Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2005 - Niger
|Publisher||International Federation for Human Rights|
|Publication Date||22 March 2006|
|Cite as||International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2005 - Niger, 22 March 2006, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48747caf12.html [accessed 22 December 2014]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Retaliation against defenders of social and economic rights
Arbitrary arrest and judicial proceedings against five activists62
On 15 March 2005, Mr. Nouhou Mahamadou Arzika, president of the National organisation for Consumers' Defence (Organisation nationale de défense des consommateurs) and head of the Niger Quality-Equity Coalition Against High Cost of Living (Coalition Qualité-Equité contre la vie chère au Niger), was arrested after having participated in a demonstration organised by the Coalition earlier that day. The demonstrators notably petitioned for the Law amending the October 2004 Budget Act for 2005 fiscal year, adopted on 4 January 2005, to be repealed. This law notably introduced a 19% value added tax (VAT) on staple convenience good in a general context of poverty increase in Niger.
Mr. Arzika, who was detained along with 46 other demonstrators at the Niamey central police station, was finally released on 19 March 2005.
The Nigerian authorities further banned another demonstration scheduled for 22 March 2005 on the occasion of the World Water Day. When notified of this decision, the Coalition called on the population to observe a general strike action throughout the country. This general strike, the announcement of which was extensively relayed by national press and media, was widely followed and most shops remained shut down that day, as well as all services stopped. Several persons were arrested, in particular in Maradi, Tahoua and Agadez. On 24 March 2005, the Coalition, still forbidden to demonstrate, called the population to prayer as a new peaceful protest against the aforementioned law. Following those calls, Alternative FM radio station received a legal warning for "disseminating statements aimed at stirring up social unrest, in particular calls to collective prayers to overthrow the government". On 29 March 2005, police officers illegally closed down the radio station, which could resume its activities on 5 April 2005 on the order of the court ruling.
On 25 March 2005, Messrs. Arzika, Marou Amadou, president of the National Coordination of Independent Thought and Orientation Committee for the Safeguard of Democratic Achievement (Comité de réflexion et d'orientation indépendant pour la sauvegarde des acquis démocratiques – CROISADE) and executive secretary of the Quality-Equity Coalition, and Moustapha Kadi, treasurer of the Coalition and president of SOS-Kandadji (a consumers' defence association), were arrested at the Coalition's headquarters located in the CROISADE office in Niamey. The police also searched the office as well as the three men's houses, and seized numerous documents that had not been returned by the end of 2005.
After Mr. Moussa Tchangari, president of the Alternative Niger press group and president of the Democratic Coordination of Niger Civil Society (Coordination démocratique de la société civile au Niger – CDSCN), made a statement on RFI condemning this wave of arrests, he was arrested by police forces and his office was searched.
On 27 March 2005, Mr. Issa Kassoum, secretary general of the National Teachers' Union of Niger (Syndicat national des enseignants au Niger) and CDSCN coordinator, was also arrested after he criticised these events. Messrs. Tchangari and Kassoum had both joined the Coalition's activities and participated in the 15 March demonstration.
On 29 March 2005, Messrs. Arzika, Amadou, Kadi, Tchangari and Kassoum were charged with "plotting against State security, causing unarmed gatherings [and] forming an undeclared organisation" and placed in detention in five different prisons all located far away from Niamey – respectively in Daylaïna, Say, Tillabéry, Koutoukalé and Filingué.
All five men were released on 7 April 2005. The charges pressed against them, however, remained pending by the end of 2005.
Assassination attempt against Mr. Nouhou Mahamadou Arzika63
On 26 October 2005, Mr. Nouhou Mahamadou Arzika was subjected to an assassination attempt while he was on a meeting with a representative of the US embassy in Niger at the headquarters of the Quality-Equity Coalition Against High Cost of Living.
In the late morning, an individual entered his office and announced that Mr. Moussa Dan Foulani, a businessman close to the seat of power, wanted to talk to him. Soon after, Mr. Dan Foulani burst into the room with a gun and declared: "you fool, this is your last day, you won't be able to insult people anymore because I'm going to kill you". He then tried to shoot at Mr. Arzika without success, as his gun was jammed, and then ordered two persons armed with bludgeons that had come with him to kill Mr. Arzika. The two individuals started to beat him, while Mr. Dan Foulani kept the neighbours trying to help Mr. Arzika at a distance. Mr. Arzika finally managed to escape thanks to a colleague's intervention as one of the aggressors attempted to strangle him.
Mr. Arzika immediately filed a complaint for assassination attempt with the Niamey police station.
Although the police enquiry was closed on 28 October 2005, the investigation report was ultimately transmitted to the court on 11 November 2005 only, whilst Mr. Dan Foulani filed a complaint for insults and defamation (arguing these offences had incited his violence) on that very same day.
