NIGER 2021Armed groups continued to commit human rights abuses, including war crimes. The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara launched several attacks against civilians in Tillabéri region, while humanitarian access to communities was restricted by administrative measures. The lack of security further affected women’s and children’s rights, the right to education and the right to health, while the rights of refugees and migrants continued to be violated. Internet shutdowns and other violations of freedom of expression were documented.
BackgroundThe election of President Mohamed Bazoum in February was followed over several days by widespread protests, at times violent. Self-defence groups emerged in northern Tillabéri and eastern Tahoua (Tillia commune) in response to killings by the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS). The humanitarian situation remained critical, due to continued situations of armed conflict mainly in the Lake Chad and the Tillabéri regions. By December, UNHCR, the refugee agency, had established that 264,257 people were internally displaced due to the violence, along with 249,816 refugees from neighbouring countries.
Abuses by armed groupsThe conflict in the west of Niger escalated, with a surge of attacks by the ISGS and other armed groups against civilians mainly in the Tillaberi region. The attacks targeting civilians or carried out indiscriminately constitute war crimes.1 On 2 January, the ISGS attacked the villages of Tchoma Bangou and Zaroum Darey (Tillabéri region), killing at least 103 civilians. ISGS launched another attack on 15 March against traders between Banibangou and Sinégodrar (Tillabéri region), resulting in 58 deaths. This was followed on 21 March by attacks against villagers and Malian refugees in the Tillia commune (Tahoua region), in which 137 people were killed, according to the government. Among these victims, 29 were children, including three girls. ISGS officially claimed these attacks in May, justifying them by the emergence of pro-government militias in these communes. According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, ISGS was responsible for 66% of all deaths from organized violence in Niger, and 79% of attacks targeting civilians during the first half of the year. In August, unidentified gunmen attacked the village Darey Dey (Tillabéri region), killing 37 people, including 14 children. Armed groups also destroyed state infrastructure and burned granaries.
Children’s rightsChildren’s rights were seriously affected in Niger due to lack of security, among other factors. By September, at least 60 children had been killed during attacks on villages by ISGS and other armed groups. The Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (GSIM) recruited children in several communities in Torodi department (Tillabéri region). In May, an attack by a faction of the ISGS in Tillia (Tahoua region) led to mass displacement and the kidnapping of four boys.
Right to educationArmed groups including Boko Haram, the ISGS and the GSIM continued to prohibit “Western” education and to commit war crimes by attacking schools, denying children the right to education. By May, around 700 teachers were no longer at their posts in Tillabéri region, and by June, 377 schools had closed nationwide. At least 31,728 pupils, including 15,518 girls, were not attending school, according to UNICEF and government sources. According to UNICEF, as of June over 50% of children aged seven to 16 were not enrolled in school in Niger.
Women’s and girls’ rightsThe rights of women and girls continued to be routinely violated, particularly in the context of the armed conflict. The influence of customary law meant that child marriage continued to remain prevalent. In April, members of the Chadian contingent of the G5 Sahel threatened several women and girls and raped three of them, including an 11-year-old girl in Tera (Tillabéri region). The soldiers were repatriated and an investigation was announced by the G5 Sahel. GSIM and ISGS continued to restrict the freedom of movement of women and girls in the departments bordering Mali and Burkina Faso, and pressured women and girls in these communities to marry.
Excessive use of forceIn November, a French military convoy was stopped in Tera by protesters challenging French military presence in the Sahel. At least three protesters were killed and more than 12 injured when shots were fired to disperse the crowd. An investigation was announced by the Nigerien authorities following the incident.
ImpunityThe judicial authorities failed to investigate and prosecute the enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions by the military of 72 civilians in Ayorou department (Tillabéri region) in March/April 2020. This was despite an investigation by the National Human Rights Commission which concluded that the military was responsible for these crimes.
Denial of humanitarian accessAuthorities imposed military escort on humanitarian convoys, especially in departments bordering Mali and Burkina Faso. Convoys were sometimes turned back by the authorities citing security reasons. In May, a new decree was promulgated giving increased powers to regional authorities in determining the conditions for humanitarian access and aid delivery in departments where armed groups operated and contributed to improvements in the delivery of aid. In May, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that 500,000 people in Tillabéri region needed humanitarian assistance.
Refugees’ and internally displaced people’s rightsThe rights of refugees and internally displaced people were violated by parties to the conflict. In March, the ISGS attacked settlements inhabited by Malian refugees in Intikane (Tahoua region), killing dozens of people. After around 10,000 people were displaced from the Anzourou department in Tillabéri city due to attacks and threats by the ISGS, they were blackmailed by the authorities into returning to their settlements in May. According to humanitarian sources, the authorities threatened them with the denial of humanitarian aid if they stayed away.
Right to healthThe conflict significantly undermined people’s access to healthcare in Tillabéri region. Armed groups looted health facilities and the authorities restricted movement by civilians, impeding their access to aid. Immunization rates plummeted and diseases such as measles were on the rise, according to humanitarian sources. As of December, a total of 971,636 vaccine doses against Covid-19 had been administered and 464,000 people had received two doses (1.9% of the population).
Freedom of expression and of peaceful assemblyIn reaction to post-electoral protests by the opposition in Niamey, the authorities imposed an internet shutdown for several weeks in February/March. The authorities continued to judicially harass journalists reporting on public affairs. Moussa Aksar, an investigative journalist and editor of L’Évènement newspaper, was convicted of defamation in May after a series of articles from September 2020 that covered the misappropriation of public funds from the Ministry of Defence between 2017 and 2019. He was fined 200,000 XOF (US$362) and ordered to pay 1 million XOF (US$1,810). The authorities continued to target journalist Samira Sabou after she reposted a March report by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, which alleged that a drug seizure made by the authorities in Niger, had been returned to members of a narcotics cartel a few weeks later. She was prosecuted in September for “defamation” and “diffusing information to disturb public order” under the 2019 Cybercrime law. In December, five members of the civil society organization Tournons La Page-Niger (TLP-Niger) were arrested for illegal gathering after the group organized a taxi caravan to raise awareness about the human rights situation in Niger. All five were provisionally released two days later.
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