Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Niger
|Publisher||International Federation for Human Rights|
|Publication Date||18 June 2009|
|Cite as||International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Niger, 18 June 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a5f300dc.html [accessed 1 April 2015]|
After the start of an armed rebellion in 2007, President Mamadou Tandja decreed a "state of alert" in the Agadez region in the north of the country on August 24, 2007. This exceptional measure, which restricts individual and collective freedoms, is provided for in the Constitution of Niger. As a result, all power passed to the army. Subsequently, targeted summary executions, arbitrary arrests, the destruction of nomads' means of subsistence, displaced persons and NGO bans were reported.
In addition, the journalist Mr. Moussa Kaka, correspondent with Radio France Internationale and Director of the private radio station Radio Saraouniy, became the symbol of the muzzling of the media. He was detained from September 20, 2007, accused of "complicity in a plot against State authority" for having been in regular contact with the Niger Movement for Justice (Mouvement des Nigériens pour la justice – MNJ)1 in the framework of his job, and was finally released on October 6, 2008. His release was the result of large-scale international mobilisation but it did not mean the end of judicial proceedings.2 The case of Mr. Kaka took place in an increasingly difficult environment for freedom of expression: closure in July 2008 of the Press House (Maison de la Presse) after the Ministry of Communication issued a press release that implied that such a place reflected foreign interests; suspension for one month of the private radio and television group Dounia by the High Council of Communication in August, following a letter that merely referred to "non respect of terms of reference"; threats to suspend twenty directors of publication of private newspapers. It is also to be noted that, on April 22, the High Council ordered the closure of Sahara FM, the principal radio station of Agadez for an indefinite period, after it broadcast testimony by victims of acts of brutality by Niger soldiers.3
Niger also continued to experience serious economic problems.4 Although the 2005 food crisis, which had caused a steep rise in prices and caused a serious economic and social crisis, ended, citizens' groups continued to criticise the management of services such as water, electricity, health care, gas and oil.
Civil society organisations accused and discredited by the authorities
Once again this year, the Niger authorities tried, through the media, to discredit the work of human rights organisations when the latter denounced violations for which the authorities were responsible. Following the adoption by Parliament on May 5, 2008 of a new law awarding a number of indemnities and benefits to elected members of the National Assembly (indemnities relating to the work carried out during and outside Assembly sessions, as well as indemnities intended to cover the medical expenses of all their family members aged under 25), two human rights NGOs, the Citizen's Movement (Mouvement citoyen) and Citizen's Convergence (Convergence citoyenne), organised several demonstrations calling on the people to protest against this law. Following the people's demonstrations and the stand taken by the two organisations against the unequal treatment inferred in the text in question, Mr. Nouhou Arzika, a member of the Citizen's Movement, Mr. Badié Hima, Vice-President of the Niger Human Rights Association (Association nigérienne pour la défense des droits de l'Homme – ANDDH), and coordinators from other civil society structures were attacked by members of Parliament during a session that was repeatedly broadcast on national television on May 20, 2008. Messrs. Arzika and Hima were referred to in particular as "enemies of the people" and "manipulators". Despite being seized by the President of the Republic, the Constitutional Court, in a decree issued on June 13, 2008 upholding the view of the civil society organisations declared the law to be in contravention of the Constitution.5 Furthermore, on December 2, 2008, an application to demonstrate made by the Citizens' Movement was turned down. The aim of this demonstration was to denounce Parliament's non-respect of the ruling of non-conformity issued by the Constitutional Court, thereby maintaining MPs' indemnities and benefits. Similarly, in a response broadcast on national television on October 5, 2008, the Director of Penitentiary Affairs and Pardons attacked Messrs. Badié Hima and Moustapha Kadi, President of the Collective of Defenders of the Right to Energy (Collectif des defenseurs du droit à l'énergie) and threatened to suspend the Collective of Organisations for the Defence of Human Rights and the Promotion of Democracy (Collectif des organisations de défense des droits de l'Homme et de promotion de la démocratie – CODDHD) and its partners, after the CODDHD published a report on the poor conditions in which the former Prime Minister, Mr. Hama Amadou, was held in preventive detention at the Koutoukalé civilian high security prison. The report had been drawn up following a visit made by members of the Collective inside the prison, with the authorisation of the Minister of Justice.6
Acts of harassment against defenders denouncing attacks on economic and social rights and environmental rights
In 2008, defenders fighting on behalf of economic and social rights were targets of various acts of harassment because of their work, as was the case of the Collective of Niger Civil Society (Collectif de la société civile nigérienne – CSCN). CSCN regularly organises marches followed by meetings on the "place de la concertation" in Niamey, to call for an audit of the President of the Republic's Special Programme, which objective is sustainable human development in Niger, the end of the instrumentalisation of a part of the judiciary, and the resolution of social problems through measures aimed at reducing the cost of living, the construction of social infrastructures for the underprivileged areas of the capital, etc. On March 2, 2008, the car of Mr. Mahamane Hamissou, CSCN Coordinator, caught fire at the organisation's headquarters. The latter filed a complaint but, as of the end of 2008, this had not been followed up and the cause of the fire remained unknown. The Collective was also victim of obstacles to freedom of peaceful assembly, as the demonstrations it convened on November 9 and December 21, 2008 to denounce the poor governance and call for an audit of the President of the Republic's Special Programme, were arbitrarily banned.
