Last Updated: Thursday, 18 September 2014, 13:28 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Niger

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1998
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Niger, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa1b4c.html [accessed 19 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.

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.

NIGER

On January 27, 1996 a group of army officers led by then Colonel Ibrahim Mainassara Bare overthrew the elected government of Niger. The leaders of the coup d'etat quickly established a Military Council of National Salvation (CNS) and a subordinate interim cabinet. The CNS suspended the 1992 Constitution, dissolved the National Assembly, implemented a state of emergency, and temporarily prohibited political activity. Top civilian government leaders were put under house arrest. The Government subsequently organized a Constitutional Conference, held a referendum on the new Constitution, and conducted a seriously flawed presidential election, which was won by Bare. The November 1996 legislative elections were boycotted by the opposition. Progovernment parties and supporters claimed all 83 National Assembly seats. The judiciary remains subject to executive interference.

Security forces consist of the army, the Republican Guard, the gendarmerie (paramilitary police), and the national police. The police and the gendarmerie traditionally have primary responsibility for internal security. However, since the coup, the army has had a much more prominent role. The 1996 coup was led by army officers with some support from the gendarmerie. Following the coup, members of all security forces committed human rights abuses. Security force members continued to commit abuses in 1997.

The economy is based mainly on traditional subsistence farming, herding, small trading, and informal markets. Less than 15 percent of the economy is in the modern sector. Uranium is the most important export. Per capita income is about $260. Persistent drought, deforestation and soil degradation, low literacy, a flat uranium market, high import prices and burdensome debt further weakened the already troubled economy. Niger is heavily dependent on foreign assistance, and one of the aftermaths of the coup was a sharp fall in foreign aid, only partially reversed in 1997.

The Government's human rights record remained the same, and serious problems remained in many areas. The 1996 coup and the fraudulent 1996 presidential election effectively disenfranchised citizens, preventing them from exercising the right to change their government. Security forces on occasion beat and intimidated opposition political figures and violated laws governing searches, treatment of prisoners, and length of detention. Prison conditions remained poor. The overloaded judicial system and delays in trials resulted in long periods of pretrial confinement. The Government continued to intimidate the private press and radio and arrested, detained, and mistreated journalists. The Government also passed a stringent new press law. The Government continued to ban peaceable meetings and demonstrations, although less often than in 1996. The Government restricted freedom of movement. Societal discrimination and domestic violence against women continued to be serious problems. Female genital mutilation persists. The Government restricts some worker rights.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no confirmed reports of political or other extrajudicial killings by government officials. A civilian, Hassan Ali, died under suspicious circumstances while being detained by soldiers near Diffa.

Violence in the north decreased following the signing in April 1995 of a peace pact between Tuareg separatists and the Government. A similar agreement in April 1996 between the Government and the Arab/Toubou/Kanouri Front (CRA) based in eastern Niger, which seeks independence for its region, also reduced the sporadic violence in that area. However, there were numerous potentially destabilizing incidents in the north and east. The Government claimed to have killed 14 rebels near the Libyan border on January 19 after the rebels attacked a civilian convoy. Clashes took place between government forces and Toubou rebels in May and June in the Lake Chad region, resulting in about eight deaths. On September 20, Toubou rebels attacked an army outpost at Madama in northeast Niger, resulting in five military deaths and five wounded (three military and two civilians). On October 8, Revolutionary Armed Forces Union (UFRA) elements attacked a 15-vehicle truck convoy and killed one of the military escorts. During a rebel attack on Aderbissnat on October 19, 6 soldiers, 1 civilian and 20 rebels were killed. On November 14, rebels attacked an army post on the border with Nigeria; the Government claims three rebels were killed and 1 soldier injured.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Although the Constitution prohibits such practices, individuals widely believed to be members of the security forces detained and beat opposition political activist Elhadj Oumarou Oubandawaki on February 3 for repeated criticism of the Government on the radio. He suffered head injuries, and a broken arm, and had several teeth knocked out.

On April 10, four unidentified men, again widely believed to be security officers, seized Souley Adji, an academic who had written critically of the Government, at his home, drove him outside of Niamey, stripped him naked, and beat him into unconsciousness. Government inquiries into both beatings produced no results.

