Freedom in the World 2010 - Niger
|Publication Date||1 June 2010|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2010 - Niger, 1 June 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c1a1ea328.html [accessed 8 March 2014]|
Political Rights Score: 5 *
Civil Liberties Score: 4 *
Status: Partly Free
Niger's political rights rating declined from 3 to 5 due to President Mamadou Tandja's antidemocratic moves to extend his power, including the dissolution of the Constitutional Court and National Assembly and the holding of a referendum to eliminate term limits and postpone the next presidential election – originally due in December 2009 – until 2012.
President Mamadou Tandja dissolved the National Assembly and Constitutional Court in May and June, respectively, after they stood in the way of his plan to eliminate term limits and postpone the next presidential election until 2012. The proposals were then adopted in a disputed August referendum. The government enacted a new constitution that same month, which called for the creation of a Senate and gave Tandja expanded power over the High Council for Communications, Constitutional Court, and National Assembly. Opposition parties boycotted legislative elections held in October, handing a lopsided victory to Tandja's party. The president's antidemocratic actions prompted the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to suspend Niger's membership following legislative elections.
After gaining independence from France in 1960, Niger was governed by a series of one-party and military regimes. General Ali Seibou took power in 1987, but his one-party regime yielded to international pressure and prodemocracy demonstrations, and a new constitution was adopted by popular referendum in 1992. Mahamane Ousmane of the Alliance of Forces for Change was elected president in 1993, then overthrown in January 1996 by Colonel Ibrahim Bare Mainassara, who became president in a sham election six months later.
After members of the presidential guard assassinated Mainassara in April 1999, the guard commander led a transitional government that organized a constitutional referendum in July and competitive elections in November. Retired lieutenant colonel Mamadou Tandja, supported by the National Movement for a Developing Society (MNSD) and the Democratic and Social Convention (CDS) parties, won the presidency in the generally free and fair balloting, and the MNSD and the CDS took a majority of seats in the National Assembly. Tandja was reelected in December 2004, and in concurrent legislative elections, four parties joined the MNSD and CDS to secure 88 of the National Assembly's 113 seats.
The next few years were marked by rising prices, food shortages, renewed fighting with ethnic Tuareg rebels in 2007, and allegations of government corruption that created tensions within the MNSD. Prime Minister Hama Amadou resigned over the charges in May 2007 and was arrested in 2008, though he claimed that the case was designed to prevent him from running for president in 2009.
In May 2009, Tandja asked the National Assembly to approve a referendum proposal to create a new constitution, which would postpone the next presidential election until 2012 and eliminate executive term limits, among other changes. After lawmakers voiced opposition to the plan, Tandja dissolved the National Assembly. In June, the Constitutional Court ruled against the proposed referendum, claiming that Tandja was in violation of the constitution. However, Tandja invoked article 53 of the Nigerien constitution and announced that he would rule by decree under emergency powers. He dissolved the Constitutional Court and nominated members for the creation of a new court. The referendum was held in August, and according to official results, the proposal passed with more than 92 percent of the vote amid a turnout of some 68 percent. However, the opposition, which had called for a boycott, rejected the results as fraudulent and estimated a turnout of less than 5 percent. Enacted on August 18, the new constitution eliminates the prime minister's role as head of government and gives Tandja expanded influence over the High Council for Communications, Constitutional Court, and National Assembly, as well as a new Senate, which had yet to be created at year's end.
Tandja lifted the emergency decree in August and announced legislative elections to replace the dissolved National Assembly. Key opposition parties boycotted legislative elections held in October, allowing Tandja's MNSD to capture 76 of the 113 seats, a gain of 30 seats. The elections were denounced by the international community, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) suspended Niger's membership. Opposition parties announced that they would also boycott municipal elections scheduled for early 2010. By year's end, the United States and the European Union had withdrawn all non-humanitarian assistance.
In October, Libyan leader Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi declared an end to the Tuareg rebellion, and Tandja granted an amnesty to the rebels. Libya had led mediation efforts between the government and the rebels since August 2008, but at least one splinter group of the rebel Movement of Nigeriens for Justice (MNJ) rejected the peace deal, and the MNJ continued to demand greater Tuareg inclusion in the military and the mining sector.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties
Niger is not an electoral democracy. While observers considered the national polls held in 1999 and 2004 to be largely free and fair, President Mamadou Tandja's unconstitutional moves to extend his rule in 2009 dismantled much of the country's democratic progress.
The August 2009 constitutional referendum shifted power to the president, removing the previous limit of two five-year terms and giving him the exclusive power to appoint and dismiss the prime minister and cabinet. It also called for the creation of a Senate, with a third of the members appointed by the president and the remainder elected indirectly. The National Assembly, previously the unicameral legislature, has 113 directly elected members who serve five-year terms.