Furthermore, the Government remained unreceptive to civil society questioning of the State's management of basic services and natural resources,7 and routinely resorted to manoeuvres of containment to suppress its activities, for example by considerably delaying the issuance of authorisations to demonstrate. In addition, the extraordinary turn-out of security forces at the time of demonstrations organised by organisations for the defence of economic and social rights was generally perceived by their members and, more broadly, by actors of civil society, as being a manoeuvre to intimidate people with the aim of dissuading them from participating.
Impunity for acts of harassment against defenders denouncing violations in the context of the conflict in the north
Since the conflict began in the north, several organisations have taken a stand to condemn the use of weapons as a means of achieving demands in a democratic environment, at the same time calling on the Government to recognise the rebellion and to make contact with a view to entering into dialogue with MNJ. Despite the open letter addressed to the President of the Republic in January 2008 by several leaders of human rights organisations8 who had received threats in 2007 after condemning the humanitarian drama and the human rights violations in the north that were due to the conflict, the authors of these threats, which ended following this letter, had still not been identified as at the end of 2008.
1 The Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ) calls for respect for the 1995 agreements signed by the Government, improved distribution of wealth, in particular the income from uranium, and measures to support families displaced because of the exploitation of the uranium deposits.
2 The chamber of accusation of the Niamey Appeal Court indeed decided to rename the charges against him to "an act likely to harm national defence", an offence, and no longer a crime, liable to one to five years in prison and a heavy fine.
3 See Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Release, August 20, 2008.
4 See United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), National Report on Progress towards Achieving the Millennium Development Goals, 2008.
5 The court considered that under the terms of Article 93 of the Constitution, "the provisions and amendments tabled by deputies are inadmissible when their adoption results in a reduction in public resources, whether through the creation of or an increase in public expenses, unless they are accompanied by a proposal for an increase of receipts or for savings of an equivalent amount" (Unofficial translation).
6 See CODDHD, rapport de visite à la prison civile de haute sécurité de Koutoukalé, October 2008.
7 In a joint declaration of September 6, 2008, the Coordination of Arlit Civil Society (Coordination de la société civile d'Arlit) and the Collective for Defence of the Right to Energy (Collectif pour la défense du droit à l'énergie – CODDAE) criticised, for example, the dilapidated water distribution installations used by the Niger Water Exploitation Company (Société d'exploitation des eaux du Niger – SEEN) and its effects on the deficiencies in the supply of drinking water, denouncing the lack of concern and the negligence of the parties involved. See Coordination of Arlit Civil Society and CODDAE, déclaration conjointe sur la situation de l'alimentation en eau potable de la ville d'Arlit. Amongst other campaigns, CODDAE led a national campaign on human rights in the energy domain and another on the damaging effects of the mining industries. It also engaged in the fight against the high cost of living in the following energy fields: hydrocarbons, water, electricity, gas. Other groups such as Citizens' Convergence intervened on the issue of electricity to call for an unconditional end to untimely electricity cuts and to prevent any form of privatisation of public enterprises, including NIGELEC. See Memorandum of Citizens' Convergence, July 10, 2008.
8 Including ANDDH, the Niger Citizens' Alternatives Spaces Group (Groupe alternatives espaces citoyens Niger), CODDHD and the Network of Human Rights Organisations (Réseau des organisations de défense des droits de l'Homme – RODDHAD).