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Niger

Executive Summary

Niger is a multiparty republic. President Issoufou Mahamadou won a second term in 2016. He won 92 percent of the vote in a second round boycotted by the opposition. The African Union certified the election as free and fair despite the criticism of some domestic observers who noted the jailing of the leadership of the lead opposition party among other irregularities. The government replaced regionally elected political leadership accused of corruption with political appointments. Early in the year, the political opposition boycotted a political mediation council and the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI). At year’s end, the government and CENI were hosting tentative, informal election-related discussions.

The National Police, under the Ministry of Interior, Public Security, Decentralization, and Customary and Religious Affairs (Ministry of Interior), is responsible for urban law enforcement. The Gendarmerie, under the Ministry of National Defense, has primary responsibility for rural security. The National Guard, also under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for domestic security and the protection of high-level officials and government buildings. The armed forces, under the Ministry of National Defense, are responsible for external security and, in some parts of the country, for internal security. Every 90 days the parliament reviews the state of emergency (SoE) declaration in effect in the Diffa Region and in parts of Tahoua and Tillabery Regions. On November 30, 2018, the council of ministers declared a new SoE in three additional departments of Tillabery (Torodi, Tera, and Say). Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces, although at times individual soldiers and police acted independently of the command structure.

Significant human rights issues included: reports of unlawful killings and forced disappearances by the government, allied militias, terrorists, and armed groups; arbitrary arrest and detention by government security forces and armed groups; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention center conditions; political prisoners; interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; lack of accountability for cases of violence against women and girls due in part to government inaction; and caste-based slavery and forced labor, including forced or child labor.

The government took some steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses, but impunity remained a problem. The Defense Forces conduct annual human rights training. Additionally, all Nigerien peacekeeping battalions receive human rights and law of war training prior to deployment. Several agencies possess the authority to investigate abuses by security forces. The Office of the Inspector General of Security Services is responsible for the investigation of Police, National Guard, and Fire Department abuses. The inspector general handles inspection of Civil Protection personnel, vice Fire Department, which is covered by the Office of the Inspector General for Army and Gendarmerie). The inspector general of army and gendarmerie is tasked with investigating any abuses related to the Gendarmerie and military forces. Nevertheless, law enforcement impunity remained a problem.

Terrorist groups targeted and killed civilians and recruited child soldiers. The government was involved in campaigns against terrorist groups on its borders with Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Chad, and it was wary of increasing terror attacks in Burkina Faso and spillover from insecurity in Libya.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government sometimes threatened and harassed journalists and members of the media.

Freedom of Expression: The government arrested civil society activists and pressured journalists who expressed criticism of the government.

From April to December, nine social media activists were either briefly detained, summoned, or arrested. In April Mohamedine Mohamed, a blogger, was arrested on the charge of working under the guise of a fake profile. On May 29, Bana Ibrahim Kaza, a young politician and blogger from Lumana-Africa, the largest opposition party, was detained for posting an article on his blog. On December 19, Kaocen Saidou Maiga was arrested for posting an article on social media about the December 10 terrorist attack in which 71 soldiers were killed at an army camp at Inates.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities occasionally subjected journalists and civil society activists to harassment apparently linked to their reporting. The government broadly excluded opposition journalists from official press conferences and events.

On December 24, four members of the steering committee of the Association of Bloggers for Active Citizenship including its founder, Samira Sabou Ibrahim, were interrogated at the Passport Authority’s Office following a request they submitted in order to obtain an authorization for their association to operate legally in the country.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists believed they did not practice self-censorship, but they admitted some topics were taboo. Opposition journalists reported sometimes encountering pressure against antigovernment speech. Public media generally did not cover the statements or activities of opposition parties and civil society organizations critical of the government.

On July 26, the Niamey High Court confirmed a verdict by the Court of Niamey finding the government culpable for the illegal closing of the Labari radio and television chain in March 2018. The Niamey High Court affirmed a 10 million CFA francs ($17,000) fine for damages and interest incurred by Labari. The government had one month to appeal the decision. The Labari press group was owned by Ali Idrissa, a civil society activist and coordinator of the Network of Organizations for Budgetary Transparency and Analysis, who accused the government of taking actions to silence him and his press.

National Security: The declaration of the state of emergency in Diffa, Tillabery, and Tahoua Regions grants the government special authority over media for security reasons. Responding to an increased rate of terrorist attacks, the government extended the state of emergency for a further three months at year’s end in these regions. Furthermore, the National Security Council, led by President Issoufou, issued a note prohibiting the use of motorcycles in the Tillabery Region and certain parts of Doso Region.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government at times restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government respected most of these rights.

