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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination considers the report of Niger

7 August 2015

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined fifteenth to twenty-first reports of Niger on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Maiga Zeinabou Labo, General Secretary at the Ministry of Justice, introducing the report, said that since the 2011 elections Niger had returned to normal constitutional life. The National Human Rights Institution functioned in line with the Paris Principles. Since 1997, when its last report was submitted, Niger had strengthened its framework to combat racial discrimination, ratifying a number of relevant international documents. The Criminal Code read that any manifestation of racial discrimination or incitement of racial hatred carried five years imprisonment and a ban on staying in the country. The rights to food and water were at the heart of the Government’s concerns. The “People of Niger Feeding People of Niger” strategy was adopted in 2012 and had achieved laudable results since then. Refugees and displaced persons in Niger, who numbered around 150,000, were treated in an equitable and fair manner.

In the discussion Committee Experts asked questions about remnants of slavery in Niger and descent-based discrimination, which still seemed to be prominent. The situation of nomadic peoples, such as Tuareg, and their access to natural resources, primarily water, was discussed at length. The equitable distribution of State natural resources, and profits from their exploitation was also addressed. Other issues raised included the use of national languages, restrictive regulations on the formation of political parties and in the media, forced and early marriage, women’s rights, access to justice and the lack of cases of racism and racial discrimination prosecuted in courts.

In concluding remarks, Evelyne Hohoueto Afiwa-Kindena, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur for Niger, thanked the delegation for providing answers on the spot to the questions raised. The Committee’s concluding observations and recommendations would be available at the end of the session, and the delegation was advised to take them on board.

Ms. Labo, in her closing remarks, said racial discrimination in all of its forms was being seriously addressed by Niger, which was not an apartheid State. The State did not recognize indigenous peoples on its territory. Current challenges included terrorism, especially from the sect Boko Haram.

The delegation of Colombia included representatives of the Ministry of Justice, Prime Minister’s Office, General Directorate of Human Rights, Inter-ministerial Committee, and the Permanent Mission of Niger to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public at 10 a.m. on Monday, 10 August for a discussion with non-governmental organizations from Suriname.

Report

The combined fifteenth to twenty-first report of Niger can be read here.

Presentation of the Report

MAIGA ZEINABOU LABO, General Secretary of the Ministry of Justice, stated that racial discrimination amounted to the denial of basic human rights, which was why Niger was a party to a large number of international human rights treaties. Niger’s previous report had been submitted in 1997, and such a large delay between the two reports was deplorable. An inter-ministerial committee had been working on the preparation of the current report since 2010, with various State institutions and non-governmental organizations consulted in the comprehensive process.

Niger had a population of some 17.1 million, 80 per cent of whom lived in rural areas. The socio-cultural situation was marked by the predominance of customary and religious rules. Since the elections of 2011, Niger had returned to normal constitutional life. The National Human Rights Institution functioned in line with the Paris Principles. Between 1997 and today, Niger had strengthened its framework to combat racial discrimination, ratifying a number of relevant international documents. The Criminal Code held that any manifestation of racial discrimination or inciting racial hatred could lead to up to five years in prison and a ban of staying in the country. Niger had reviewed its law on nationality and now authorized Niger women to transfer their nationality to their foreign spouses. Regulation of the media sector was secured with the view of promoting the culture of cohabitation and social cohesion. An independent media body served as a self-regulatory body in that regard.

Niger had taken serious steps in improving access to justice; 27 new courts had been created since the previous report. The National Agency for Legal Assistance provided legal aid to the most vulnerable categories of society. The constitution guaranteed equality before the law for all and prohibited slavery. Governmental bodies for combating trafficking in human beings were operational; in 2014 Niger had welcomed the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, whose report was expected shortly. In the area of social and economic rights, Niger had undertaken a number of steps to correct the existing inequalities, through the promotion of social, sustainable and inclusive development, and promotion of a diversified and competitive economy.

Ms. Labo informed that schooling in Niger was mandatory at no cost until the age of 18 years. Efforts were being continuously made to ensure access for all to education. A national policy for education and training of girls was in place; a draft law on keeping girls in school and preventing early and forced marriage was now being considered in the Parliament. The State had also taken measures to increase access to antiretroviral drugs and improved maternal and neonatal care. Niger had translated into national languages 36 International Labour Organization conventions, and legislative and administrative measures had been taken to ensure equality and non-discrimination in the access to work. The Labour Code provided for prison terms for those not respecting its provisions and discriminating against employees based on their age, race, gender and a number of other characteristics. The National Agency for Promoting Employment had particular programmes in place aimed at preparing young people for the job market.

