In 2008, a Human Rights Advisor (HRA) was deployed to the United Nations Country Team (UNCT) in Niger as part of the ‘Action 2’ programme with the aim of strengthening the human rights capacity of the UNCT. The HRA has responsibility for advising on strategies to reinforce national human rights capacity, providing education and training on human rights issues, providing technical assistance to the government in meeting its international human rights obligations and integrating human rights into the work of the UNCT and the Resident Coordinator.
Historically, Niger has endured ethnically motivated violence, usually arising from disputes between the Tuareg and Toubou rebels. The last coup d’etat took place in February 2010 and resulted in the ousting of President Tandja and dissolution of his government. The coup was staged in response to a unilateral change made to the country’s constitution.
President Mamadou Tandja had been in power since 1999 and his government initially promoted democratic ideals and allowed for elections to be held in 2004. The administration sought to guarantee peace through securing agreements with the rebel groups on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants. Land commissions had also been established by the State as a means of resolving conflicts, usually based on access to natural resources.
However, the constitutional change effected by President Tandja lengthened tenure of presidency in the country and essentially, prolonged President Tandja’s time in power. The military force responsible for the coup allowed for democratic elections to be held in January 2011. Mahamadou Issoufou was voted in as the country’s new President.
Human Rights context
The Human Development Index (HDI) classifies Niger as one of the poorest nations in the world despite its vast natural resources. High levels of corruption prevent the general population from sharing in the country’s wealth. Uranium mining contracts in particular have been highlighted by observers as being allocated in a covert manner. A lack of transparency perpetuates the corruption.
Impunity is also a problem in Niger and arises, in part, from the scarcity of legal infrastructure; in terms of there being a lack of qualified staff to administer the justice system. Legally qualified people tend to gravitate towards the capital city of Niamey to look for work, thus making it harder for people living in the other cities and rural areas to get legal representation. There is legal protection for human rights under Niger’s constitution. So there is scope for improving the capacity and use of the country’s justice system.
The country faces shortages in food supplies on a seasonal basis since approximately 70% of its population depend on local produce and subsistence farming and their ability to provide for themselves is affected during June to September every year when crop availability is low. A national survey in 2010 revealed that approximately 7 million people are affected by food insecurity in Niger.
In order to alleviate food shortages, the government of Niger has taken several initiatives including establishing a Food Crisis Unit and an Early Warning System Coordination Unit, which has responsibility for monitoring the risk of shortages occurring and developing intervention strategies. The State highlighted, in its National Report of 2010, other measures taken which include: free food distribution; the establishment of national nutritional rehabilitation centres; the sale of low-cost animal inputs; cereal banks; seed distribution; cash for work; food for work programmes; the promotion of irrigation crops and livestock restocking.
Niger is party to eight core international human rights treaties. Although the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has been ratified, this has been done with several reservations. In June 2010, UNICEF highlighted that new provisions have been introduced into the Niger Penal Code of 2003 which prohibits FGM, slavery, sexual harassment and which also gives a broader definition to the word ‘rape’. A workshop to find ways of eradicating child slavery took place in Niamey on 10 August 2011 and President Mahamadou Issoufou has expressed a commitment to seeing the end of slave labour.
Currently, Niger does not have a national human rights commission that is accredited by the International Coordinating Committee (ICC) of National Institutions for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights. The National Commission for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which was in place before the 2010 coup d’état with ‘A’ status accreditation, was dissolved by government after the coup and replaced by The National Observatory for Human Rights, established on 20 May 2010. The HRA is providing active support to set up a new national human rights commission in compliance with the Paris Principles.
Niger underwent a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in February 2011. The establishment of a national action plan on the implementation of the UPR recommendations is on-going.
The main priorities of the HRA in Niger for 2010-2011 are:
- provide support for the creation of a National Human Rights Commission;
- continue building the capacities of national actors on the promotion and protection of human rights;
- continue the programme of drafting the initial and periodic reports;
- support the development of an action plan for monitoring the recommendations of the UPR;
- support the development and implementation of an education programme on human rights in schools;
- support the integration of human rights in strategic documents such as the documents on the Strategy for the reduction of Poverty and the sectorial policy of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights;
- support the development of a national action plan for the promotion and protection of human rights;
- contribute to the improvement in respect for human rights in prisons;
- commemorate human rights days and anniversaries;
- ensure the training of the protection cluster on human rights and
- strengthen the capacities of the UN system country team on the human rights based approach and on the mechanisms of human rights protection.