Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 September 2014, 16:29 GMT

Freedom in the World 2011 - Niger

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 26 July 2011
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2011 - Niger, 26 July 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e2e8b2dc.html [accessed 24 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis 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.

Capital: Niamey
Population: 15,290,000

Political Rights Score: 5 *
Civil Liberties Score: 4 *
Status: Partly Free

Overview

On February 18, 2010, the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy (CSRD), a military junta led by Major Salou Djibo, ousted President Mamadou Tandja in a coup d'état and installed a transitional government. The CSRD suspended the controversial 2009 constitution and established the National Consultative Council to draft a new charter, which was approved in an October referendum. Presidential, legislative, and municipal elections – initially scheduled for December – were delayed until January 2011.

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, but overthrown in January 1996 by Colonel Ibrahim Baré Maïnassara, who became president in a sham election six months later.

After members of the presidential guard assassinated Maïnassarain 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 CDS took a majority of seats in the National Assembly. Tandja was reelected in 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, and allegations of government corruption that created tensions within the MNSD. Prime Minister Hama Amadou's government lost a vote of confidence in 2007, and he was arrested in 2008 on embezzlement charges, which he alleged were designed to prevent him from running for president in 2009.

In May 2009, Tandja dissolved the National Assembly after lawmakers refused to approve a constitutional referendum that would delay the next presidential election until 2012, expand executive powers, and eliminate executive term limits. Tandja then dissolved the Constitutional Court – after it ruled against the referendum – and announced that he would rule by decree under emergency powers. The controversial constitutional changes were adopted by referendum in August, but observers rejected the results as fraudulent. Later that month, Tandja lifted emergency rule and announced that legislative elections to replace the dissolved National Assembly would be held in October. Key opposition parties boycotted the vote, 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.

On February 18, 2010, the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy (CSRD), a military junta led by Major Salou Djibo, placed Tandja under house arrest, suspended the constitution, and dissolved all government institutions. The junta appointed a 20-member transitional government, which included many Nigeriens from the diaspora, five women, and five members of the CSRD. The transitional government in turn created the National Consultative Council, a 131-member body tasked with drafting key documents, including a new constitution and electoral code. Despite the creation of these new institutions and the designation of a civilian prime minister, Djibo maintained his status as de facto head of state without any genuine checks on his power.

In a referendum held in October, 90 percent of participating voters approved the new constitution amid a turnout of approximately 52 percent. An electoral commission, established by the transitional government in June, successfully lobbied for national and municipal elections to be pushed back from December to January 2011 due to organizational and funding difficulties. The junta forbade its members and representatives of the transitional government from running for office. The CSRD arrested four of its own senior officers in October for allegedly plotting a coup. Tandja remained under house arrest at year's end, and his confinement was ruled illegal by an ECOWAS court.

Separately in 2010, the Movement of Nigeriens for Justice (MNJ), a Tuareg rebel group, officially laid down its arms in January. Libya had led mediation efforts between Tuareg rebels and the Nigerien government from August 2008 until a peace deal was reached in October 2009.

Niger was ranked 167 of 169 countries surveyed in the 2010 UN Human Development Index. By the end of 2009, the United States and the European Union had withdrawn all nonhumanitarian assistance to Niger, stating that funds would not be reinstated until the country returned to civilian rule. In January 2010, the United Nations estimated that one-fifth of the population was facing food shortages due to erratic rainfall.

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, and the 2010 coup increased the military's control over government. The transitional government took steps toward restoring civilian rule and holding elections. The 2010 constitution, which was written in broad consultation with civil society, reinstated executive term limits and placed additional limitations on executive power. It also provided amnesty for members of the CSRD.

Opposition politicians and critics of the regime faced arrests, restricted movement, and imprisonment during 2009. The opposition openly welcomed the February 2010 coup as an opportunity to advance democratic development. Following the coup, former prime minister and presidential hopeful Hama Amadou returned from exile, and three former legislators were released from jail.

Corruption is a serious problem in Niger, and observers have raised transparency concerns regarding uranium mining contracts. However, the 2010 constitution contained provisions for greater transparency in government reporting of revenues from extractive industries. The transitional government created various institutions to prosecute corruption, including the State Audit Court and the Commission on Economic, Financial, and Fiscal Crime. The commission investigated 50 high-profile cases, including embezzlement charges against a presidential candidate and a former cabinet minister. Niger was ranked 123 out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.

In 2010, the transitional government made efforts to restore freedoms of speech and of the press. In June, the National Assembly adopted a new press law that eliminated prison terms for journalists, and removed the threat of libel cases that journalists had faced during ousted president Mamadou Tandja's rule. Reaction to the new law was mixed, as the Media Foundation for West Africa reported that foreign journalists still had to pay high fees to work in Niger and submit final versions of their stories for government approval. Also during the year, the transitional government reopened Niger's Press Club and the largest private radio station in the Agadez region, which had been shuttered since 2008, and granted new licenses for three private television stations and 12 private and community radio stations. 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 have restricted the operations of some nongovernmental organizations. 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 in the past, though the judicial system is overburdened and has been 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 continues to plague the northwest of the country along the Malian border. In the Tillabery region, disputes over land rights between herders and farmers have led to dozens of deaths in recent years. In September 2010, seven foreign nationals were kidnapped from a uranium-mining town by the regional terrorist group Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Discrimination against ethnic minorities persists, despite constitutional protections. Nomadic peoples continue to have poor access to government services.

Under a 2002 quota system, political parties must allocate 10 percent of their elected positions to women, which has increased their representation. Human rights observers noted gains for women's rights in the 2010 constitution, which prohibits gender discrimination and condemns all forms of violence against women and children. Women continue to suffer discrimination in practice, 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. Domestic violence is reportedly widespread. Female genital mutilation was criminalized in 2003.

While slavery was also criminalized in 2003, as many as 43,000 people still live in conditions of servitude. Niger remains a source, transit point, and destination for human trafficking. In December 2010, the country adopted its first antitrafficking law, but investigation and prosecution efforts remained weak.

* 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.

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