Rights to food and water were at the heart of the Government’s concerns. The strategy “People of Niger Feeding People of Niger” had been adopted in 2012, and had reached laudable results since then. Since Niger was a country with recurrent food crises, a national contingency plan was in place. The Water Code recognized the right of every citizen to the right of water. In terms of geographic coverage, more than 77 per cent of the country had access to drinking water in 2014, while the percentage for rural areas stood at 50. Concerning the rights of women, a ten-year plan in action was in place; a quota system establishing a 25 per cent quota for the State administration and Government and 10 per cent for elective functions. Child labour was combatted under the auspices of the Ministry of Labour. People with disabilities no longer had to pay any hospital fees.

Niger was a party to the Kampala Convention on refugees; the country hosted on its territory some 150,000 refugees, many of whom who had fled the terror of Boko Haram. Refugees and displaced persons were treated in an equitable and fair manner. There was neither apartheid nor racial segregation in Niger. Significant progress in the respect of rights listed in the Convention had been made since 1997, and Niger remained ready to work with the Committee on further improving the situation.

Questions by Experts

EVELYNE HOHOUETO AFIWA-KINDENA, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur, invited Niger to accept the competencies of the Committee under the article 14 of the Convention, which would allow it to consider individual complaints. Niger had already accepted such competencies of four other human rights committees.

During the lengthy period between the two reports, the State party had adopted a number of substantial measures related to the Convention, including introduction of criminal sanctions for acts of racism and racial discrimination and recognizing the right of education to all.

The ethnic group Boudoumas was not mentioned in the periodic report. Why was that the case and were they considered as “others”?

How could a judge in Niger apply Articles 1 and 2 of the Convention if he did not have material elements of discrimination in the sense of the Convention? Could the Convention be invoked in front of courts in Niger? What did the State party plan to do in order to ensure the full conformity of its legislation with the Convention?

The Expert asked whether the delegation had statistical data on registered and investigated complaints in the reporting period.

Questions were asked on the promotion of cultural associations and how a balance was struck between their activities and applying prohibition of associations of regional or ethnic character.

Could more information be provided about the National Human Rights Institution about their activities in combating racial discrimination? What were the activities of the Ombudsperson in that regard?

The Expert also asked how the State party managed to protect the freedom of press while preventing incitement of ethnic, racial or regional hatred in the media.

In Niger, most marriages were concluded in line with the tradition. Early and forced marriages were a matter of reality. Why was the customary law still applied when it came to marriage, succession and the domestic lives of women, when it discriminated against women? Girls or women whose parents had been enslaved were often handed over to rich land owners in exchange for money or goods. Could statistics be provided in that regard? How was the State party planning to protect women victims of multiple discrimination?

Eight ethno-linguistic communities were officially recognized, and their languages were official in the country. Two languages were considered as principal, namely Haoussa and Djerma-Sonrai. How were the languages of instruction in schools selected?

The concept of indigenous peoples was not recognized as such by the Government. People belonging to those groups were discriminated against as individuals, but also as communities. Those mobile pastoral groups often had their right to access the land and water threatened.
Ms. Hohoueto said that local populations were not always consulted when multinational companies were given licenses to extract minerals. The exhaustion of natural resources in the process of uranium extraction would lead to further deforestation and could cause displacement of the Tuareg people, which was worrying. Access to water was a vital one in the region prone to droughts; that applied to sedentary as well as to pastoral communities, the Expert stressed.

What measures were taken by the State party to provide reparations to numerous violations of rights of indigenous communities?

Access to justice for foreigners was also raised by the Expert. In Niger, it seemed that conditions for access to justice were not the same for nationals and non-nationals. Could the delegation provide a clarification?

Another Expert raised the issue of languages used in Niger, and pointed out at the discrepancy between eight languages mentioned in the report and nine or ten mentioned elsewhere. Did different groups share languages?

What was the proportion of different ethnic groups in the civil service and the Army, especially at higher echelons?

The Expert inquired whether there was the same level of education among children from different ethnic groups.

Could the delegation explain why no complaints on racism or racial discrimination had been submitted?

An Expert asked how ethnic groups across the country were represented in decision making, especially when it came to the use of natural resources, such as water.

How frequent was early marriage, the Expert asked, and what was its standing vis-à-vis the legal regime of the State party?

A question was asked on the activities by the State party to promote the International Decade for People of African Descent.

The issue of statistical data and ethnic breakdown of the population was raised by another Expert. In a poor country, such as Niger, everything was a priority, but the Committee was asking the State party to target the most vulnerable population, which was why statistics provided was welcome.

