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UN Deputy Human Rights Chief applauds Niger's efforts to tackle range of human rights problems

Text of statement by Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang at the end of her visit to Niger

6 April 2012

Good evening and thank you all very much for coming.

This is my first visit to Niger and it has been a tremendous pleasure to meet a wide range of people and be welcomed with boundless hospitality and friendliness here in Niger. I am deeply grateful.

It has been an honour and pleasure to meet with President Issoufou Mahamadou, Prime Minister Brigi Rafini, and the Minister of Justice Marou Amadou, other members of the Government, the President of the National Assembly, the National Observatory of Human Rights, civil society organizations and other UN agencies working in Niger.

I learned a great deal through these meetings, and acquired a much deeper appreciation for the solid commitment of the authorities to human rights as the guiding principles of governance, but also for the enormous challenges that remain for the full realization of all human rights for all, in particular in the areas of children’s rights, women’s rights and gender equality, and economic and social rights.

I sensed the very strong political will on the part of Government leadership to improve the promotion and protection of human rights in the country, and I am pleased to report that during my visit the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice of Niger responded very positively to my suggestion that they extend a standing invitation to the special procedures mechanism of the Human Rights Council.

I was also able to discuss with the beneficiaries of the human rights capacity building activities undertaken by the Human Rights Advisor under the guidance of the UN Resident Coordinator and the support of colleagues at headquarters. These men and women, among them lawyers and judges, members of civil society organizations and law enforcement agents, will herald the message of human rights in Niger and we’re very happy to have contributed to the reinforcement of their vocation.

One pressing concern I discussed with the Government and UN partners in Niger was the recurring food crisis which affects millions of people in the Sahel region. Niger, under the leadership of the President, has put in place an innovative multi-sectoral strategy, the 3N initiative (Les Nigeriens Nourrissent les Nigeriens – Nigeriens Nourish Nigeriens) that is designed to empower Nigeriens for improved food and nutritional security, with an emphasis on a sustainable food production system. This strategy is very much a human rights-based approach to the challenges of food security and rural development, and I very much hope and trust that human rights principles is being integrated into the full range of development and peace and security policies of the Government, with the full support of the UN partners.

Consolidating human rights
For human rights to be fully guaranteed and realized in Niger, a strong normative framework consistent with international human rights norms and standards needs to be established. Niger has ratified most international human rights conventions but has yet to harmonize its national laws with the provisions of these instruments. While I understand that each country’s traditions and cultural values need to be respected, these should not serve as an excuse for ongoing violations of human rights that are enshrined in international conventions.

Reporting regularly to treaty bodies, which monitor States’ compliance with the treaties they have signed and ratified, is a vital means to guarantee human rights. In this regard, I welcome the establishment by the Government of Niger of an interministerial Committee to take the lead in complying with the reporting obligations and I hope the Committee will be able to fulfil its purpose.

The Government, in collaboration with civil society organizations and the UN Country team, is developing a plan of action to implement the recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council (UPR) that Niger undertook in 2011. The UPR was instrumental in addressing, among others, the issue of slavery and several NGOs in Niger have since increased their advocacy for the elimination of this criminal practice in all of its forms. This morning I participated in the launch of a workshop to develop this national human rights action plan.

I wish to applaud Niger’s Council of Ministers for adopting a draft bill to set up a new National Human Rights Commission. With a swift passage of the bill by the National Assembly, the Commission should be allowed to play its role with the independence and the full resources that it will require.

The rights of vulnerable groups
While I welcome the many legal reforms that have taken place, including the introduction of quotas for women in elective positions and public service, legal provisions and regulations that discriminate against women persist. Violence against women, which can take the form of physical, verbal and psychological violence, is still tolerated by society. Women who make up more than half of the total population are also more affected by poverty and have lesser access to education than men.

Women deserve full equal opportunities as men and I welcome the adoption of a National Gender Policy. I encourage the Government to take effective measures to implement this policy, as well as to review its legislation comprehensively in order to repeal existing discriminatory provisions against women in customary and modern laws. The road ahead is still arduous, but I am confident that Niger will be able to make progress towards removing its reservations to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

I also encountered considerable concern that Niger was both a country of origin and destination of trafficking in children. Boys are forced into manual labour, while girls are submitted to domestic servitude or prostitution. No child should ever have to endure forced labour or sexual exploitation and I welcome the enactment by the Government of a law against trafficking. The enforcement of this law would furthermore guarantee protection for children and punishment for perpetrators of human trafficking.

I was informed that Niger’s report to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination will be submitted soon to the Geneva-based treaty bodies. This report will among others touch on the issue of slavery which is a serious challenge for Niger.

Fight against corruption
I am very impressed with the work of the Ministry of Justice and the Justice Minister in their fight against corruption. Corruption undermines human rights protection and promotion as it poisons the Rule of law, transparency in governance, and the responsible allocation of State resources. I strongly support the anti-corruption initiative of the Government, and I hope it can set a model for many other countries that are also faced with decades of corrupt governance.

Niger’s efforts for the promotion and protection of human rights for all in such difficult circumstances are to be applauded and supported. These efforts must continue with unswerving political will in constant dialogue among all actors. As I pay my deep respects to the Government and people of Niger as they celebrate the progress made during the first year of the office of President Issoufou Mahamadou, I would like to express the fullest support and readiness of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to accompany them as they take on the many challenges that lie ahead in the long-term venture to realize all human rights for all women and men, girls and boys in Niger.

Thank you.

Learn more about the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kyung-wha Kang: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/AboutUs/Pages/DeputyHighCommissioner.aspx

OHCHR Country Page for Niger:http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AfricaRegion/Pages/NEIndex.aspx

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