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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Niger

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Niger, 30 January 1995, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa4524.html [accessed 24 July 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 conducted its first multiparty elections in 1993, when a coalition of eight parties joined to elect Mahamane Ousmane President. International observers judged both the presidential and legislative elections to be free and fair. The Alliance of the Forces of Change (AFC), itself a coalition of six parties led by Prime Minister Mohamadou Issoufou, held 50 of the 83 seats in the National Assembly through September when Prime Minister Issoufou resigned, withdrawing his party from the governing coalition. A new Constitution, which established the Third Republic in 1992, provides for numerous freedoms as well as an independent judiciary.

The Tuareg separatist insurgency in the North continued, as ethnic minority forces attacked both civilian and military targets, killing soldiers as well as noncombatants. Several rounds of negotiations mediated by France, Algeria, and Burkina Faso failed to resolve the differences between the Government and the insurgents.

Security forces consist of the army, the gendarmerie (paramilitary police), and the national police. Despite the experience of almost two decades of military rule up to the national conference in 1991, Niger's armed forces backed the transition to democratic government and have accepted civilian political authority. On one occasion, troops intervened to quell violence inspired by religious differences. The military's security zone in the Tuareg area is reportedly established in part to obscure the army's activities from public scrutiny.

The economy is made up largely of traditional subsistence farming, herding, petty trading, and informal markets. Uranium is the most important export. Persistent drought, low literacy, a declining uranium market, and burdensome debt further weakened the already troubled economy.

Government troops continued to abuse human rights. Clashes between security and rebel forces caused civilian deaths. Police violated laws governing searches, treatment of prisoners, and length of detention. 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 disfranchisement of many women limits their right to change their government. The private press and radio expanded during 1994. Labor unions actively bargained for wages and better working conditions, and civic organizations organized freely.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Prison officials reportedly tortured and killed two Tuareg men in Agadez in May (see Section 1.c.).

Government armed forces killed two Muslim fundamentalists during a melee in Bani Bangou. Fundamentalists had killed seven gendarmes who had been sent to arrest their leader and later killed one militiaman in the violence that led to the deaths of two fundamentalists. A large force of gendarmes sent to respond exercised restraint and negotiated the surrender of those suspected of involvement in criminal acts. Both government and insurgent forces killed civilians during clashes throughout the year (see Section 1.g.). The Government continued its investigation into the 1990 and 1991 incidents in which security forces killed civilians during political demonstrations but did not arrest or prosecute anyone by year's end, despite its promises to do so.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances.

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

During a rebel attack on an electric plant at Tchighozerine in August, eight rebels and several defending soldiers were reportedly killed (see Section 1.g.). According to reports, gendarmes illegally took into custody the 25 Tuaregs who worked at the plant, questioning, beating, and attempting to intimidate them. A company nurse suffered broken ribs.

Prisoners are segregated by sex. Family visits are allowed, and prisoners receive supplemental food and other necessities from their families. There are no reports of unduly harsh treatment.

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. As many as 80 percent of prisoners in Niamey are awaiting trial. The government created new regional tribunals to handle civil cases on the local level.

The Government held 4 Niger citizens accused of the October 1993 hijacking of a Nigeria Airways flight for nearly 6 months before submitting the case to judicial authorities. More than 1 year after the event, they remain in pretrial confinement despite the objections of local human rights groups. A fifth Nigerien, turned over to Niger by authorities, has also been detained for more than a year for investigation of his alleged role in masterminding the air piracy.

The law provides for a right to counsel, although there are no defense attorneys 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.

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. 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.

Although the Supreme Court has on occasion asserted its independence (see Section 2.b.), 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 practices are reportedly reduced.

A traditional chief or a customary court try 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 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 (section 5).

The law provides that the Government constitute a State Security Court to try high crimes against the State in secret, although due process provisions still apply. Civil and criminal trials are public except in security-related cases. 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, there are generally not remunerated by the Government.