The National Human Rights Institution had lost its “A status”. It was important that the institution be provided with necessary resources so that it could regain the top status.

The rules on women drawn up by regional bodies and international instruments were not applicable for women in Niger, which was regrettable. What were the obstacles in the discussions on adopting a proper family code? Women of minority communities were of the particular concern for the Committee – how would the draft documents affect them?

One of the challenges which Niger needed to face included balancing between development and enrichment through mining and the viability of land for the population, an Expert commented. The Government ought to consider the issue to see how degeneration could be avoided.

Another Expert asked whether special measures for regional development were being undertaken by the State party. Could more information be provided about affirmative measures taken for the vulnerable parts of ethnic groups?
Access to water, a scarce and vital resource, had to be secured for pastoral populations.

Descent-based discrimination was prohibited by the Convention. However, in Niger the concept of slavery was passed from one generation to another, and was a serious violation of human rights. A campaign to educate people was needed in that regard.

How was consistency and coherence between various kinds of law ensured, the Expert asked.

Turning to women’s rights, the Expert stressed that there existed a hard, non-negotiable core of human rights which ought to be respected.

Was racial discrimination defined in Niger’s legislation? Were there examples when judges applied the Convention? How could citizens be better informed about the Convention?

How many students were there in the country broken up by ethnic groups, the Expert inquired.

Another Expert stressed that the State party should pay attention to the issue of slavery, which had to be eliminated. Had any specific measures been taken by the Government in that regard?

Political parties that were ethnic or religious in nature were prohibited, an Expert noted.

Could all citizens have a guarantee that they could express themselves in their languages in official institutions?

More than 2,000 migrants had perished trying to cross the Mediterranean in 2015, for which responsibilities ought to be shared. Many Africans transited through the deserts of Niger in order to reach Libya, the Expert observed. That transit had become a source of income for traffickers. What was being done in that regard, the Expert asked.

Infant, child and maternal mortality rates were very high, another Expert said, asking for more precision on statistics.

How many cases, if any, had been brought forward to courts on charges of racism or racial discrimination?

The Expert also asked what the State party had in mind when referring to social protection of prisoners.

An Expert acknowledged the difficulties the State party was facing in meeting reporting obligations.

How could Niger meet, from its meagre resources, the needs of its impoverished and scattered population? The interests of pastoral groups needed to be looked after.

It was the duty of the Government to ensure that multinational companies did not take advantage of vulnerable local population. The situation of the Tuareg was particularly difficult; water they used for their animals was diverted to uranium mines.

The issue of the promotion of the economic, social and cultural rights of nomadic peoples was brought up by another Expert, who asked about concrete measures taken in that regard.

Concrete information was sought about women from minority populations. How were poverty reduction programmes helping that vulnerable group?

Another Expert asked about the interference of religion with State affairs.

How was the Convention applied by courts – could facts on court cases and court decisions be provided? Statistics on convictions was needed on who was convicted and what ground?

More information was asked about the role of the Ombudsperson in combating racism in Niger.

Was there a problem of racial hatred in the media and what was being done about it in practical terms, an Expert asked.

Did courts travel to distant areas of the country to deliver their services, another Expert inquired.

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said that the Criminal Code was not fully consistent with the provisions of the Convention. Nonetheless, treaties and accords which had been duly ratified had superior status to domestic laws.

The delegation explained that slavery and servitude were well defined and punishable under the Criminal Code; one could be given between 10 and 30 years in prison for such crimes. Any attempt to commit those crimes was also punishable. Descent or ethnic and racial origin could not be used as grounds for discrimination when it came to employment.

Measures taken to prevent formation of associations with regional or ethnic character included giving prior authorization. All associations which aimed at maintaining the exclusive character of their groups or regions were considered void as they contradicted domestic legislation. Those rules were applied to cultural, youth and sporting associations.

The National Human Rights Commission undertook its work with full independence. The Commission was equipped with necessary material and human resources. It had a sub-commission for racial discrimination. The Commission’s “A status” had been granted in 2002, but a period of instability had followed. Efforts were underway to regain the “A status”.

The delegation explained that the Ombudsperson’s Office had been created by a 2011 law, and had the purpose of providing institutional mediation, defending the rights of citizens and promoting social stability in the country. No complaints related to racism or racial discrimination had been registered with the Ombudsperson thus far.