Police used tear gas and force to break up a peaceful protest march in January injuring over two dozen persons (see Sections 1.d. and 2.a.).

Prison conditions are poor. Prisons are underfunded and understaffed. They are overcrowded and diet, health, and sanitary conditions for prisoners are very poor. The national health budget for prisoners was $40,000 (cfa 23.9 million) a slight increase from 1996.

Prisoners are segregated by sex, but minors and adults are incarcerated together. Family visits are allowed, and prisoners can receive supplemental food and other necessities from their families. There are no reports of unduly harsh treatment, beyond the very poor conditions of detention, but petty corruption among prison staff is also reported to be rampant.

Human rights monitors visit the prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Although the Constitution prohibits arbitrary detention, and laws officially prohibit detention without charge in excess of 48 hours, police violate these provisions in practice. If police fail to gather sufficient evidence within the detention period, the prosecutor gives the case to another officer, and a new 48-hour detention period begins.

The judicial system is seriously overloaded. There are no statutory limits on pretrial confinement of indicted persons; detention frequently lasts months or years, and some persons have been waiting as long as 7 years to be charged. Of 795 prisoners in Niamey's prison in May, 696 (86 percent) were awaiting trial.

The law provides for a right to counsel, although only one defense attorney is known to have a private practice outside the capital. A defendant has the right to a lawyer immediately upon detention. The State provides a defense attorney for indigents.

Bail is available for crimes carrying a penalty of less than 10 years' imprisonment. Widespread ignorance of the law and lack of financial means prevent full exercise of these rights.

On January 11, police put former president Mahamane Ousmane, former National Assembly Speaker Mahamadou Issoufou, and opposition party leader Tandja Mamadou under house arrest for 3 days, ostensibly for threatening state security. They were then detained in undisclosed security facilities for 9 days before being released on January 23. No charges were brought against any of them.

On January 11, police also detained dozens of other opposition activists, including many women who had attempted to stage a peaceful protest march. About 26 persons were injured when the police, using tear gas, forcefully broke up the march (see Section 2.a.). Police held the majority of the detainees without charges for about 10 days before releasing them. All were released by January 23, and there was no evidence of mistreatment by the police while they were detained.

On January 23, police arrested Souley Oumarou, a lawyer for the political opposition, apparently to intimidate him from bringing legal charges against President Bare over the coup d'etat. He was released 3 days later.

In March police detained nine persons after a peaceful assembly, in which several of the arrestees had apparently not even participated. They were sentenced to 2 months' imprisonment for alleged armed illegal assembly.

In March 23 electric utility workers were arrested for sabotage, in most cases without evidence. In April two of those arrested were sentenced to prison terms of 2 months, and two others to 2 years; the rest were released. The workers sentenced to 2 years of imprisonment were subsequently released and have resumed work at the electric utility.

In February and April, coinciding with Muslim holy days, President Bare pardoned all prisoners with less than 6 months yet to serve, all juveniles, nursing and pregnant women, prisoners over 55 years old, and those with certain illnesses. The April pardon was also extended to certain other convicts with less than 1 year remaining on their sentences.

The Constitution prohibits exile, and there were no reports of its use.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but it is subject to executive interference. Although the Supreme Court has on occasion asserted its independence, human rights groups assert that family and business ties influence the lower courts and undermine their integrity. Judges sometimes fear reassignment or having their financial benefits reduced if they render a decision unfavorable to the Government, though such coercive tactics are reportedly less frequently used.

Defendants and prosecutors may appeal a verdict, first to the Court of Appeals, then to the Supreme Court. The Court of Appeals reviews questions of fact and law, while the Supreme Court reviews only the application of law and constitutional questions.

Traditional chiefs can act as mediators and counselors and have authority in the realm of customary law as well as status under modern law where they are designated as auxiliaries to local administrators. They are charged with collecting local taxes and receive stipends from the Government, but they do not have police or judicial powers and can only mediate, not arbitrate, disputes under customary law. Customary courts, located only in large towns and cities, try cases involving divorce or inheritance. They are headed by a legal practitioner with basic legal education who is advised by an assessor knowledgeable in the society's traditions. The judicial actions of chiefs and customary courts are not regulated by code, and defendants may appeal a verdict to the formal court system. Women do not have equal legal status with men and do not enjoy the same access to legal redress (see Section 5).