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.

g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts

Government security forces and rebel Tuareg groups engaged in bloody encounters until October when a truce was signed. There were numerous reports that government forces used excessive violence against both rebels and noncombatants. For example, the army killed eight rebels during an attack in August on the electric power plant at Tchighozerine in which several soldiers were wounded. Government forces used excessive force in questioning civilians, particularly those of Tuareg background (see Section 1.c.). Human rights groups maintain that the military established a security zone in the north to restrict the access of journalists and to obscure its activities from public scrutiny. Judicial authorities deny mistreatment of rebels detained by the courts but admit that soldiers may have mistreated prisoners in transit from the battlefield. Although the Government did not expressly forbid journalists to enter the security zone, in practice reporters seldom ventured there.

Although some of the attacks were simple banditry, rebels continued a pattern of attacking civilian targets to obtain vehicles and other supplies. In August the rebels began to attack economic targets and government facilities in the north. To demonstrate the Government's inability to protect civilians and key facilities, rebels attacked an electric power plant, a communications ground station, and two large uranium mines. During these raids, rebels killed a number of civilians as well as government troops. Rebel raids resulted in the death of at least 6 civilians as well as 29 government troops and 37 rebels. Since the Government established a security zone in the north and restricted the access of journalists and others, the number of casualties on all sides remains unconfirmed.

Tuaregs raided sedentary camps of relatively prosperous Nigerien Arabs in the North until early 1994. Arabs, in turn, formed militias that actively battled Tuaregs. Human rights groups charged that the military tolerated, and may have been an accomplice in, the formation of these Arab militias. Tuaregs killed a senior Arab militia leader in February. Fearing an escalation of violence, the armed forces exercised tighter controls over the Arab militias but continued to use them as guides.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and press. While the Government did not routinely bring suits for the apparent purpose of intimidating the press, the Government sued a major newspaper--and later imprisoned its publisher--for fomenting ethnic division by publishing a provocative letter from one of its readers. The Secretary of State of Government (Prime Minister's Office) charged the independent paper with fomenting ethnic division, a civil crime under Nigerien law. Authorities detained the publisher for 35 days. The same publisher was sued for libel on other occasions by various government officials, but none of the several suits has been resolved. In another prominent lawsuit brought by a high ranking officer accused of plotting a coup, two newspapers were found guilty of libel and fined. The finances and existence of small newspapers are threatened by such suits, although to date no newspaper has ceased publication.

Foreign journals circulate and report freely. However, one foreign journalist, who entered the country without passing through border controls, then spent 3 weeks with Tuareg rebels, had her passport seized and was held under house arrest for 1 week. She was questioned about rebel activity and her intentions in Niger before having the passport returned and being allowed to leave the country. She was not mistreated.

The permanent Superior Council of Communication (CSC) provided for in the Constitution is charged with guaranteeing free and fair access to the media. CSC members were finally elected and installed, but the organization is hobbled by a limited budget and lack of political direction. The CSC's activities were limited to granting broadcast licenses. It granted the first broadcasting license in February to the local affiliate of Radio France International followed in April by a local music and call-in station.

The most important public medium is the government-operated multilanguage National Radio Service, which reported on opposition activities. The Government publishes the daily Le Sahel and its weekend French edition. There are 12 private French and Hausa language and additional political party weeklies or monthlies. Newspapers openly criticized the Government and gave access to publication by Tuareg and labor leaders.

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 either under tense social conditions or if sufficient advance notice (48 hours) is not provided.

In April a court found 13 opposition party members guilty of illegally carrying arms and damaging public property after their demonstration protesting the celebration of the first anniversary of the President's investiture.

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

c. Freedom of Religion

The Government respects freedom of religion. Most Nigeriens practice Islam. Christians (including Jehovah's Witnesses) and Baha'i practice freely. Foreign missionaries work freely, 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. 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. 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 rebels or bandits on major routes to the north severely restricted movement. Neither emigration nor repatriation are restricted.