Mr. Dan Foulani was summoned by the examining magistrate on 21 December 2005, and placed in detention at the Kollo detention centre (30 km away from Niamey) right after the hearing. By the end of 2005, his two accomplices were still on the run.
On 22 and 23 December 2005, Mr. Arzika was also called in by the examining magistrate to be heard on Mr. Dan Foulani's complaint and his own. Although the charges were insufficient, he was accused of "complicity in defamation and insults" and released on bail. Mr. Arzika appealed against the judge's order. By the end of 2005, the two cases were still pending.
Mr. Dan Foulani, who has a history of hostility against defenders of economic and social rights, was also subjected to several other proceedings, in particular by Mr. Mamane Abou, publishing manager of Le Républicain newspaper, who filed a complaint after he had been assaulted by Mr. Dan Foulani on 11 August 2005. Mr. Abou had issued several articles on public fund management denouncing the illegal allocation of public contracts, in particular to Mr. Dan Foulani.
Harassment of CROISADE members
CROISADE headquarters closed down64
On 10 May 2005, CROISADE headquarters, which also shelter the Platform of Organisations for the Defence of Human Rights and Democracy (Collectif des organisations de défense des droits de l'Homme et de la démocratie – CODDHD) and the Quality-Equity Coalition, were closed down as the association was unable to pay the rent that was suddenly increased by 120%. On that day, the owner of the premises required CROISADE president and staff to leave the office in order to close it down. The association had still not been able to find another place to rent by the end of 2005.
Furthermore, Mr. Marou Amadou, CROISADE president, has been prevented from practicing as a lawyer since December 2002, when he had been banned from taking his oath of office after judicial proceedings – which were still pending before the Supreme Court of Appeal in 2005 – had been initiated as a retaliation against his activities of defence of human rights.
Detention and judicial proceedings against Messrs. Oumarou Souley and Abdoul Razak Amadou Guirey65
On 8 August 2005, Mr. Abdoul Razak Amadou Guirey, deputy secretary general of the Gaya section of CROISADE, was arrested after he publicly denounced the arbitrary arrest and detention of Mr. Oumarou Souley, head of the Gaya section. Mr. Souley had been sentenced to a two-month imprisonment term and a 25,000 CFA francs (38 euros) fine on 26 July 2005, following a complaint for "slander" lodged by the director of the district hospital.
Mr. Amadou Guirey was indicted with "discrediting a court's decision" on 9 August 2005, and condemned on 16 August 2005 to a three-month suspended prison sentence by Mr. Hamza Guiré, the very same judge who previously sentenced Mr. Souley. Mr. Amadou Guirey was released that same day.
Mr. Souley was released on 5 September 2005 after serving his term.
Harassment of Timidria and arbitrary arrest of two of its leaders66
On 28 April 2005, Mr. Ilguilas Weila, president of the national Executive Committee of Timidria, an association fighting against slavery in Niger, and Mr. Alassane Bigga, deputy secretary general of the Timidria regional section in Tillabery, were arrested by the search squad of the national police force (gendarmerie) of Niamey, along with Messrs. Mohamed Ag Almouner, mayor of Inatès – a rural district with 10,000 inhabitants in the Tillabery region – and a former member of Timidria, Ihibi Allad, vice-mayor of Inatès, Mohamed Algou, technical adviser to the government's general secretariat, and Arrisal Ag Amdagh, leader of the Tahabanatt nomadic community in Inatès.
Messrs. Almouner, Allad, Algou and Ag Amdagh were released on 3 May 2005.
On 4 May 2005, Messrs. Weila and Bigga were taken to the Niamey civil prison. Initially accused of "forgery" and "fraud attempt", they were officially indicted with "fraud attempt" to the prejudice of "foreign donors" by the Niamey Regional Court on 5 May 2005.
The arrests of these five defenders were related to two letters that Timidria had received from Mr. Ag Amdagh in September 2004, requesting the association's support to the "socio-economic rehabilitation of 7,000 slaves in Inatès". Upon reception of this request, Timidria developed two rehabilitation programmes that were later submitted for funding to NGO Anti-Slavery International, and decided to organise a slave liberation ceremony on 28 February 2005.
Timidria informed the National Commission for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Commission nationale des droits de l'Homme et des libertés fondamentales – CNDHLF) of this campaign and asked for its sponsorship. The Commission then decided to send an investigation mission of its own in order to "check the information relating to the decision of the leader of the Tahabanatt nomadic community (Inatès) on the planned liberation of 7,000 slaves in 19 of the community's tribes".