In January shortly after government forces broke up opposition demonstrations, the Government revived a 1974 law authorizing a State Security Court. According to government spokesmen, the Court would have jurisdiction over crimes committed against national security. Although members of the Court were sworn in on January 17, no trials were held.

Defendants have the right to counsel, to be present at trial, to confront witnesses, to examine the evidence against them, and to appeal verdicts. The Constitution affirms the presumption of innocence. The law provides for counsel at public expense for minors and indigent defendants charged with crimes carrying a sentence of 10 years or more. Although lawyers comply with government requests to provide counsel, they are generally not remunerated by the Government.

At year's end, there were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law requires that police have a search warrant, normally issued by a judge. Police may search without warrants when they have strong suspicion that a house shelters criminals or stolen property. However, human rights organizations report that police often conduct routine searches without warrants. The law authorizing the State Security Court also provides for warrantless searches. Such searches were carried out repeatedly in January at the homes and offices of opposition political figures.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, but the Government took actions that limited press freedom.

The local independent press remained relatively assertive in criticizing government actions. No newspaper was forced to shut down. Foreign journals circulate and report freely.

However, on March 1 five persons in military uniforms vandalized the independent radio station Anfani. Two weeks later police arrested five Anfani employees, including general manager Gremah Boucar, for defamation of the army, after he lodged a complaint. Three of the employees were quickly released, but Gremah and the watchman who witnessed the attack were held for

6 days. They were released after agreeing to repudiate their version of the events of March 1. A government inquiry into the incident never produced a report.

On April 10, four unidentified men seized at his home university professor and independent newspaper contributor Souley Adji, who had written critically of the Government. They drove him outside of Niamey, stripped him naked, and beat him until he became unconscious.

On June 24, the National Assembly adopted a new press law, which made journalist accreditation more stringent, disqualifying many independent journalists, and stiffened libel laws, prescribing stiff fines and jail terms for anyone defaming or insulting the President or other high officials. The journalists union quickly denounced the measure as unnecessary (a 1993 press law was already in force) and as an attempt by the Government to destroy the independent press.

The Government used the new law to intimidate the press. On October 7, the Government sentenced independent newspaper publisher Moussa Tchangari to 3 months in prison and an approximately $80 (cfa 50,000) fine for reproducing internal government correspondence; the Supreme Court granted Tchangari provisional release after he served 2 months.

On October 23, Bangnou Bonkoukou, President of the Niger League for the Defense of Human Rights, was sentenced under the new press law to a 2-year prison term for libeling the President. He was arrested on October 10 and tried on October 20. The court found Bonkoukou guilty of libel based on his interview with a Burkina Faso newspaper in which he questioned the President's legitimacy and accused him of imposing a dictatorship on the country.

On October 26, in a statement broadcast on the evening news, Minister of Interior Idi Ango Omar warned government opponents that capital punishment was permitted under the country's laws and, after attacking Bangnou Bonkoukou, implied that capital punishment might be used against those who allegedly prefer the dismemberment of Niger more than its stability. Bonkoukou was subsequently released after serving less than 3 months of his 2-year sentence, while the constitutional issue is being decided.

The Government has not yet denied accreditation to any journalists; the Government has not begun issuing new press cards according to the new press law criteria. Journalists may function without accreditation, although if accredited they could obtain financial advantages.

The most important public medium is the government-operated, multilingual national radio service. It provided only minimal air time for opposition political views. The Government publishes the French language daily, Le Sahel, and its weekend edition. There are about 12 private French language weeklies or monthlies some of which are loosely affiliated with political parties.

Academic freedom is respected.

