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Title:  Niger Human Rights Practices, 1995   
Author:  U.S. Department of State    
Date:  March 1996    
 
 
 

                               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. 
 
(###)

[end of document]

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