There are 3,600 Chadian refugees in Eastern Niger. In addition, several thousand Tuaregs from Mali reside in Niger but are not officially registered as refugees. The Government cooperates with the U.N. 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

Citizens exercised this right in early 1993 in three rounds of elections judged free and fair by international observers, after adopting a new Constitution establishing the Third Republic in 1992. Citizens aged 18 years and over can vote and balloting is by secret ballot. The Constitution provides for a political system with checks and balances, a strong Presidency, an ethnically representative 83-seat National Assembly, and an independent judiciary. Despite a worsening economic situation, a coalition Government functioned well until a rift developed in mid-1994 between the Prime Minister and his party and the remainder of the coalition. The Prime Minister took his party out of the Government in September, leaving a new Prime Minister from the President's party to lead a minority Government.

Women do not traditionally play a role in politics. The societal practice of husbands' voting their wives' proxy ballots effectively disfranchises many women. This practice was widely used in the presidential and National Assembly elections in 1993. In the National Assembly, 5 of the 83 members are women, and the Government appointed 5 women to ministerial positions. Special electoral districts are designed to ensure that minority ethnic groups (Toubou, Fulani, Tuareg, 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 without governmental hindrance, dominant 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 ("dignity" in Hausa); 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, with the withdrawal of the draft family code and increased intimidation, lost membership and became increasingly beleaguered during the year (see Section 5). The International Committee of the Red Cross is active in Niger and Amnesty International also visited.

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

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), in education (see below), and in employment and property rights. Discrimination is worse in rural areas, where women do much of the subsistence farming as well as child rearing. Women have made modest inroads in civil service and professional employment but remain underrepresented.

Women's inferior legal status, for example, is evident in that while a male head of household has certain legal rights, divorced or widowed women, even with children, are not considered the head of their household. The Government considered a draft family code modeled on codes in other African Muslim countries which 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, when Islamic associations condemned it, the Government suspended discussions of the proposed code. Islamic militants reportedly threatened women who supported the code with physical harm.

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 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.

There continued to be isolated incidents of violence against women attributed to religious motivation. In one widely reported incident in Maradi in April, religious extremists physically abused African women wearing Western clothing because a religious leader blamed the failure of the rains on immoral women.

Children

Although the Constitution provides that the State promote children's welfare, financial resources 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 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.

According to international experts, female genital mutilation (FGM) is practiced by several ethnic groups in the extreme western parts of Niger and in the far eastern areas. While clitoridectomy is sometimes practiced in these two groups, the most extreme form, infibulation, is not practiced.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic minorities--Tuareg, Fulani, Toubou, Kounouri and Arab--continue to assert that the far more numerous Hausa and Djerma ethnic groups discriminate against them. The Hausa and Djerma dominate government and business. The Government has supported greater minority representation in the National Assembly and increased education and health care. However, nomadic peoples, such as Tuaregs and many Fulani, continue to have less access to government services.

In July, the criminal court in Maradi condemned to life imprisonment 42 Hausa farmers found guilty of the 1991 murder of 103 Fulani herders. The Hausa farmers, bent on vengeance for the presumed murder of one of their kinsmen, slaughtered and burned to death the Fulanis in a punitive expedition. The court ordered prison sentences ranging from 2 to 20 years for an additional 14 people.

People with Disabilities

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

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

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

The National Union of Nigerien Workers (USTN), a federation made up of 42 unions, represents the majority of salary and wage earners; most are government employees, such as civil servants, teachers, and employees in state-owned corporations. The USTN and the Affiliated Teachers' Union, SNEN, profess political autonomy, but like most unions, have informal ties to political parties. During the year, labor challenged the Government on the its budget and a new law regulating strikes.

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

Also in March, the National Assembly passed a new 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 prevails in the private sector.

USTN staged general strikes over pay throughout the first half of the year, and a 2-month general strike which crippled public administration and reportedly decreased government revenue. Critics alleged USTN corruption led it to terminate this strike unsuccessfully, compromising future collective bargaining power. Information workers and researchers, customs workers, and the transport sector each struck over unpaid wages or working conditions. 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 Teacher's 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 ILO 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 prosecuted 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 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. After the January devaluation of the CFA franc and April wage scale increases, the lowest minimum is approximately $38 (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. 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.

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