The faculty of the University of Niamey began an open-ended strike on October 22 to protest the deterioration of their living and working conditions. They demanded back pay and more resources for university instruction. Riot police were deployed in Niamey on November 13 as thousands of university students, accompanied by parallel marches of junior high and high school students, demonstrated to demand unpaid allowances. A student sit-in at the national treasury was dispersed by tear gas, and two student leaders were arrested. According to the Secretary General of the Treasury Workers Union, riot police locked the treasury staff and the students in the building and tossed in tear gas canisters. Press reports stated that four people were injured and many windows were broken when the occupants tried to escape. Simultaneously, on the campus of the university, riot police and gendarmes attacked students to clear the campus. Observers report that three students were injured seriously.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly; however, the Government on occasion banned peaceable meetings and demonstrations. The Government retains the authority to prohibit gatherings either under tense social conditions or if advance notice (48 hours) is not provided. Opposition parties are legally permitted to hold demonstrations, but their requests for permission to march are still occasionally denied or canceled. Despite having rescinded its temporary ban on public demonstrations prior to the 1996 election, the Government frequently banned or broke up peaceable assemblies and demonstrations in the first half of the year. In the second half of the year, however, the Government generally allowed such gatherings to take place.

On January 11, police using tear gas forcibly broke up peaceful demonstrations organized by the political opposition in Niamey, Zinder and Diffa, principally to demand greater access by the opposition to government radio broadcast facilities. Police arrested dozens of demonstrators and caused several injuries (see Sections 1.c. and 1.d.). On March 9, police again used tear gas to disperse a smaller peaceful opposition demonstration in Niamey.

On July 8, the anniversary of President Bare's disputed election, security forces prevented opposition parties from staging protest demonstrations in Niamey, sealed off opposition party headquarters, and ejected their activists. In other cities, including Tahoua, Maradi, and Zinder, violent clashes occurred the same day between police and demonstrators, and police arrested dozens of protesters. The demonstrators were released; none were tried.

The Constitution provides for freedom of association with some limitations. Citizens may form political parties of any kind, except those that are based on ethnicity, religion, or region, and the Government respects these provisions in practice. There are now 24 political parties, 2 of which were organized during the year. Opposition parties are sometimes permitted to hold meetings, but their requests for permits to assemble are still occasionally denied or canceled.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution prohibits any interference with the practice of religion, and the Government generally respects freedom of religion. Most citizens practice Islam. In February authorities arrested and briefly detained a local Islamic religious leader for celebrating the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on February 9 instead of the official date of February 8. Seven policemen and six civilians were injured, and a police station and vehicles were damaged when his fundamentalist followers attempted to free him from detention.

Christians (including Jehovah's Witnesses) and Baha'i practice freely. Foreign missionaries work freely, but their organizations must be registered as Nigerien associations.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The law provides for freedom of movement and does not restrict either emigration or repatriation. However, there were numerous cases in which the Government restricted the travel, both internal and external, of opposition political figures, even though no formal legal grounds exist for such restrictions. Customs and immigration officials maintain a list, prepared by the Government in 1996 after the presidential election, of people who were not permitted to leave Niger.

Among the Hausa and Fulani peoples in eastern Niger, some women are cloistered and may leave their homes only if escorted by a male and usually only after dark. Security forces at checkpoints monitor travel of persons and the circulation of goods, particularly near major population centers, and sometimes demand extra payments. Attacks by bandits on major routes to the north have declined considerably, although people often travel in convoys with military escorts for security.

The Government cooperates with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. In accordance with United Nations principles, the Government offers first asylum to refugees. To date it has offered asylum to several thousand persons from neighboring countries, as well as to smaller numbers from distant countries. There are less than 600 Chadian refugees in eastern Niger; others returned voluntarily to Chad earlier in the year following a repatriation agreement between Niger and Chad. In addition it was anticipated that several thousand Tuareg refugees from Mali residing in Niger would voluntarily return to Mali with UNHCR and International Committee of the Red Cross assistance, but by year's end only small numbers of refugees had returned. About 400 refugees voluntarily repatriated in August from Burkina Faso. About 3,500 Nigerien refugees in Algeria had been expected to voluntarily repatriate to Niger in 1997; however, this repatriation was delayed until 1998.