Following this investigation mission organised from 15 to 18 February 2005, CNDHLF suggested to Timidria and Anti-Slavery to rename the ceremony as the "campaign for public awareness and popularisation of the law criminalising slave practices",67 but did not circulated its report. After Timidria and Anti-Slavery agreement, the event was held on 4 and 5 March 2005. However, the local populations seem to have been submitted to pressure to dissuade them from participating in the ceremony, during which CNDHLF president, Mr. Garba Lompo, further declared that "any attempt to free slaves in the country [remained] illegal and unacceptable", and that "any person celebrating a slave liberation [would] be punished under the law".
The CNDHLF mission report was publicly released on 28 April 2005 only, the day Messrs. Weila and Bigga, were arrested. According to this report, CNDHLF concluded that "there [was] no such slave practices in the region" and that "these rumours were an all made-up conspiracy (...), aiming in secret at cheating the donors by tarnishing the image of the country". CNDHLF also recommended to "arrest all protagonists", "disband Timidria" and "to freeze the bank accounts of the association, which received a colossal amount of money – over a billion CFA francs – through financial arrangements for the Programme for the rehabilitation of 7,000 'fake' slaves".68 In the report published after the "public awareness campaign day", CNDHLF president, Mr. Lompo, further recommended "the Ministry of the Interior to ensure a more regular monitoring of NGOs and associations activities in the country", called for "the revision of the provisions of Order n°84-06 and the Law on NGOs, in particular those providing for the violations of their statutes" and called on the authorities to "punish the protagonists behaviour in this slave liberation matter".
After two requests for their release on remand were dismissed, Messrs. Weila and Bigga were set free on 18 June 2005, the day before an Observatory's delegation arrived in the country.69
By the end of 2005, the charges pressed against them had not been dropped.
Infringements to the independence of CNDHLF70
On 29 July 2005, the Council of Ministers of Niger adopted a decree renewing the mandate of the National Commission for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (CNDHLF), without prior consultation with independent human rights associations. On this occasion, two members of the pro-governmental Organisation for Development based on Human Capital of Niger (Organisation nigérienne pour le développement du potentiel humain à la base – ONDPH) and Citizens' Human Rights Movement (Mouvement citoyen des droits de l'Homme – MCDH) were appointed as representatives of civil society at the CNDHLF office.
Independent human rights associations were thus ousted of the appointment process, in violation of the Law of 20 April 2001 amending the provisions of Law n°98-55 of 19 December 1998 relating to the CNDHLF mandate, composition and functioning. Article 3 of this law stipulates in particular that the Commission's composition "shall comprise two representatives nominated by human rights associations". It also contravened the Paris Principles relating to the status and functioning of national institutions for protection and promotion of human rights, adopted on 20 December 1993 by the United Nations General Assembly.71
After thirteen independent associations referred the case to the Supreme Court on 9 September 2005, the Court's administrative chamber ordered the repeal of the provisions relating to the appointment of the two aforementioned NGOs' representatives in the Commission on 28 December 2005.
The Law of amending the provisions of Law n°98-55 had already restricted the right of independent human rights associations to be represented in CNDHLF, in particular reducing their number from three to two.
[Refworld note: This report as posted on the FIDH website (www.fidh.org) was in pdf format with country chapters run together by region. Footnote numbers have been retained here, so do not necessarily begin at 1.]
62. See Open Letter to the authorities of Niger, 25 May 2005, and Conclusions of the international fact-finding mission sent by the Observatory to Niger from 19 to 25 June 2005.
63. See Urgent Appeal NER 002/1005/OBS 104.
64. See Open Letter to the authorities of Niger, 25 May 2005 and Conclusions of the aforementioned investigation mission.
65. See Urgent Appeals NER 001/0805/OBS 067 and 067.1.
66. See Open Letter to the authorities of Niger, 25 May 2005 and Conclusions of the aforementioned investigation mission.
67. On 5 May 2003, a law criminalising slavery came into force for the first time in the country (Law amending the provisions of Law n° 61-027 of 15 July 1961 establishing the Code of Criminal Procedure).
68. Anti-Slavery addressed a letter to the Head of State of Niger on 6 May 2005 to deny this information, notably stating that "no funding could be gathered, and thus allocated to this association".
69. See above.
70. See Open Letter to the authorities of Niger, 12 August 2005.
71. According to these Principles, "the composition of the national institution and the appointment of its members, whether by means of an election or otherwise, shall be established in accordance with a procedure which affords all necessary guarantees to ensure the pluralist representation of the social forces (of civilian society) involved in the protection and promotion of human rights, particularly by powers which will enable effective cooperation to be established with, or through the presence of representatives of non-governmental organisations responsible for human rights [...]".