrest and irregular migration activities hint at deeper systemic issues.

This exposé, while shedding light on the misuse of power, pushes for reflection on how EU interventional strategies may sometimes unwittingly feed into the vortex of democratic suppression—an outcome that starkly contrasts with the fund's original intentions.

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