In September the National Agency to Fight Against Trafficking in Persons organized a meeting with various courts, attorneys general, and appropriate officials from the Ministries of Justice and Interior to review the nation’s legal framework addressing trafficking in persons, migrant smuggling, and other irregular migration.

In-country Movement: Security forces at checkpoints throughout the country monitored the movement of persons and goods, particularly near major population centers, and sometimes demanded bribes. Transportation unions and civil society groups continued to criticize such practices.

f. Protection of Refugees

As of year’s end, UNHCR managed three refugee camps in the Tillabery Region (Tabareybarey, Mangaize, and Abala) and one official “refugee zone” in the Tahoua Region (Intikane), where refugees could settle freely with their livestock and thus maintain their traditional pastoral way of life. UNHCR estimated that in addition to the IDPs mentioned above, there were an estimated 56,500 Malian refugees in Tillabery and Tahoua Regions. UNHCR also managed one refugee camp in the Diffa Region with 14,500 refugees. UNHCR estimated that in addition to the 104,000 IDPs, there were more than 119,000 Nigerian refugees in the Diffa Region. More than 88 percent of refugees in the Diffa Region resided outside of formal camps.

A tripartite agreement between UNHCR and the governments of Niger and Mali, signed in 2014, provides a legal framework for voluntary returns respecting international standards. The parties considered conditions in parts of northern Mali were not yet conducive to returns in safety and dignity and therefore return was not being promoted.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were reports that immigration and security service members demanded bribes from migrants. Refugees and IDPs in the Diffa Region were vulnerable to armed attacks and unlawful recruitment of child soldiers by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA. These refugees and IDPs were stigmatized by some in host communities, who believed they may harbor (intentionally or unintentionally) violent extremist organization elements.

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, or other persons of concern.

Refoulement: In early May 2018, the government arrested and deported to Libya 132 Sudanese nationals without a deportation process or opportunity for appeal. These deportees were among a loose grouping of approximately 2,000 Sudanese migrants who, over the course of several weeks, had moved into Agadez and surrounding areas from Libya, where they had likely also been looking for work. UNHCR worked with the government to reconfirm the government’s commitment to allow those potentially seeking protection the time and space for their cases to be considered, and by May the government approved the asylum requests of the remaining Sudanese.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to an unknown number of individuals who may not qualify as refugees under the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol.

The government also allowed the International Organization for Migration to operate a repatriation program assisting migrants traversing Niger to return to their countries of origin.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The government publicly acknowledged corruption was a problem, and there were several reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Civil servants often demanded bribes to provide public services. A poorly financed and trained law enforcement establishment and weak administrative controls compounded corruption. Other contributing factors included poverty, low salaries, politicization of the public service, traditional kinship and ethnic allegiances, a culture of impunity, and the lack of civic education.

The High Authority for the Fight Against Corruption and Related Offenses (HALCIA) actively investigated official corruption and made several official reports, some of which led to punitive action by the government, including arrests. Presidential control of its budget, however, limited HALCIA’s independence.

HALCIA received a complaint that members of the national agency that assists citizens in performing the Hajj received bribes to use particular vendors and did not use payments by citizens on the Hajj for promised services.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution requires the president of the republic, presidents of other government institutions, and cabinet members to submit written statements of their personal property and other assets to the Constitutional Court upon assuming office, and they complied. These statements are to be updated annually and at the end of an individual’s tenure. The National Register and the press published the initial statements and updates. Copies of the statements were forwarded to the government’s fiscal services. Filers must explain any discrepancies between the initial and the updated statements. The Constitutional Court has authority to assess discrepancies, but there was no indication it questioned a declaration’s veracity or imposed sanctions. The president released his information publicly in 2018, but other senior office holders did not.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. At times the government, citing security concerns, restricted access to certain areas of Diffa Region.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDH is responsible for investigating and monitoring a wide variety of human rights issues, including prison and detention center conditions. During the year the government conferred on the CNDH an additional mandate with regard to the prevention of torture.

The Office of the Mediator of the Republic served as an official government ombudsman, including on some human rights issues. The CNDH and the mediator operated without direct government interference, although they often lacked the resources necessary to carry out their work effectively.

The government maintained organizations to fight trafficking in persons: the National Commission for the Coordination of the Fight against Trafficking in Persons, which serves as the supervising board for the National Agency for the Fight against Trafficking in Persons and the Illegal Transport of Migrants. Both organizations complained of funding shortfalls.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and law provide for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law provides for freedom of association, but the government had not adopted implementing regulations to enforce the law. While there were no provisions that limit collective bargaining in nonessential services, provisions restrict certain categories of public servants not engaged in the administration of the government from exercising their right to collective bargaining. Children ages 14-15 are permitted to work (although there are limits on the hours and type of work) but are not permitted to join unions. The right to strike excludes police and other security forces. The law restricts the right to strike by public servants in management positions and workers in certain “essential services,” the scope of which was broader than that envisioned in International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions. The law defines strategic and essential services that require minimum service during a strike, including telecommunications, health, government media, water supply, electricity distribution, fuel distribution, air traffic control, financial services, public transportation, garbage collection, and government authority services. Legal restrictions usually involve requiring civil servants to report to work during a legally notified strike. There are no prohibitions on strikes in nonessential services. Workers must give employers at least three days’ advance notice of intent to strike. The government may call for mandatory arbitration in lieu of a strike.

