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Niger

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. For example, on July 23, security force members shot and killed two fishermen, Alhadji Hairam and Ichehou Bogobiri, in the village of Gueskerou, Diffa, over suspicions the two provided support to or were members of Boko Haram.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution and law prohibit such practices; however, there were reports security forces beat and abused civilians.

Security officials reportedly inflicted severe pain and suffering on detainees in Diffa Region to secure information. These activities occurred during the state of emergency in Diffa. Security forces singled out members of the Bororo Fulani and Buduma ethnic groups for abuse; both groups were widely viewed as supporting Boko Haram.

UN investigations determined that Nigerien police forces serving in the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti sexually exploited an adult in February. Another investigation determined that Nigerien military forces serving in the UN operation in Cote d’Ivoire sexually exploited two adults in September 2015. Investigations continued into additional incidents involving Nigerien forces in Cote d’Ivoire and the Central African Republic. The government removed the implicated peacekeepers from UN peacekeeping missions and began investigations.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in the country’s 38 prisons were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. Guards subjected prisoners to humiliating treatment.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a problem in all facilities. For example, in Kollo Prison, prisoners slept outside in the courtyard due to lack of space inside the wards. Large numbers of individuals detained and charged with terror offenses exacerbated overcrowding in Diffa, Niamey, Koutakale, and Kollo prisons and the Central Service for the Fight against Terrorism (SCLCT) detainee processing centers in Niamey and Diffa. Prison officials held female inmates in separate quarters that were less crowded and relatively cleaner than men’s quarters. They generally held juveniles separately in special rehabilitation centers or in judicially supervised homes, although they held some juvenile prisoners with adult prisoners. Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners.

Prison deaths occurred from malaria and meningitis, but no statistics were available.

Nutrition, sanitation, potable water, and medical care were poor, although officials allowed inmates to receive supplemental food, medicine, and other items from their families. Several prison facilities reported severe malnutrition. Basic health care was available, and authorities referred patients with serious illness to public health-care centers. Ventilation and lighting were inadequate.

Administration: Recordkeeping on prisoners was inadequate. There were no official penal or judicial alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders. Judicial authorities and the governmental National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions and followed up on credible allegations of inhuman conditions. Prisons had no ombudsmen, but prison management generally permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities generally granted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the CNDH, and human rights groups access to most prisons and detention centers, including police station jails, and these groups conducted visits during the year.

Improvements: During the year the government separated juvenile detainees held on terrorism charges from the general adult population by housing them in designated juvenile facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the law prohibits detention without charge for more than 48 hours, but police occasionally violated these provisions.

Prior to the February parliamentary and first-round presidential elections, authorities detained members and supporters of opposition political parties, including singer Habsou Garba, who was charged with inciting civil disobedience before being granted provisional release.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police, under the Ministry of the 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. During the year the government renewed a state of emergency in Diffa Region. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces, although at times individual soldiers and police acted independently of the command structure.

Police were largely ineffective due to a lack of basic supplies, such as vehicle fuel, radios, and other investigatory and law enforcement equipment. Patrols were sporadic, and the emergency response time in Niamey could be 45 minutes or more. Police training was minimal, and only specialized police units had basic weapon-handling skills. National Guard troops acted as prison guards but had no prison-specific training. Citizens complained security forces did not adequately police border regions, remote rural areas, and major cities. Corruption remained a problem.

The gendarmerie is responsible for the investigation of police abuses; nevertheless, police impunity was a widespread problem.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution and law require arrest warrants. The law allows individuals to be detained for 48 hours without charge and an additional 48 hours if police need more time to gather evidence, although authorities sometimes held detainees implicated in sensitive cases longer than legally permitted. Under the Terrorism Law, individuals detained on suspicion of committing terrorism-related offenses may be detained for 10 days, extendable once for an additional 10 days. This 10-day time period begins once suspects reach the Niamey SCLCT; terror suspects apprehended in the rural Diffa Region may spend days or weeks in custody before officials transport them to Niamey. Security forces usually informed detainees promptly of the charges against them. There was a functioning bail system for crimes carrying a sentence of less than 10 years. Authorities must notify those arrested of their right to a lawyer within 24 hours. The constitution calls for the government to provide a lawyer for indigents in civil and criminal cases, although this did not always occur. Widespread ignorance of the law and lack of funds prevented many defendants from exercising their rights to bail and an attorney. Except for detainees suspected of terrorism, authorities did not detain suspects incommunicado.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police occasionally conducted warrantless sweeps to detain suspected criminals.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. Although the law provides for maximum pretrial confinement of 30 months for serious crimes and 12 months for less serious offenses (with special extensions in certain sensitive cases), some detainees waited as long as five years to be tried. In November approximately 66 percent of prisoners nationwide were awaiting trial. Judicial inefficiency, inadequate resources, staff shortages, corruption, and executive branch interference lengthened pretrial detention periods. By contrast, high-profile detainees benefited from extended provisional release.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the executive branch sometimes interfered with the judicial process. The government reassigned some judges to low-profile positions after they asserted independence in handling high-profile cases or rendered decisions unfavorable to the government. There were allegations the government interfered or attempted to interfere in high-profile court cases involving opposition leaders. Judicial corruption–exacerbated by low salaries and inadequate training–and inefficiency remained problems. There were reports family and business ties influenced lower-court decisions in civil matters. Judges granted provisional release pending trial to some high-profile defendants, who were seldom called back for trial and had complete freedom of movement, including departing the country, and could run as candidates in elections.

