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 and its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. For example, the armed forces were accused of sometimes executing persons believed to be fighting with extremist groups in both Diffa and Tillabery Regions rather than holding them in detention. There was evidence in Tillabery Region that the government allowed Malian militia groups to operate in Nigerien territory and may have at times collaborated with or provided limited material and logistical support to them. Malian militia groups the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad and GATIA were accused of committing human rights abuses on Nigerien soil, including kidnapping and killing persons believed to be collaborating with extremist groups.
The governmental National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) reported receiving several complaints about arbitrary and unlawful killings attributed to security forces and to Malian militias operating within conflict areas of the country. The CNDH had limited resources to investigate the complaints.
Armed terrorist groups including Boko Haram and groups affiliated with al-Qaida, ISIS in the Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS), and ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA) attacked and killed civilians and security forces (see section 1.g.).
There were some reports of disappearances perpetrated by security forces in both Tillabery and Diffa Regions. For example, unidentified sources alleged that soldiers detained some youths who returned to a town in the Diffa area the day after it had been the focus of a Boko Haram attack, and the youths were reportedly not seen again.
There were also several instances of kidnappings by armed groups and bandits (see section 1.g). For example, unidentified armed persons kidnapped the mother and sister of a parliamentarian in the Diffa Region on September 3. The kidnappers released the two on September 16, probably after the payment of a ransom.
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, especially in the context of the fight against terrorism in Diffa and Tillabery Regions. Security forces were also accused of rape and sexual abuse, which the government claimed to investigate. For example, the government reported that the state prosecutor was investigating three rapes attributed to agents of local security forces in the Diffa Region.
There were indications that security officials were sometimes involved in abusing or harming detainees, especially members of the Fulani minority or those accused of affiliation with Boko Haram or other extremist groups. There were allegations that security forces and local leaders in the Diffa Region would harass or detain citizens they accused of collusion with Boko Haram, forcing the citizens to pay a “ransom” to end the harassment.
As of October the CNDH, to the extent that resources allowed, was investigating allegations that security forces or agents of the government had committed extrajudicial killings, abuse, and disappearances. The government and military reportedly also investigated these accusations, although no information was available on their conclusions.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in the prisons were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, overcrowding, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.
Physical Conditions: The government reported in October there were 39 prisons designed to hold 10,005 persons. According to the government, prisons held 9,570 inmates; however, human rights observers stated that overcrowding remained a widespread problem. For example, in Kollo Prison, prisoners slept outside in the courtyard due to lack of space inside the wards. 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. The prison system made no provision for special services for detainees with disabilities. Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners.
Prison deaths occurred regularly, some from malaria, meningitis, and tuberculosis, 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. Basic health care was available, and authorities referred patients with serious illness to public health-care centers.
Administration: Judicial authorities and the CNDH investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions and followed up on credible allegations of inhuman conditions. 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 monitoring visits during the year.
Improvements: The Ministry of Justice stated that access to fresh water had improved in some prisons. The government built two new detention centers in the Maradi Region.
The ICRC worked with local prison administration to facilitate family visits for those detained in connection with the conflict in Tillabery and Diffa Regions and imprisoned far from their families in Niamey.
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. The law allows individuals accused of terror-related crimes to be detained without charge for a longer period. Persons arrested or detained are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
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 (most recently expanding the SoE to three new parts of Tillabery on November 30 and renewing the SoE in all existing areas on December 17). On November 30, 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.
Police effectiveness was limited due to a lack of basic supplies, such as vehicle fuel, radios, and other investigatory and law enforcement equipment. Patrols outside of Niamey were sporadic. Police training was minimal, and only specialized police units had advanced weapon-handling skills. National Guard troops were assigned rotationally as prison guards for six months at a time but had little or no prison-specific training. A law passed in 2017 created a specialized cadre of prison police, and the police system had reportedly launched a first round of training but had not fully implemented the law. Citizens complained security forces did not adequately police border regions, remote rural areas, and major cities. Corruption remained a problem.
The gendarmerie and the police inspector general are responsible for the investigation of police abuses; nevertheless, police impunity remained a 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 period begins once suspects reach the Niamey Central Service for the Fight against Terrorism; 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. Police and other security force members sometimes rounded up persons accused of being members of, or supporting terrorist groups, based on circumstantial evidence, subsequently holding them for months or even years (see section 1.g.). In 2015-16, following the government’s implementation of a SoE in Diffa, the security forces used their authority to arrest at least 1,400 individuals for violating state-of-emergency restrictions and curfews, or in response to denunciations. Lacking investigations and evidence, most of these prisoners remained in detention, mostly in Kollo Prison in Niamey far from their families, until the government prioritized a trial procedure starting in 2017. The cases of approximately 800 individuals had been brought to trial by the end of the year, with many trials leading to acquittal for lack of evidence.