The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for penalties but does not require reinstatement for workers dismissed for union activity. There are limitations on the law’s applicability to public service employees, however.

The government signed a memorandum of understanding with representatives of 12 trade unions organizing the country’s first professional elections of trade union leadership. According to the protocol, representatives of trade unions must obtain at least 5 percent of all valid votes cast in order to be eligible for government budget support. Each elected representative will exercise a four-year mandate. The first election was held on July 31. According to the results compiled by the National Commission for Professional Elections, there were 45,283 voters, or a 24 percent participation rate, with five trade unions registering more than 5 percent of the vote and thus becoming eligible for government budgetary support.

Government application of laws in the public and private sectors varied, but the law was largely enforced. Penalties for violations include imprisonment and fines; these penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations in the formal sector.

The law applies to the large informal sector, which accounted for most economic activity, but the government did not effectively enforce the law in informal workplaces, particularly in rural areas. The informal sector featured some unions. For example, Marche Katako, a large informal market in Niamey, had its own union, the Union for Katako Tradespersons.

Authorities generally respected freedom of association, the right to strike, and the right to collective bargaining, and workers exercised these rights. For example, the tradespersons and storeowners in several markets throughout the country staged unobstructed strikes at times during the year to protest new taxes and high energy costs. Unions exercised the right to bargain collectively for wages above the legal minimum and for more favorable working conditions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law criminalizes all forms of forced labor, including slavery, practices similar to slavery, and exploitative begging. The government did not effectively enforce these laws, however. The labor code establishes penalties for forced labor that are sufficient to deter violations, but the penalties were largely unenforced.

The government, particularly the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service, made efforts to reach out to administrative heads and religious and traditional chiefs to discourage forced labor, especially traditional slavery. In February the High Court established a legal precedent finding wahaya, the traditional practice of selling girls as young as nine into forced marriages, which also perpetuates hereditary slavery, to be illegal. Enforcement of the law, however, was sporadic and ineffective, particularly outside the capital.

Forced labor remained a problem. A study conducted by the government and the ILO concluded that in 2011 the prevalence of forced labor was 1.1 percent among the adult population (more than 59,000 persons), 48.8 percent of whom were engaged in domestic work, and 23.6 percent in agriculture or stockbreeding. These percentages were higher in the regions of Tillabery, Tahoua, and Maradi. A 2016 study conducted by the National Institute of Statistics, in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice concluded that victims of forced labor were characteristically young (age 17 on average) and predominantly male (62.5 percent), although adult victims were also identified. The study found poverty and associated misery and unacceptable living conditions to explain why victims accepted offers that put them into forced labor situations.

The Tuareg, Djerma, Fulani, Toubou, and Arab ethnic minorities throughout the country, particularly in remote northern and western regions and along the border with Nigeria, practiced a traditional form of caste-based servitude or bonded labor. Persons born into a traditionally subordinate caste or descent-based slavery sometimes worked without pay for those above them in the social order. Such persons were forced to work without pay for their masters throughout their lives, primarily herding cattle, working on farmland, or working as domestic servants. Estimates of the numbers of persons involved in traditional slavery varied widely.

Forced child labor occurred. Thousands of boys as young as four and largely from poor, rural families, were forced to beg on city streets in lieu of payment of fees for religious education. Girls from poor rural families were sometimes forced into domestic servitude (see section 7.c.). In Djerma/Songhai communities, social stigma against descendants of hereditary slaves interfered with the latter’s right to marry freely, own property, practice independent farming or other economic activity, and participate in politics. Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the use of child labor and the employment of children younger than 14. The law, however, does not apply to types of employment or work performed by children outside an enterprise, such as self-employment or in the informal sector. Children who are 12 or 13 may perform nonindustrial light work for a maximum of two hours per day outside of school hours with a labor inspector’s authorization, as long as such work does not impede their schooling. Light work is defined as including some forms of domestic work, fruit picking and sorting, and other nonindustrial labor. Children may not perform work that requires force greater than their strength, may damage their health or development, is risky, or is likely to undermine their morals.

The government did not effectively enforce child labor laws, in part due to an insufficient number of child labor inspectors in the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service. Penalties for violations include fines and imprisonment, but these were not adequate to deter violations. The laws rarely were applied to work performed by children in the nonindustrial/informal sector. The government worked with international partners to provide relevant education as an inducement to parents to keep their children in school.

