The government blocked some humanitarian efforts despite widespread hunger and a growing threat of famine. Civilians suspected of supporting a Tuareg-led armed opposition group were unlawfully killed by security forces. A number of soldiers and civilians were abducted by this group. Several journalists were detained in an attempt to muzzle the press.
Armed conflict between government forces and a Tuareg-led armed opposition movement, the Niger People’s Movement for Justice (Mouvement des Nigériens pour la justice, MNJ), based in the Agadez region in the north, continued throughout the year. Despite calls by civil society and political parties to engage in talks with the MNJ, the Nigerien President ruled out any dialogue, describing the MNJ as “bandits” and “drugs dealers”. The government renewed several times the state of emergency in the Agadez region which gave additional powers to the security forces.
In December, Robert Fowler, UN special envoy to Niger and a fellow UN official Louis Guay, both Canadian nationals, disappeared with their driver while travelling in a car 40km from Niamey, the capital. There were allegations that they had been abducted, but despite the opening of an inquiry by the authorities, no further news of them had emerged by the end of the year.
"...the government suspended the activities of Médecins sans Frontières, forcing the NGO to leave the country."
In June, former prime minister Hama Amadou was arrested on corruption and embezzlement charges. Local human rights organizations called for a prompt and fair trial. His supporters claimed that the charges were politically motivated to prevent him from running in the 2009 presidential elections. Hama Amadou was still detained without trial at the end of the year.
Despite many independent reports indicating serious risks of famine, the government suspended in July authorization for the activities of Médecins sans Frontières (MSF)-France in the south-central region of Maradi, forcing the NGO to leave the country. The government accused MSF of exaggerating the number of malnourished children in the Maradi region in order to raise funds. The government stated that the situation was not “dramatic” and that Niger could handle it without international assistance. The government’s action threatened to undermine the obligation to ensure freedom from hunger and to seek international assistance where necessary.
Arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and unlawful killings
Tens of civilians were arrested by the security forces in the Agadez region and some were allegedly tortured. Many were detained after attacks launched by the MNJ. Most were released after days or weeks of detention without charge or trial. Several enforced disappearances were also reported.
- A tradesman, Aboubakar Attoulèle, was arrested by the military on 26 March. He reportedly had his ears cut off and his hair set on fire before being stabbed to death.
- Four men, including Al Wali, village chief of Tourayat, were arrested by government soldiers on 30 March. Their families were unable to obtain any news about their whereabouts.
Abuses by armed groups
The MNJ abducted and held hostage a number of soldiers and civilians, including a senior government official, an imam and a teacher. Some of them were handed to the International Committee of the Red Cross, but others remained held at the end of the year.
- In January, during an MNJ attack, Abdou Garba Kona, prefect of Tanout, a city 1,000km north-west of Niamey, was kidnapped with several members of military forces. He was released in March with 25 others.
- In May, the MNJ abducted near Tanout the vice president of the National Commission on Human Rights, Ahmadou Ahellawey, while he was raising awareness about human rights. He was released a week later.
Freedom of expression
The government imposed a media blackout on the conflict in the north. The authorities banned journalists from travelling to the area and arrested or arbitrarily detained several journalists accused of links with the MNJ. In March, the Superior Council of Communication suspended Radio France International (RFI) for three months after accusing the station of “discrediting the Nigerien institutions” and in April ordered the indefinite closure of Sahara FM, the main private radio station in Agadez.
- In October, prisoner of conscience Moussa Kaka, director of the privately owned Radio Saraouniya station and RFI correspondent in Niger, was provisionally released after more than a year in detention. The original charge of “complicity in undermining the state’s authority” was replaced by the less serious charge of “actions liable to harm national defence”. His trial had not taken place by the end of the year.
In October, the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ordered the Niger government to pay reparations to a woman who had been kept as a domestic and sexual slave for a decade. The woman had lodged a complaint against the government for failing to implement existing laws against slavery. The landmark decision corroborated denunciations by several international and national NGOs who had said that there were still slaves in Niger despite the criminalization of this practice in 2003.
Amnesty International reportsNiger: Le mouvement d’opposition armé touareg doit cesser de prendre en otage des civils (24 January 2008)
Niger: Executions and forced disappearances follow army reprisals (3 April 2008)