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, including terrorist-related offenses), some detainees waited as long as five years to be tried. A majority of prisoners were awaiting trial, with one nongovernmental organization (NGO) stating the percentage was as high as 75 percent. Judicial inefficiency, inadequate resources, staff shortages, corruption, and executive branch interference lengthened pretrial detention periods. Civil society activists and members of opposition political parties appeared to be especially subject to irregular implementation of their due process rights, including prolonging of pretrial detention to allow prosecutors time to assemble evidence. By contrast some high-profile detainees benefited from extended provisional release.
Saidou Bakari, Ide Kalilou, and Mallah Ari, all associated with the main opposition party the Democratic Movement for an African Federation (MODEN-FA Lumana), were arrested in 2016 on allegations of misappropriating humanitarian assistance in 2005. At the end of the year, they remained in jail awaiting trial, despite being cleared of wrongdoing by a gendarmerie investigation commissioned by the government.
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 Islamic 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.
The law affirms the presumption of innocence. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. The law also provides 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. 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
There were reports of political prisoners who remained incarcerated during the year. Saidou Bakari and Ide Kalilou, members of the leading opposition party, and Mallah Ari, an assistant to the president of the leading opposition party, have been jailed since 2016 on corruption charges dating back to 2005, although a gendarmerie investigation found no proof of wrongdoing. Critics alleged their continued jailing was political in nature.
The trial of 11 military officers and one civilian arrested in 2015 on accusations of plotting a coup concluded on January 26, with 15-year sentences for the three alleged leaders of the coup plot, General Souleymane Salou, Lieutenant Ousmane Awal Hambaly, and Captain Issa Amadou Kountche.
The court gave five- and 10-year sentences to six other soldiers. The court acquitted two soldiers and gave the single civilian in the case, Niandou Salou, son of accused ringleader General Salou, five years in prison. All of the charges linked those found guilty to “fomenting between November and December 2015 a conspiracy to attack the authority or security of the state.” Critics alleged that the government fabricated the coup attempt to justify the arrest, along with these 12 persons tried in 2018, of virtually all the opposition leaders in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, most of whom were eventually released without charge.
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 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 the Diffa, Tahoua, and Tillabery Regions, authorities may search houses at any time and for any reason.
The regional fight against the terrorist group Boko Haram continued in the east, while extremist groups linked to the conflict in Mali terrorized the west of the country. Several groups with links to al-Qaida and ISIS were active in the country during the year.
Killings: Criminals and extremist groups conducted terrorist attacks in the western regions of Tillabery and Tahoua, with the attacks and security force responses to the attacks together leading to 74 deaths in the first 10 months of the year, according to data tracked by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Conflict in the Diffa Region during the first 10 months of the year killed an estimated 107 persons. According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), an organization tracking conflict deaths through media reporting, there were 12 terror-related deaths in the Agadez Region in the north of the country during the first seven months of the year, 103 terror-related deaths in Tillabery and Tahoua Regions, and 53 in Diffa Region. Numbers varied due to different tracking and sourcing protocols. Of the 168 total fatalities reported by ACLED, 110 appeared to be civilians, with 58 of these civilian fatalities resulting from security force actions.
Abductions: Terrorist groups and bandits kidnapped dozens of citizens and two Westerners. Armed groups in the Diffa Region including Boko Haram and bandits abducted civilians. For example, unidentified armed men kidnapped the mother and sister of a parliamentarian on September 3 in Diffa Region. Armed groups in northern Tillabery Region also abducted several citizens during the year, as well as one German and one Italian citizen. The status of one U.S. citizen abducted in Tahoua in 2016 remained undetermined. Of the 39 women kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2017 in the village of Ngalewa in the Diffa Region, 37 remained missing.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Boko Haram militants often targeted noncombatants, including women and children, and used violence, intimidation, theft, and threats to get what they wanted from local villagers.
Child Soldiers: Boko Haram recruited and used children in both combatant and noncombatant roles. There were reports of forced marriages to Boko Haram militants. (See also section 6 on conditions for these juvenile detainees.)
The government provided some limited material and logistical support in Niger to a Mali-based militia, GATIA, a group that has been reported to recruit and use child soldiers.
Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: Aid organizations in Diffa Region were sometimes unable to obtain the required security escorts to travel outside of Diffa town for aid distribution; security forces deemed certain areas insufficiently secure for humanitarian access and at times did not have sufficient resources to provide escorts. Boko Haram militants burned homes and villages, displacing civilians. Extremists in northern Tillabery Region reportedly began charging local villagers taxes, while extremists in western Tillabery Region reportedly burned some government-funded schools, telling villagers their children should not attend such schools.
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.
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. HALCIA and the State Inspectorate have investigative roles, with the State Inspectorate being more administrative.