There were no reports of forced repatriation of refugees or of forced return of persons to a country where they feared persecution.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The Constitution provides for the right of citizens to change their government; however, the January 1996 coup and the fraudulent July 1996 presidential election effectively disenfranchised citizens, preventing them from exercising this right. The boycotted November 1996 National Assembly elections, and the detention of many opposition figures in January leave this right in question. President Bare rules by decree when the National Assembly is not in session, and his regime continues to govern, although its field of maneuver is circumscribed by fiscal constraints. The executive is largely unchecked by the weak assembly and judicial branches. The Government and the opposition are unable to reach agreement on a more inclusive and representative government. Communal elections are proposed for early 1998; the next presidential and legislative elections are scheduled to be held in 2001.

The January 1996 coup d'etat led by (then Colonel, now General and President) Ibrahim Mainassara Bare overthrew the democratically elected government. In the days following the coup, Bare and the coup leadership dissolved the National Assembly, banned political party activity, suspended the 1992 Constitution, and declared a state of emergency.

In a 1996 referendum with a low turnout, voters approved a new Constitution that reiterated rights granted under the 1992 document. The Constitution provides for a political system with checks and balances, an ethnically representative 83-seat National Assembly, and an independent judiciary. Citizens

18 years of age and over can vote, and balloting is by secret ballot. The most prominent constitutional changes are the provisions for a stronger presidency, which make the Prime Minister more clearly subordinate to the President.

The military government organized presidential elections on July 7 and 8, 1996, in which General Bare ran against four political party candidates. However, midway through voting, when preliminary results showed Barre running last, the regime dismissed the independent electoral commission, took control of ballot boxes, and prevented political party representatives and neutral observers from monitoring the vote tabulation. Bare claimed 52 percent of the votes, a result widely viewed as fraudulent by both local and international observers.

In November 1996, a new National Assembly was chosen by popular vote in a low turnout contest boycotted by most of the political opposition. The legislative elections were generally regarded as administratively correct but considered meaningless since the opposition fully boycotted them. Observers selectively monitored the elections.

In January the Government detained the leaders of the three principal political parties and dozens of their supporters, following demonstrations against the Government. The Government also revived a State Security Court, broke up other demonstrations, and denied opposition applications to assemble and protest.

On November 24, Bare dismissed his government, citing its poor performance in managing the country's problems. On November 28, he appointed the previous foreign minister as Prime Minister. On December 1, he named a new 24-member Government, which includes 16 members from the previous government. Opposition leaders declined to play a role in the new Government.

Women traditionally play a subordinate role in politics. The societal practice of husbands' voting their wives' proxy ballots effectively disenfranchises many women. This practice was widely used in presidential and National Assembly elections.

In the National Assembly elected in November 1996, only 1 of the 83 elected members was female, compared with 3 in the previous legislature. The last precoup government appointed five women to cabinet positions; the present one has three female ministers.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Several independent human rights groups and associations normally operate without explicit governmental hindrance, and they publish findings and conclusions often highly critical of the Government, in their own publications and in the small independent press. However, the Government maintains a certain atmosphere of intimidation, notably as a result of the restrictive press law and its use to charge and convict a newspaper publisher and human rights group head for publication of internal government documents and defamation of the President (see Section 2.a.). Dominant among the associations are the Nigerien Association for the Defense of Human Rights (ANDDH); Democracy, Liberty, and Development (DLD); the Nigerien League for Defense of Human Rights; Adalci; the Network for the Integration and Diffusion of Rights in the Rural Milieu (known as ridd-fitla); the Niger Independent Magistrates Association (SAMAN); and the Association of Women Jurists of Niger. There are several other women's rights groups. The International Committee of the Red Cross is active in Niger. In November the Government banned a protest meeting by two groups intending to protest the conviction of a journalist under the stringent new press.

In 1996 an association of local NGO's representing all political views created an umbrella association, the Collectif, to promote human rights and democracy. The Collectif continued to operate, but was less active during the year.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on sex, social origin, race, ethnicity, or religion. In practice, however, there is discrimination against women, children, ethnic minorities, and disabled persons, including limited economic and political opportunities.

