Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 April 2014, 10:56 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Niger

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Niger, 30 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa3b14.html [accessed 23 April 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.
NIGER

 

Niger was a multiparty democracy throughout the year. The elected civilian government was overthrown by a military coup in January 1996. The Constitution under which the Government served throughout the year provides for a strong presidency, an ethnically representative Parliament (the 83-seat unicameral National Assembly), and an independent judiciary. Niger first held multiparty elections in 1993; international observers judged both the presidential and legislative elections free and fair. When Prime Minister Mohamadou Issoufou resigned in late 1994, a parliamentary majority opposed to President Mahamane emerged. The President dissolved the National Assembly and called new elections. The elections, held in January, were also judged free and fair by observers, and gave the opposition a three-seat majority, which increased following several defections late in the year. After failing to secure the Assembly's approval of a Prime Minister of his choice, the President named Hama Amadou, the opposition Movement for a National Development Society Party's secretary-general, to be Prime Minister. The continuing "cohabitation" between a directly elected President and a Prime Minister backed by a parliamentary coalition opposed to the President was difficult and was cited by the military as its major justification for overthrowing the Government. The Supreme Court is independent of the executive.

A 3-year Tuareg insurgency in the north subsided with an October 1994 cease-fire. A formal peace accord was signed in April which called for decentralization of administration in northern regions, government support for northern economic development and grouping of rebels into special military units. In June the National Assembly passed a general amnesty releasing all those imprisoned for suspected or proven rebel activities.

Security forces consist of the army, the gendarmerie (paramilitary police), the Republican Guard, and the national police. Despite almost two decades of military rule prior to 1991, the armed forces supported the transition to democratic government. Members of the security forces were responsible for some instances of human rights abuses.

The economy is based mainly on traditional subsistence farming, herding, small trading, and informal markets. Uranium is the most important export. Persistent drought, low literacy, a declining uranium market and industrial base, and burdensome debt continue to weaken the economy. However, the value of livestock sales, the second most important export, has increased substantially due to the 1994 currency devaluation. During the year Niger met International Monetary Fund/World Bank benchmarks for revenue and spending, and structural adjustment facility support may resume.

Reports of government troops committing human rights abuses declined markedly. Clashes between security and Tuareg rebel forces caused several deaths early in the year. An armed group operating along the border with Chad accused government soldiers of killing civilians in retaliation for a raid against a military outpost, a charge the military denies. Prison conditions are poor. The overloaded judicial system and delays in trials resulted in long periods of pretrial confinement. Societal discrimination and domestic violence against women continued to be serious problems; the de facto disenfranchisement of many women limits their right to change their government. Female genital mutilation persists. Labor unions freely bargained for wages and better working conditions.

Respect for Human Rights

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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

The peace accord signed with rebel Tuareg groups in October 1994 was generally respected, although clashes between security forces and Tuareg rebels caused several deaths early in the year. Arab militia forces reportedly killed a Tuareg rebel leader and 13 of his fighters in July. The Tuareg rebel front is pressing the Government to identify and try the perpetrators. To date, the Government has not fulfilled its commitment in the peace accord to disarm the Arab militias. Also, an armed group operating near the border with Chad has accused government troops of killing civilians in retaliation for a raid against a military outpost. The military denies the charge.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The Constitution and Penal Code prohibit torture, and there were no reports that authorities used it.

Prison conditions are poor. There were reliable reports that prisons were overcrowded, and prisoners suffered poor nutrition, inadequate medical care, and a lack of facilities. The Niamey prison recently held 883 inmates in quarters built for 350, and authorities housed juvenile offenders with adult prisoners.

Prisoners are housed separately by sex. Family visits are allowed, and prisoners can receive supplemental food and other items from their families. Nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) allege that families bribe guards for special treatment or privileges. NGO representatives and diplomatic personnel visited prisons during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Although the Constitution prohibits arbitrary detention and the law prohibits 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 seriously overloaded judicial system, in conjunction with the absence of statutory limits on pretrial confinement of indicted persons, results in excessively long detention, frequently months or longer. Pretrial confinement of up to

5 years has been reported. As many as 80 percent of persons in custody in Niamey are awaiting trial. The Government created new regional tribunals to handle civil cases on the local level.

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

Bail is available to defendants accused of 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 by defendants.

In 1995 the Government granted amnesty to all Tuareg detainees being held for suspected or confirmed rebel activities.