In order to combat racist, xenophobic or regionalistic discourse in the media, the authorities had established a legal regime for freedom of the press. Legal actions could be taken against those inciting hatred between citizens. The Higher Council on Communication and an independent self-regulatory body were both in charge of supervising the media scene and ensuring its compliance with the law. The media in Niger should be a tool for social cohesion and peace.

At the same time, the delegation said, defamation was decriminalized, and journalists paid financial fines instead. Journalists could be held for questioning, but were not put into prisons.

Responding to the questions on education, a delegate said that Niger paid attention to the teaching of human rights. Education programmes for magistrates included regular training in human rights. Training for the police also took place with the help of the National Human Rights Institution.

On the issue of migration, the delegation acknowledged that it was a matter of concern, and had gained an international spotlight given high rates of death. Immigrants were often at the hands of traffickers, who profited from the misery of others. A sustainable response would involve sustainable development and decent job creation for young people. Niger was part of the Economic Community of West African States, which provided for the freedom of movement. The authorities had recently set up a pilot centre which should help foster awareness among potential migrants who wanted to cross into Libya and across the Mediterranean. Migration was not a problem in itself, but the way it was frequently done was problematic, which was why the catastrophe in the Mediterranean ought to be curtailed.

Turning to the questions on civil and political rights, a delegate said that there was a programme on affirmative action which established quotas for elected officers, the Government and the administration in general. Niger had taken appropriate steps to ensure there was no discrimination vis-à-vis citizens’ participation in political life.

The Constitution provided everyone with the right to own property.

Customary traditions could be applied in marriage, divorce, succession and inheritance of fixed goods. While the customary law did not establish a minimum age of marriage, the Civil Code set it at 18 years for boys and 15 years for girls, which was not in conformity with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. No custom could be applied if it ran contrary to the international instruments ratified by Niger.

There could be no marriage without consent, the lack of which could be a ground for the annulation of a marriage. No particular problem was seen with marriage between different ethnic groups. Forced marriage was prohibited by both laws and the customs. Niger did not recognize “marginalized communities” and had no information related to that.

Anyone undertaking acts of torture, cruelty or slavery would be punished, the delegation emphasized. National mechanisms were in place to fight the scourge of human trafficking; an indemnization fund for victims was also operational.

The constitution set forth principles for providing basic health care and education services to the population. Education was a right for all, guaranteed to all children between the age of four and 18 years of age, regardless of their ethnic or racial background. Roaming clinics, such as vaccination programmes, attended distant parts of the country, with the view of meeting needs of the population regardless of their location. There had been significant recruitment of qualified medical personnel which provided for a notable advancement in the health system.

The delegation informed that the State recognized the right of all citizens to work. The access to public services had been improved. The issue of housing was paid due attention by the Government, which was increasing the provisions of social housing.

The official language of Niger was French, which served as a lingua franca and was useful as an international language of communication. National languages were mentioned in the constitution and were promoted; there were ten of them. All the languages were transcribed in the Latin script. Interpretation was provided in courts when parties did not speak the official languages.

Niger did not recognize indigenous peoples. The State development programmes were uniform but adapted to the needs of various groups without discrimination. A special commission – COFO – was in place to deal with conflicts emanating from access to water and land. The focus was on conflict prevention.

It was not only the Tuareg whose health was affected because of the exploitation of uranium, the delegation emphasized. Over the years, thanks to numerous efforts, awareness of the danger of radiation had been raised, and the mining law had been reviewed and strengthened. All miners had radiation meters, helping them keep track of their health. Uranium exploitation had not impacted the way of life of nomads. The majority of mining projects now involved development programmes aimed at helping local communities. Youth reinsertion programmes also existed.

Special measures provided rights for minority groups; for example, every ethnic group had to be represented in the National Assembly. One of the measures taken was handing over 15 per cent of the mining revenue to local communities. Economic and social development plans looked at the development of the entirety of the entire country and all the regions.

Formerly, Nigerien women were prevented from passing on their nationality to a foreign spouse but the Nationality Code had now been corrected and the two sexes were now equal in that regard.

Free legal aid was provided to vulnerable people; beneficiaries were often women trying to obtain inheritance or minors who were victims or in trouble with the law. The accused had representation of all stages of legal proceedings, which was applied to citizens and non-citizens alike.

Through a 2013 law, the legal map of Niger had been modified, with the view of securing greater consistency of judicial coverage of the country. First-instance courts would be established in many new towns.

The delegation explained that there were three sources of law in Niger: positive, customary and Islamic, and citizens could make their choice. Many customs had been Islamized.

More than 200 persons had been arrested in the wake of the 16-17 January 2015 events, when numerous schools, bar, churches and apartments belonging to Christians had been vandalized.