Women

Domestic violence against women is widespread, although firm statistics are lacking. Wife beating is reportedly common, even in upper social strata. Families often intervene to prevent the worst abuses, and women may (and do) divorce because of physical abuse. While women have the right to seek redress in the customary or modern courts, few do so from ignorance of the legal system, fear of social stigma, and fear of repudiation. Women's rights organizations report that prostitution is often the only economic alternative for a woman who wants to leave her husband.

Despite the Constitution's provisions for women's rights, the deep-seated traditional belief in the submission of women to men results in discrimination in the political process (see Section 3), and in education, employment, and property rights. Discrimination is worse in rural areas, where women do much of the subsistence farming as well as child rearing, water and wood gathering, and other chores. Despite comprising 47 percent of the work force, women have made only modest inroads in civil service and professional employment and remain underrepresented in these areas.

Women's inferior legal status is evident, for example, in head of the household status: a male head of household has certain legal rights; but divorced or widowed women, even with children, are not considered to be the heads of their households. In 1995 the Government considered a draft family code modeled on codes in other African Muslim countries intended to eliminate gender bias in inheritance rights, land tenure, and child custody, as well as end the practice of repudiation, which permits a husband to obtain an immediate divorce with no further responsibility for his wife or children. In June 1995, when Islamic associations condemned the draft code, the Government suspended discussions and has taken no further action, nor has the current legislature discussed the family code. Islamic militants reportedly threatened women who supported the code with physical harm.

Children

Although the Constitution provides that the State promote children's welfare, financial resources are extremely limited. Only about 25 percent of children of primary school age attend school, and about 60 percent of those finishing primary school are boys. The majority of young girls are kept at home to work and rarely attend school for more than a few years, resulting in a female literacy rate of 7 percent, versus 18 percent for males. Tradition among some ethnic groups allows young girls from rural families to enter marriage agreements on the basis of which girls are sent at the age of 10 or 12 to join their husband's family under the tutelage of their mother-in-law. There are credible reports of underage girls being drawn into prostitution, sometimes with the complicity of the family.

Female genital mutilation (FGM), which is widely condemned by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health, is practiced by several ethnic groups in the extreme western and far eastern areas of the country. Clitoridectomy is the most common form of FGM. FGM is not illegal, but the Government is firmly engaged in an effort to eliminate the practice. The Government is working closely with a local NGO, United Nations Children's Fund, and other donors to develop and distribute educational materials at government clinics and maternal health centers.

People With Disabilities

The Constitution mandates that the State provide for people with disabilities. However, the Government has yet to implement regulations that call for accessibility to buildings and education for those with special needs. Societal discrimination against people with disabilities exists.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic minorities--Tuareg, Fulani, Toubou, Kanouri, and Arab--continue to assert that the far more numerous Hausa and Djerma ethnic groups discriminate against them. The Djerma and Hausa dominate government and business. The Government has supported greater minority representation in the National Assembly and increased education and health care. It supports the April 1995 peace accord calling for special development efforts in the north where the Tuareg population is dominant. However, nomadic peoples, such as Tuaregs and many Fulani, continue to have less access to government services.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution provides formal recognition of workers' longstanding right to establish and join trade unions. However, more than 95 percent of the work force is employed in the nonunionized subsistence agricultural and small trading sectors.

The National Union of Nigerien Workers (USTN), a federation made up of 38 unions, represents the majority of salary earners; most are government employees, such as civil servants, teachers, and employees in state-owned corporations. The USTN and the affiliated National Union of Nigerien Teachers (SNEN) profess political autonomy, but, like most unions, have informal ties to political parties. There is also a small breakaway union confederation, and independent teachers' and magistrates' unions.

However, police, water, and forest worker unions, shut down by the Government in 1996 because of their paramilitary nature, remain suspended. The customs workers union, suspended in 1996 for the same stated reason, was dissolved on March 24.

The Constitution provides for the right to strike, except for security forces and police. In March 1994, the National Assembly passed a strike law specifying that labor must give notice and begin negotiations before work is stopped; that public workers must maintain a minimum level of service during a strike; that the Government can requisition workers to guarantee minimum service; and that striking public sector workers will not be paid for the time they are on strike. The latter condition already prevailed in the private sector.