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, and the Supreme Court has asserted its independence. The Court showed impartiality and sound interpretation of the Constitution when ruling on disputes associated the power-sharing between the President and the Prime Minister. For example, following the January legislative elections, the Supreme Court rejected a petition filed by the President's coalition--which at the time controlled the Government--to overturn the election results, ruling that allegations of massive fraud were not substantiated. The Court also refused to rule on what it considered strictly political issues related to the cohabitation.

However, human rights groups argue 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, although such practices are reportedly reduced.

The legal system is based on French civil law and customary law. Within the formal court system, 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.

A traditional chief or a customary court usually tries cases involving divorce or inheritance. Customary courts, located only in large towns and cities, 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 incompletely regulated by code, and defendants may appeal a verdict to the formal court system.

Women have inferior legal status to men and do not enjoy the same access to legal redress (see Section 5).

Civil and criminal trials are public except for security- related cases. The law allows the Government to constitute a State Security Court to try in secret high crimes against the State, but due process provisions still apply. This, however, has never been used. 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 paid by the Government. There are no 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, in order to conduct a search. 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.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and establishes the Superior Council of Communication (CSC), which is charged with guaranteeing free and fair access to the media. The finances and existence of small newspapers were, in recent years, occasionally threatened by official government lawsuits charging libel. To date, however, no newspaper has ceased publication, and no new suits were brought this year.

CSC members were elected and installed in 1994, but the organization is hobbled by a limited budget and lack of political direction. The CSC did ensure equal access to the state media for all political parties during the January legislative elections. In mid-July the CSC sought to ban the media from reporting communiques from the political parties on the political conflicts associated with the contentious cohabitation of the President and Prime Minister. Protests from media, human rights, and labor groups that the CSC was violating its mandate and imposing censorship soon led the CSC to lift the ban.

There are about a dozen private French and Hausa language newspapers and additional political party weeklies or monthlies. Newspapers openly criticized the Government and provided access to publication for Tuareg and labor leaders. The Government publishes the French language daily Le Sahel and its weekend edition. Foreign journals circulate and report freely. The most important public medium is the government-operated multilanguage national radio service, which reported on opposition activities. Three independent radio stations operate in Niamey, and the Government granted a license to one independent television station. It was not yet operational.

Academic freedom is respected.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association. Although the Government routinely grants permits for demonstrations, it retains the authority to prohibit gatherings in what it considers a case of tense social conditions or if sufficient advance notice (48 hours) is not provided.

Under the Constitution, citizens may form political parties of any kind, except those that are based on ethnicity, religion, or region.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this freedom in practice. Most Nigeriens practice Islam. Christians (including Jehovah's Witnesses) and Baha'i practice freely. Foreign missionaries work without interference, but must be members of an internationally recognized organization and registered as a Nigerien association.

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

The law provides for freedom of movement. Security forces at checkpoints monitor travel of persons and the circulation of goods, particularly near major population centers, and sometimes extort bribes. The continuing fear of rebels or bandits on major routes to the north severely limits movement. Neither emigration nor repatriation are restricted.

Approximately 3,600 Chadian refugees have resettled in eastern Niger. In addition, several thousand Tuaregs from Mali reportedly reside in Niger but are not officially registered as refugees. The Government cooperates with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. There were no reports of forced repatriation of refugees.

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

Until the military coup in January 1996, citizens had this right and exercised it in the legislative elections in 1995. Citizens 18 years and older can vote, and balloting is by secret ballot. The President is directly elected and members of the National Assembly are elected by proportional representation for 5-year terms. The Prime Minister is named by the President and is subject to approval or censure by the National Assembly.

Following the collapse of a coalition government in October 1994, legislative elections in January gave majority control of the National Assembly to an opposition coalition headed by Hama Amadou. Amadou was named Prime Minister in February by the President.

Women do not traditionally play a role in politics. The societal practice of husbands' voting their wives' proxy ballots effectively disenfranchises many women. This practice was widely used in the presidential and National Assembly elections in 1993, but more stringent requirements reduced the practice in 1995. Only 3 of 83 National Assembly members are women; the Government appointed 2 women to ministerial positions (Education, and Social Development, Population, and Women's Issues). Special electoral districts are designed to ensure that minority ethnic groups (Toubou, Fulani, Tuareg, Kanouri, and Arabs) are represented.