Each Ministry had its own statistics department, which provided figures on all of its activities, it was explained.

Ethnic balance had always been maintained in the armed forces.

People in detention benefited from all of their rights except for the right of movement. Visits were allowed, including to those in preventive detention. Two meals per day were served to those in detention.

Follow-up Questions by Experts

Access to land titles was raised by an Expert, who asked about the plan to provide those without property, particularly descendants of slaves, access to land.

Could more information be given about the marriage of the fifth spouse, who was frequently submitted to slavery?

The Expert asked about the measures at the national level to give hope to the youth of the country and share the wealth.

Concerning work contracts, there were two statutes for foreigners, the Expert noted and asked why that was the case. What were the criteria to enter into one of those statuses or the other?

Another Expert asked whether local communities truly benefited from the 15 per cent of mining profits, as mentioned by the delegation. What was done to ensure that those funds really went to development efforts?

Had investigations into the January 2015 attacks led to any prosecutions?

How the social pathology of discrimination against descendants of slaves could be changed, the Expert asked. How did families get to choose from different kinds of law in practical terms? It was a very complicated issue.

The issue of access to water was revisited by an Expert. That right, recognized by the Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, was closely linked to the right to health and the right to life.

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said that discrimination based on descent did exist. However, people had the right to the same opportunities regardless of their origin, and Niger was hoping to eradicate harmful practices through awareness raising, education, civil sector activities and international help.

On the issue of the fifth wife, the delegation explained that it was not practiced across the country, but only in small “pockets” (areas).

Regarding mining wealth, a delegate explained that resources were not always well managed and there could be risk of corruption. There were oversight mechanisms in place to detect potential abuse of resources, which could lead to judicial investigations and fines for the embezzlement of public funds. Normally, ten per cent was allocated for investment and five per cent for operations.

A body attached to the Presidency was in charge of fighting corruption.

Niger was rich in natural resources, but not many people benefited from it, which was the central issue of governance in the country. The essential question was how to manage the existing resources in spite of fluctuations in international markets. The issue of financing for development was given ever more attention, in wake of the Addis Ababa meeting.

Laws were frequently adopted on the consensus basis, which meant that the Government might be moving slowly, but on a positive side, texts were rarely taken back or caused rebellion by parts of the population. The law on heritage was still a draft, and would change inheritance from family to individual, were one to choose it over the customary law.

Follow-up Questions by Experts

Was there a serious obstacle to having the process of the National Human Rights Commission regaining its “A status”, an Expert enquired. She made an appeal that all efforts be taken for the process come to a conclusion as soon as possible.

The Expert praised the fact that each Ministry had its own statistics office. Could conflict statistics be broken down by region be provided, if not now, then in the next report?

What did the State party plan to do to achieve the 50 per cent parity in the Parliament, as stipulated by the African Union?

A question was asked as to why there were no recorded complaints on racism and racial discrimination. The State party should look into reasons for that.

The Government had to act regarding people in servile positions; actions could be taken through awareness raising, education, but also sanctions. There would be no “pockets” left if the Government consistently punished those employing those abhorrent practices.

A dialogue with the Tuareg was suggested to discuss if measures needed to be taken vis-à-vis their access to water resources.

Replies by the Delegation

On the accreditation of the National Human Rights Commission, the delegation said that the Government was attempting to ensure the Commission be as close to the Paris Principles as possible. Its annual report was presented to the National Assembly. After three years of setting up and taking certain measures to make up for the delay, additional efforts would be made to accelerate the process.

The information that the Tuareg did not have access to water was false, the delegation stressed. Water was available, but it had to be drawn from quite deeply.

Regarding the Family Code, a delegate said that there was a need for a consensus-based text before steps forward could be made. Women’s associations regularly addressed relevant issues, sometimes at the highest levels.

Closing Remarks

EVELYNE HOHOUETO AFIWA-KINDENA, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur, thanked the delegation of Niger for providing answers on the spot to the questions raised. The Committee’s concluding observations and recommendations would be available at the end of the session, and the delegation was advised to take them on board.

MAIGA ZEINABOU LABO, General Secretary of the Ministry of Justice, thanked the Committee for the fruitful exchanges and upcoming observations which would be taken seriously. Racial discrimination in all of its forms was being seriously addressed by Niger, which was not an apartheid State. The State did not recognize indigenous peoples on its territory. Current challenges included terrorism, especially from the sect Boko Haram. Niger would do its best to continue with the course set by the dialogue, and efforts would be made to prepare the subsequent report without undue delay.

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