During 1997 labor continued to challenge the Government on various issues affecting workers. The USTN called many short strikes, generally of 1 to 3 days' duration and unevenly observed, to support its demands for: Payment of several months' wage arrears; cancellation of salary reductions for civil servants and an increase in income tax rates; and an end to government plans to privatize several state enterprises. The USTN also sought the release of several trade unionists arrested in March on charges of sabotage (19 were released, 4 were sentenced from 2 months to 2 years in jail). Although these strikes failed to achieve all their objectives, they indicated that the right to strike, within accepted procedures, is permitted. Teachers at the University of Niamey began an open-ended strike on October 22 (see Section 2.a.) which was resolved by year's end.

The USTN is a member of the Organization of African Trade Union Unity and abides by that organization's policy of having no formal affiliations outside the African continent. However, it enjoys assistance from some international unions, and individual unions such as the teachers union are affiliated with international trade secretariats.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

In addition to the Constitution and the Labor Code, there is a basic framework agreement, negotiated by the USTN's predecessor, employers, and the Government, which defines all classes and categories of work, establishes basic conditions of work, and defines union activities. In private and state-owned enterprises, unions widely use their right to bargain collectively with management without government interference for wages over and above the statutory minimum as well as for more favorable work conditions. Collective bargaining also exists in the public sector. However, since most organized workers, including teachers, are government employees, the Government is actually involved in most bargaining agreements. The USTN represents civil servants in bargaining with the Government, and labor/management agreements apply uniformly to all employees.

The Labor Code is based on International Labor Organization principles; it protects the right to organize and prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers. Labor unions reported no such discrimination.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Labor Code prohibits forced or compulsory labor, except for legally convicted prisoners. The Code does not specifically prohibit forced or bonded labor by children. There were no reports of violations.

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

Child labor in nonindustrial enterprises is permitted by law under certain conditions. Children under the age of 14 must obtain special authorization to work, and those 14 to 18 years of age are subject to limitation on hours (a maximum of 4½ hours per day) and types of employment (no industrial work) so that schooling may continue. Minimum compulsory education is 6 years, but far fewer than half of school-age children complete 6 years of education.

The law requires employers to ensure minimum sanitary working conditions for children. Law and practice prohibit child labor in industrial work. Forced or bonded labor by children is not specifically prohibited (see Section 6.c.). Ministry of Labor inspectors enforce child labor laws. Child labor is practically nonexistent in the formal (wage) sector, although children work in the unregulated agricultural, commercial, and artisan sectors, and some, especially foreign youths, are hired in homes as general helpers and baby sitters for very low pay. Rural children (the majority) regularly work with their families from a very early age--helping in the fields, pounding grain, tending animals, getting firewood and water, and other similar tasks. Some children are kept out of school to guide a blind relative on begging rounds. Others are sometimes employed by marabouts (Koranic teachers) to beg in the streets. There is no official regulation of this labor.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Labor Code establishes a minimum wage for salaried workers of each class and category within the formal sector. The lowest minimum is approximately $34 (20,500 cfa francs) per month. Additional salary is granted for each family member and for such working conditions as night shifts and required travel. Minimum wages are not sufficient to provide a decent living for workers and their families. Government salaries are substantially in arrears, which was a factor in stimulating the strike by teachers at the University of Niamey. Most households have multiple earners (largely informal commerce) and rely on the extended family for support.

The legal workweek is 40 hours with a minimum of one 24-hour rest period. However, for certain occupations the Ministry of Labor authorizes longer workweeks--up to 72 hours. There were no reports of violations.

The Labor Code also establishes occupational safety and health standards; Ministry of Labor inspectors enforce these standards. Due to staff shortages, however, inspectors focus on safety violations only in the most dangerous industries: Mining; building; and manufacturing. Although generally satisfied with the safety equipment provided by employers, citing in particular adequate protection from radiation in the uranium mines, unions say workers should be better informed of the risks posed by their jobs. Workers have the right to remove themselves from hazardous conditions without fear of losing their jobs.

Search Refworld

Countries