Customary courts and traditional mediation did not provide the same legal protections as the formal court system. Traditional chiefs may act as mediators and counselors. They have authority to arbitrate many customary law matters, including marriage, inheritance, land, and community disputes, but not all civil issues. Chiefs received government stipends but had no police or judicial powers.

Customary courts, based largely on Islamic law, try only civil law cases. A legal practitioner with basic legal training, advised by an assessor with knowledge of the traditions, heads these courts. Formal law does not regulate the judicial actions of chiefs and customary courts, although defendants may appeal a verdict to the formal court system. In contrast with the formal court system, women do not have equal legal status with men in customary courts and traditional mediation, nor do they enjoy the same access to legal redress.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law affirms the presumption of innocence. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. Authorities provided free interpretation for defendants who do not speak French, the official language, from the moment charged through all appeals. Trials are public, and defendants have the right to be present at their trial. Defendants have the right to counsel, which is at public expense for minors and indigent defendants charged with crimes carrying a sentence of at least 10 years’ imprisonment. The government has a legal obligation to inform defendants of all evidence against them, and defendants have access to government-held evidence. Officials provided defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. They are not compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants may appeal verdicts, first to the Court of Appeals and then to the Supreme Court. Although the constitution and law extend these rights to all citizens, widespread ignorance of the law prevented many defendants from taking advantage of these rights. Judicial delays due to the limited number of jurisdictions, staff shortages, and lack of resources were common.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

In late 2015 and early 2016, authorities detained 13 members of the opposition MODEN-FA Lumana Party, including party head Hama Amadou. Hama and eight other members subsequently were granted provisional release, but four still awaited trial on charges of assisting a purported planned coup in December 2015. Authorities generally granted the ICRC, the CNDH, and human rights groups access to political prisoners, and these groups conducted visits during the year.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations. They may also appeal decisions to the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic court decisions to regional human rights bodies, such as the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution and law generally prohibit such actions, but there were exceptions. Police may conduct searches without warrants when they have a strong suspicion a house shelters criminals or stolen property. Under state-of-emergency provisions in Diffa Region, authorities may search houses at any time and for any reason.

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.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On February 21, the country held a first round of legislative and presidential elections in which incumbent President Issoufou Mahamadou won 48.4 percent of the vote in a field of 15 candidates. On March 20, the president won 92 percent of the vote in a second round election against runner-up Hama Amadou. Amadou–who spent the majority of the election season in prison on fraud charges he claimed were politically motivated–received 8 percent of the vote. Amadou’s supporters boycotted the runoff, citing complaints including lack of media access. Observers from the African Union declared the election generally free and fair, despite numerous irregularities and Amadou’s imprisonment. A coalition led by the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) backed Issoufou and won 118 of 171 National Assembly seats in the legislative elections. The opposition MODEN-FA Lumana party won 25 seats, and the National Movement for the Development of Society won 20 seats. PNDS party member Brigi Rafini retained his post as prime minister.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government intermittently banned opposition political party activities and limited opposition access to state media. Opposition parties and civil society groups criticized voter registration efforts, noting some citizens were not able to register and citing concerns about inflated registration figures in some regions.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and women and minorities participated. Cultural factors, however, limited women’s political participation. The law mandates that women fill at least 30 percent of senior government positions and at least 15 percent of elected seats. There were eight female ministers in the 43-member cabinet (19 percent). Women held 26 of 171 National Assembly seats (15 percent). All major ethnic groups had representation at all levels of government. There were eight seats in the National Assembly designated for representatives of “special constituencies,” specifically ethnic minorities and nomadic populations.

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 World Bank’s most recent Worldwide Governance Indicators reflected that corruption was a severe problem. 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.

An investigation uncovered a corrupt civil servant recruitment scheme at the Ministry of Public Health. Several high-level officials were implicated.

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 law does not allow designated officials to purchase or rent, by themselves or through other parties, any government-owned property or to bid for government contracts. The High Authority to Combat Corruption and Related Crimes and the State Inspectorate have investigative roles, with the State Inspectorate being more administrative.

Public Access to Information: The law provides for access to public information and administrative documents, and the High Council of Communications provided such information. Requesters could also obtain many documents from individual ministries and the national archives. The law provides a list of “communicable” and “noncommunicable” documents and establishes procedures for accessing them and paying related costs. If officials deny access to a document, they are required to notify the requester in writing and provide the legal grounds for denial. The law provides an appeal mechanism for review through the national mediator, and legal complaints were referred to the Administrative Court. It also provides for sanctions against agencies, individual civil servants, and users for noncompliance.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 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. 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 government interference, although they often lacked the resources necessary to carry out their work effectively.

The government gave mandates to and partially staffed the National Commission for the Coordination of the Fight against Trafficking in Persons and the National Agency for the Fight against Trafficking in Persons, but it did not fully fund them.

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