a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were unconfirmed reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. For example, the armed forces were accused during the year of executing persons believed to be fighting with extremist groups in both Diffa and Tillabery Regions rather than holding them in detention. Early in the year, there were reports in the Tillabery Region that government security forces coordinated military operations alongside an armed group that recruited and used child soldiers. In May when international partners made the government aware of these allegations, the government took steps to prevent this coordination. Malian militia groups such as the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad and Imghad Tuareg and Allies Self-Defense Group (GATIA) were accused of committing human rights abuses in the country, 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 against either organization, which appeared to cease in May.
In early March a military tribunal ordered the arrest of 29 cadets and three commanders (trainers) from the National Military Training Center (EFOFAN) in connection with the death of Talata Chamssoudine Tchiombiano, an Air Force pilot in training, in December 2018. The detained commanders were charged with what amounted to dereliction of duty and accessory to a murder, and the cadets were detained on charges related to the beating death. On June 20, after an investigation, the judge released 28 of the cadets and two of the commanders. The judge was to conduct more investigations on the two remaining in jail (the captain and a cadet) before giving a final verdict. Other than the reassignment of the head of EFOFAN, as of November no leadership had been held responsible for the death of the pilot.
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 the Tillabery and Diffa Regions.
There were also multiple instances of kidnappings by armed groups and bandits (see section 1.g.). For example, the kidnapping of tens of local chiefs throughout the year in the Diffa Region was attributed to Boko Haram.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices; however, there were reports by domestic civil society organizations that 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.
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 harassed or detained citizens they accused of collusion with Boko Haram, forcing the citizens to pay a “ransom” to end the harassment.
The CNDH investigated some 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.
In December the government amended its penal code by adding a section on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The amendments were adopted in accordance with recommendations from the United Nations Committee Against Torture.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in the prisons were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care, and attacks by violent extremist organizations.
Physical Conditions: The government reported in December there were 41 prisons designed to hold 10,555 persons. According to the government, prisons held 10,723 inmates; however, human rights observers stated overcrowding remained a widespread problem. For example, the prisons of Niamey and Diffa were respectively designed to hold 445 and 100 persons but towards year’s end held 1,379 and 400 inmates. 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. Terrorist and high-threat offenders were separated from other criminal offenders. 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. Observers noted judicial slowness, dilapidated prison premises (except at the Tillabery prison), an insufficiency of prison staff, a lack of funding for food, health care, and maintenance, and inadequacy of postrelease reintegration systems.
Administration: Judicial authorities and the CNDH investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions and followed up on credible allegations of inhumane conditions. Prison management generally permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship.
In 2018 the government signed a memorandum of understanding with the governments of Mali and Morocco regarding collaboration and exchange among the prison administrations of the three countries. The goals of this agreement were to develop and support cooperation in programs of common interest and the exchange of information, expertise, and good practices, especially in the areas of inmate reintegration, security and management within facilities, and training for prison staff.
National Guard troops were assigned rotationally as prison guards for six months at a time but had little or no prison-specific training. A 2017 law created a specialized cadre of Prison Guards, and the new Penitentiary Administration system reportedly launched a first round of training but had not fully implemented the law.
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. For juveniles, authorities worked to implement all UNICEF suggestions when funding was available.
Improvements: 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. The CNDH and Ministry of Justice reported improvements in the reintegration centers in Agadez and Daikana, based on the initiative of prison officials. The ministries further noted intermittent improvement in the living conditions of some detainees stemming from the governmental prison administration reforms of 2017, which were focused on improving the detention conditions of prisoners and working conditions of prison staff.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the law prohibits arbitrary detention without charge for more than 48 hours and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her detention, with some exceptions. If the prosecutor receives a case in which an individual was not charged within 48 hours, the case must be dismissed. An investigator can request a waiver for an additional 48 hours (total of 96 hours) before charging an individual. The law allows individuals accused of terror-related crimes to be detained without charge for 15 days, which can be extended only once, for an additional 15 days (total of 30 days).