Child labor was prevalent. According to a 2012 national survey, approximately 43 percent of children between ages five and 14 (an estimated 2.5 million) were engaged in labor. Most rural children regularly worked with their families from an early age, helping in the fields, pounding grain, tending animals, gathering firewood and water, and doing similar tasks. Some families kept children out of school to work or beg. Children were also forced into prostitution and domestic servitude, artisanal mining, and forced criminality.

There were reports that loosely organized clandestine international networks forced young boys from neighboring countries into manual labor or begging and young girls to work as domestic servants, usually with some degree of consent or complicity of their families.

The practice of forced begging of talibes–Quranic schoolchildren–where some Quranic schoolteachers forced their young male pupils to work as beggars, remained widespread, with a degree of complicity from parents.

Child labor occurred in largely unregulated artisanal gold-mining operations as well as in trona (a source of sodium carbonate compounds), salt, and gypsum mines. The artisanal gold mines at Komabangou, Tillabery Region, continued to use many children, particularly adolescent boys and some girls, under hazardous health and safety conditions. The use of cyanide further complicated the health hazards. Komabangou miners, other residents, and human rights groups expressed deep concern about poisoning, but the practice remained widespread.

Children born into a traditionally subordinate caste or descent-based slavery became the property of their masters and could be passed from one owner to another as gifts or part of a dowry.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution provides for equal access to employment for all citizens. The labor code prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, HIV-positive status, sickle cell anemia, or other communicable disease. The code prescribes fines for persons engaging in discrimination. The code requires equal pay for equal work and requires firms to provide hiring preferences to persons with disabilities under certain circumstances.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. The government neither adopted regulations to implement the labor code nor took actions to prevent or prosecute employment discrimination. The government had inadequate resources to investigate reports of violations, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender and disability. Traditional and religious beliefs resulted in employment discrimination against women. The government requires companies to hire a minimum of 5 percent of individuals with disabilities; however, the government did not enforce the law. Workplace access for persons with disabilities remained a problem. The descendants of hereditary slaves also faced discrimination in employment and occupation.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The labor code establishes a minimum wage only for salaried workers in the formal sector with fixed (contractual) terms of employment. Minimum wages are set for each class and category within the formal economy. The lowest minimum wage was above the official poverty income level.

The formal economy’s legal workweek is 40 hours with a minimum of one 24-hour rest period, although the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service authorized workweeks of up to 72 hours for certain occupations such as private security guards, domestic workers, and drivers. The law provides for paid annual holidays. The law provides special arrangements regarding the mining and oil sectors whereby the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service may grant waivers regarding work hours based on these two sectors’ specific nature and make allowances for working larger blocks of time in exchange for time off. Workers may work for two weeks beyond normal work hours, in compensation for which they are entitled to two weeks’ rest. Employers must provide premium pay for overtime, although the law does not set a specific rate; employees of each enterprise or government agency negotiate with their employer to set the rate. The labor code calls for a maximum eight hours of overtime per week, but this was not enforced.

The labor code establishes occupational safety and health standards, which were current and appropriate for the main industries. It extends labor inspectors’ authority and provides for sanctions, including a mandatory appearance before labor inspectors for resolving labor disputes. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and there are no exceptions from such protections for migrant or foreign workers. Nevertheless, authorities did not effectively protect employees in such situations. The nonunionized subsistence agricultural and small trading sectors, where the law applies but was not enforced, employed approximately 80 percent of the workforce. In the nonunionized informal sector, despite the law, it was unlikely workers could exercise the right to sick leave without jeopardizing their employment.

The Ministry of Labor and Civil Service inconsistently enforced minimum wages and workweek laws and only in the regulated formal economy. The number of inspectors responsible for enforcing the labor code was not sufficient to enforce compliance. Ministry officials observed that monetary sanctions were not stringent enough to deter violations.

Violations of provisions governing wages, overtime, and work conditions reportedly occurred in the petroleum and mining sectors, including at artisanal gold mines, oil fields, and oil refineries. Groups of workers in hazardous or exploitive work conditions included mineworkers, which included children, domestic workers, and persons in traditional slavery. In the artisanal gold-mining sector, the use of cyanide posed serious health hazards for workers and surrounding communities. A significant, but unknown, percentage of the mining workforce worked in the informal sector. The vast majority, however, were employed by large, international firms; labor advocates complained these firms were not transparent about work conditions.

Union workers in many cases did not receive information about the risks posed by their jobs. The Ministry of Labor and Civil Service responded to reports of work-related accidents and ensured that affected employees were compensated as required by law, the government reported. Most accidents occurred in the mining sector.

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