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

Several independent human rights groups and associations operate freely, predominant among which are the Nigerien Association for the Defense of Human Rights, Democracy, Liberty, and Development; the National League for Defense of Human Rights; Adalci (Hausa for "dignity"); and the Network for the Integration and Diffusion of Rights in the Rural Milieu (known as "Ridd-Fitla"). There are several active women's rights groups which, however, face difficulties (see Section 5). The International Committee of the Red Cross is also active.

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

The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, social origin, or ethnicity. 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 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 mistreatment. While women have the right to seek redress in the customary or modern courts, few do so out of 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), education, employment, and property rights. Discrimination is worse in rural areas, where women do much of the subsistence farming as well as child rearing and household tasks. Among the Hausa and Fulani peoples in eastern Niger, some women are cloistered, and can leave their homes only if escorted by a male and usually only after dark. Women have made modest inroads in civil service and professional employment but remain severely underrepresented.

Males have certain legal rights as heads of household, while the law does not recognize divorced or widowed women, even with children, as heads of their households. The Government considered a draft family code modeled on codes in other African Muslim countries which was intended to eliminate gender bias in inheritance rights, land tenure, and child custody, as well as to 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 1994, when Islamic associations condemned it, the Government suspended its discussion of the proposed code. Islamic militants reportedly threatened physical harm to women who supported the code. Many civil rights activists consider Islamic fundamentalism to be the greatest threat to attainment of women's rights. With the withdrawal of the draft family code and increased intimidation, several women's groups lost membership and became increasingly beleaguered. However, the recent United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women and renewed activism by the female ministers in the Government have provided a new impetus to the morale of these groups.

Children

The Constitution provides that the State promote children's welfare. However, financial resources to do so are limited. Only about 25 percent of children of primary school age actually 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 they are sent at the age of 10 or 12 years to join their husband's family under the tutelage of their mothers-in-law. There are credible reports of girls being drawn into prostitution, sometimes with the complicity of the family.

Female genital mutilation, which is widely condemned by international health experts as physically and psychologically damaging to health, is practiced by several ethnic groups in the extreme west and far east. While clitoridectomy is sometimes practiced by these two groups, the most extreme form, infibulation, is not practiced.

People with Disabilities

The Constitution mandates that the State provide for people with disabilities. However, the Government has yet to implement regulations which mandate accessibility to facilities and education for those with special needs.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic minorities--Tuareg, Fulani, Toubou, Kanouri, and Arab--continue to assert that the far more populous Hausa and Djerma ethnic groups discriminate against them. The Hausa and Djerma dominate business and government. The Government has supported greater minority representation in the National Assembly and increased education and health care targeted towards them. However, nomadic peoples, such as many Tuaregs and 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 rights to establish and join trade unions. However, more than 90 percent of the work force is employed in the nonunionized subsistence agricultural, artisanal, and petty trading sectors.

The National Union of Nigerien Workers (USTN), a federation made up of 42 unions, represents the majority of salary earners. Most are government employees: civil servants, teachers, and employees in state-owned corporations. The USTN and the affiliated teachers' union, the National Union of Nigerien Teachers (SNEN), profess political autonomy, but like most unions, have informal ties to political parties.

The International Labor Organization criticized the law requiring that all union management officials be citizens, asserting that this provision serves to restrict the exercise of the right to elect representatives in full freedom. The Constitution provides for the right to strike, except by security forces and police.

In 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. Prime Minister Hama Amadou's Government suspended the strike law and compensated public sector workers whose wages were reduced for striking. The USTN continues to demand that the strike law be rewritten. The USTN orchestrated four brief general strikes during the year, as well as two "dead city" days in regional capitals, to buttress salary and working condition demands. SNEN also struck for 2 weeks in September, demanding payment of wages withheld during previous strikes. All these strikes were legal.

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.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Labor Code prohibits forced or compulsory labor, except for legally convicted prisoners. There were no reports of violations.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Child labor in nonindustrial enterprises is permitted by law under certain conditions. Children under age 14 must obtain special authorization to work, and those aged 14 to 18 years are subject to limitation on hours (a maximum of 4.5 hours per day) and types of employment (no industrial work) so that schooling may continue. Minimum compulsory education is

6 years, but 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. 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.

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 wage is approximately $38 (cfa 20,500) 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. 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.

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