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. Reports indicated, however, that authorities sometimes held detainees implicated in sensitive cases longer than legally permitted. Under the country’s terrorism laws, individuals detained on suspicion of committing terrorism-related offenses may be detained for 15 days, extendable once for an additional 15 days. This 15-day period begins once suspects reach the Niamey Central Service for the Fight against Terrorism and Transnational Organized Crime (SCLCT/CTO); terror suspects apprehended in the rural Diffa Region at times spent days or weeks in either regional civilian or military custody before officials transported 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 of being transferred to SCLCT/CTO. 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, lack of funds, and an insufficient number of lawyers 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 on occasion 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 the period preceding a July African Union Summit in Niamey, security forces detained a number of individuals on suspicion of having terrorist links. The individuals were released following the conclusion of the summit.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention continued to be a problem. The law provides for maximum pretrial confinement of 48 months for terrorism offenses where the sentence could be 10 years or more in prison and 24 months for less serious offenses. The vast majority of prisoners were awaiting trial and, according to statistics provided by the government, approximately 80 percent of prisoners facing terrorism charges were in pretrial detention. Reports indicated judicial inefficiency, limited investigative capacity, and staff shortages contributed to lengthy pretrial detention periods for terrorism offenses. Regarding other offenses, 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.
The government operated a detention facility in Goudoumaria that specifically housed defectors from violent extremist organizations. As of November, 233 persons resided in the facility, including 137 adult males, 27 women, and 69 children. Families were kept together and separated from single males. By the end of the year, 125 individuals graduated from a rehabilitation program designed to provide vocational training and preparation for reintegration into villages in the region. By year’s end, a majority of the graduates were released into the community. A facility located directly outside the walls of the camp was being constructed to house single women and children. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) provided the majority of services to the facility, including potable water, food, and medical care. The government took over responsibility for paying for medicine from the United Nations Development Program, but it had not paid the medicine provider, and resources were running low at year’s end. Children in the camp suffered from malaria, and pregnant women lacked adequate access to emergency care.
Defectors who meet the government’s legal criteria for conditional amnesty are supposed to be released after receiving three to six months of deradicalization, rehabilitation, and vocational training. The chief prosecutor is responsible for reviewing defector case files and working with the Ministry of Interior, Public Safety, and Decentralization to make decisions about the defectors’ eligibility for reintegration. Due to bureaucratic and logistical challenges associated with establishing and implementing this program, defectors and family members remained in the facility for prolonged periods of time–some up to three years. By year’s end 125 defectors completed rehabilitation training and began the reintegration process with a second group nearing rehabilitation training.
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. Ide Kalilou was released on February 22, and his case dismissed after 1,010 days of pretrial detention. Mallah Ari, an assistant to the president of the leading opposition party, was released for medical treatment in France; however, his case remained pending. Saidou Bakari remained in detention at a medical facility at year’s end, despite a gendarmerie investigation determining he had committed no criminal acts. His court case continued at year’s end.
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 that 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 either at the investigative judge or trial stage of proceedings. 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, a member of the leading opposition party, remained jailed since 2016 on corruption charges dating back to 2005, although a gendarmerie investigation found no proof of wrongdoing. Mallah Ari’s case–who was receiving medical treatment in France–remained pending at year’s end. Critics alleged the continuation of their cases and jailing were political in nature. Ide Kalilou was released on February 22, his case dismissed after 1,010 days of pretrial detention.
Of the 29 persons detained in connection with antitax demonstrations during 2018, one remained in pretrial detention: Sadate Illiya Dan Mallam (or Malam) was arrested in April 2018 in the city of Zinder. In May a Zinder judge heard Sadat’s case and released him due to insufficient evidence. As is common in the judicial system, within hours the local prosecutor filed an appeal, returning Sadat to jail. Sadat said his 13-month pretrial detention was political revenge for his activism against government corruption.
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 SoE provisions in the Diffa, Tahoua, and Tillabery Regions, authorities may search houses at any time and for any reason.
g. Abuses in Internal Conflicts
The regional fight against the terrorist group Boko Haram and ISIS-WA 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-core were active in the country during the year.