Ten political parties were represented in the National Assembly that was dissolved in May 2009, and leaders made efforts to include members of ethnic minorities and nomadic groups in positions of authority. However, major opposition parties boycotted the October elections, and a range of opposition politicians faced arrest during the year. In December, ECOWAS mediated peace talks between the government of Niger and the opposition, which continued through year's end.
Corruption is a serious problem in Niger, and observers have raised transparency concerns regarding uranium mining contracts as well as a $5 billion oil-exploration deal signed in 2008 by the government and the China National Petroleum Corporation. Graft cases pursued by the authorities often appear politically motivated. In September 2009, more than thirty ex-lawmakers stood trial for "receiving illegal benefits." Twenty-eight were granted provisional release and three deputies, two staff members, and two vendors were imprisoned. In October, international arrest warrants were issued for Mahamadou Issoufou, leader of the opposition Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism-Tarayya; former prime minister Hama Amadou; and former president of the CDS, Mahamane Ousmane, who had been speaker of the National Assembly before its dissolution. All three men were accused of money laundering; Issoufou returned to Niger in November to face the charges. In November, the government placed a travel ban on 124 former assembly members. Niger was ranked 106 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The 2009 constitution gives the president the power to nominate the majority of the members of the High Council for Communications, the national media regulatory agency. The Council Chairman is now also empowered to arrest any media outlet infringing upon "national security" without having to consult the rest of the council or issue a formal warning. The Niger Association of Independent Media Editors responded with a weeklong media blackout in July. Authorities regularly use libel laws to deter critical journalists. The privately owned media's outspoken support for the opposition in 2009 and its persistent critiques of the government's management of natural resource revenues meant that many journalists and outlets faced police pressure, arrests, and suspensions during the year. The charges included defamation, casting discredit on judicial rulings, and publishing false information. In June, the government ordered the private television and radio network Dounia to suspend broadcasting, but the order was reversed by the courts in July. Security forces held Alassane Karfi, a member of the Niger Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS), in prison from mid-July until October for his criticism of the referendum on Dounia television. The government does not restrict internet use, though less than 1 percent of the population has access to the medium.
Freedom of religion is generally respected. However, the Muslim majority is not uniformly tolerant of minority religions. Academic freedom is guaranteed in principle but not always observed in practice.
Constitutional guarantees of freedoms of assembly and association are largely upheld, but authorities restricted the operations of some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) following the outbreak of Tuareg rebel activity in 2007. In 2009, a coalition of political parties, NGOs, and labor unions brought tens of thousands of demonstrators to the streets in the months surrounding the August referendum. In some instances, police clashed with demonstrators, using tear gas and batons and arresting participants. Separately, prominent human rights activist Marou Amadou was arrested and temporarily detained on multiple occasions beginning in May.
The constitution and other laws guarantee workers the right to join unions and bargain for wages, although over 95 percent of the workforce is employed in subsistence agriculture and small trading.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and courts have shown some autonomy. However, Tandja demonstrated his willingness to disregard the separation of powers and rule of law in 2009, dissolving the Constitutional Court in June and replacing the members with his own nominees. While the new constitution increases the number of judges from seven to nine, it also increases the number nominated by the President from one to five.
The court system is overburdened and subject to executive and other interference. Public prosecutors are supervised by the Ministry of Justice, and the president has the power to appoint judges. Judicial corruption is fueled partly by low salaries and inadequate training. Prolonged pretrial detention is common, and police forces are also underfunded and poorly trained. Prisons are characterized by overcrowding and poor health conditions. Amnesty International has reported arbitrary detentions and extrajudicial killings of civilians by soldiers in retaliation for rebel attacks.
Insecurity plagues the northwest of the country along the Malian border. Disputes over land rights between herders and farmers have led to dozens of deaths in the Tillabery region. In January 2009, four Europeans were abducted by unknown assailants; three hostages were later released, but one was executed by his captors. In late December, four people from a convoy of Saudi citizens were killed near Tillabery. That same month, the Nigerien army clashed with reported drug traffickers, killing nine soldiers, seven traffickers, and a civilian at Telemses.
Discrimination against ethnic minorities persists, despite constitutional protections. Nomadic peoples continue to have poor access to government services.
A 2002 quota system requiring political parties to allocate 10 percent of their elected positions to women has increased their representation. Women continue to suffer discrimination, especially in rural areas. Family law gives women inferior status in property disputes, inheritance rights, and divorce.In the east, some women among the Hausa and Peul ethnic groups are rarely allowed to leave their homes without a male escort. Although sexual harassment was criminalized in 2001, domestic violence is reportedly widespread. Female genital mutilation was criminalized in 2003.
Although the government criminalized slavery in 2003, as many as 43,000 people still live in conditions of servitude. Niger was demoted to Tier 3, the worst-possible rating, in the U.S. State Department's 2009 Trafficking in Persons Report.
*Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.