Killings: Criminals and extremist groups conducted terrorist attacks, primarily in Diffa Region and the western regions of Tillabery and Tahoua. On December 10, terrorists attacked the military camp in Inates, killing 71 soldiers.
During the year, according to the Tillabery governor, 13 village leaders and more than 130 soldiers were killed in Tillabery, the majority in large-scale attacks. Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) data confirmed these numbers, suggesting that violent attacks clustered along the Mali and Burkina Faso borders. According to community leaders, violence in the town of Torodi, Tillabery Region, escalated significantly during the year.
In the Tahoua Region, terrorist attacks and security force responses to the attacks resulted in 74 deaths in the first 10 months of the year, according to 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 ACLED data, fatalities in the Diffa Region were in the hundreds, with at least 30 soldiers killed in significant attacks in October and April.
Many of the killings, especially in Diffa and Tillabery, specifically targeted government authorities or private individuals seen as informants for the security or law enforcement entities. Observers noted these attacks significantly disrupted government efforts to protect communities and led to substantial internal displacements, bringing insecurity into previously safer areas.
Abductions: Terrorist groups and criminals kidnapped dozens of citizens and two Westerners. Armed groups in the Diffa Region, including Boko Haram and criminals, abducted civilians. In August the United Nations noted at least 179 persons had already been abducted by Boko Haram in the Diffa Region and these numbers continued to grow throughout the year. For example, unidentified armed men kidnapped the mother and sister of a parliamentarian on September 3 in the Diffa Region. During a single week in December, 10 children and seven women and girls were kidnapped from N-Guimi and Gueskerou communes, respectively. The individuals abducted from Gueskerou were later released following ransom payments, but the individuals abducted from N-Guimi remained missing at year’s end. Further, the mayor of Kablewa and his wife were abducted on October 19. Although a large ransom was announced in late October, both remained missing.
Analysts suggested these kidnappings fueled increasing displacements across the region. Some speculated that many of the Diffa kidnappings were linked to Ba Koura, which formally pledged allegiance to the Shekau faction of Boko Haram/ISIS-WA.
Armed groups in northern Tillabery Region also abducted several persons. In addition, one German and one Italian citizen were abducted in Tillabery during the year. Government authorities and citizens were also targeted for abduction. Observers believed the abductions were used to raise funds through ransom, increase recruitment, and for retribution.
The status of one U.S. citizen abducted in Tahoua in 2016 remained undetermined.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Boko Haram militants, and to a lesser extent ISIS affiliates, targeted noncombatants, including women and children, and used violence, intimidation, theft, and kidnapping to terrorize communities and sustain their ranks.
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.)
In previous years the government provided some limited support in Niger to a Mali-based militia, GATIA, a group reported to recruit and use child soldiers. By May, however, the government reportedly ended support for GATIA and successfully pressed for the group to suspend the reported activities due to pressure from international partners and concerned citizens.
Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www/state/gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: Humanitarian organizations in the Diffa Region were sometimes unable to obtain the required security escorts and clearance required to travel outside of the town of Diffa to distribute aid. Boko Haram and ISIS-related violence displaced civilians. Extremists also conducted targeted assassination and threat campaigns against “informants.” Humanitarian organizations reported similar issues in the Maradi and Zinder Regions. Furthermore, an influx of approximately 60,000 refugees from Nigeria into the Maradi Region starting in the summer, increased concerns about access to humanitarian supplies for the new arrivals. Refugees appeared to be fleeing northern Nigeria due to attacks by organized criminals. Niger was attempting to host the refugees in villages throughout the region, but lack of information on the total number of refugees and inability to track where the refugees were limited possible assistance. Criminality also appeared to be on the rise with reported cases of extortion, kidnappings, and home invasions.
ISIS-GS and Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin, affiliates 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. As of midyear, extremists in Tillabery began targeting local and administrative authorities, assassinating or abducting canton chiefs, including the Tuareg canton chief of Inates in May and his replacement in July. A Fulani canton chief, who was abducted in Abala, was missing at year’s end. This practice was also extended to village chiefs, who were attacked, assassinated, and subjected to repeated threats, particularly in Torodi and other locations near the border with Burkina Faso.