Freedom in the World 2021 - Niger

PARTLY FREE
48
/ 100
Political Rights 20 / 40
Civil Liberties 28 / 60
LAST YEAR'S SCORE & STATUS
48 / 100 Partly Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.
 
 
 

Overview

The current government in Niger was democratically elected in 2011 and reelected in 2016 in a polling process plagued by serious irregularities. The struggle to meet security challenges posed by active militant groups has served as an alibi for the government to restrict civil liberties. Security, transparency, and gender equality are limited.

Key Developments in 2020

  • Nigeriens voted for outgoing president Mahamadou Issoufou’s successor and for the parliament in late December elections, which observers called largely calm. The vote marked what was expected to be the first peaceful transfer of power in Niger, though results were not finalized by year’s end.
  • A government audit completed in February reported that as much as $130 million in public money was diverted through the—which was prohibited under COVID-19-related measures—was forcefully disrupted by security forces in Niamey, resulting in three deaths; authorities also kept six civil society activists in detention over their involvement in the protest, though all were released by September.
  • Militant groups launched several attacks against civilian and military targets during the year. Militants were reportedly responsible for killing 89 soldiers in a January attack, while Boko Haram was blamed for attacking a village in Diffa Region and killing 28 people the day before local elections were held in December.
  • In March, the government closed borders and imposed an overnight curfew in Niamey in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, though the curfew was lifted in May. Protests were restricted by pandemic-related measures and at least one journalist was arrested over pandemic-related reporting. The authorities reported 3,110 cases and 96 deaths to the World Health Organization at year’s end.

Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 2 / 4

The president is directly elected to up to two five-year terms. Nigeriens voted to replace term-limited incumbent Mahamadou Issoufou in late December 2020. Former interior minister Mohamed Bazoum, the candidate of the ruling Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS Tarayya), competed against 29 others, including former president Mahamane Ousmane (1993–96).

The Constitutional Court disqualified several candidates in November, including Nigerien Democratic Movement for an African Federation candidate Hama Amadou; Amadou was disqualified over a 2017 human-trafficking conviction which he called bogus. The polls were marked by isolated reports of attempted vote buying, but were largely peaceful. The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) did not release provisional results by year’s end.

A2 0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 2 / 4

There are 171 seats in the unicameral National Assembly, 158 of which are directly elected from 8 multimember constituencies; 8 which are reserved for minority representatives, who are elected directly from special single-seat constituencies; and 5 that are reserved for Nigeriens living abroad.

Nigeriens abroad were unable to participate in the late December 2020 parliamentary elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but voters within Niger voted to fill the 166 domestic seats concurrently with the presidential contest. Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) observers called the elections relatively free and fair, and lauded the participation of young and female voters. Results for the parliamentary elections were not finalized by year’s end.

Regional and local elections were held in mid-December 2020. The night before these polls opened, the Boko Haram militant group reportedly launched an attack on a village in Diffa Region, killing at least 28 people.

A3 0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 2 / 4

The electoral code offers a framework for fair elections. However, the opposition, pointing to reports of widespread irregularities in recent elections, among other issues, has cast doubt over the impartiality of the CENI and the Constitutional Court, which together approve lists of candidates and validate election results. In 2017, the government and the opposition disagreed over the appointment of a new commission to organize the 2020 presidential and legislative elections; the government unilaterally appointed the new commission after the opposition boycotted the process.

In 2019, parliamentarians adopted a new electoral code. That same year, the CENI launched the process of enrollment in a biometric voter list. ECOWAS and the Organization of La Francophonie called the new voter file reliable after reviewing it in September 2020.

While 41 candidates registered to participate in the December 2020 presidential elections, 11 were disqualified by the Constitutional Court in November. Most were disqualified because they did not pay the required registration fee.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 2 / 4

By law, political parties may freely organize and conduct their activities. However, the PNDS Tarayya–led government has employed a variety of tactics to interfere in the operation of opposition parties, including persecution of opposition leaders and the co-optation of key opposition figures. Over 150 political parties were registered as of November 2020.

B2 0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 2 / 4

In theory, the opposition can mobilize support and increase its membership. However, the opposition has suffered from a lack of leadership, partly due to the absence of Amadou, who previously served a prison sentence and lived in exile. Opposition parties have been divided into several coalitions and face serious difficulties in challenging the PNDS Tarayya’s dominance. In addition, a history of government-led repression and co-option has hindered their ability to gain power through elections.

Members of the opposition have expressed concern over the rising insecurity in several regions, particularly in the opposition stronghold of Tillabéri. Such insecurity has hindered the parties’ ability to campaign and disturbed polling operations in the region. Tillabéri voter-enlistment agents have been targeted by militants, who threatened to attack anyone participating in elections. In September 2020, the CENI reported Tillabéri voter-registration figures that fell below the national average.

B3 0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 2 / 4

Niger has experienced several military coups, most recently in 2010, and the influence of the military still looms over the political sphere. The government claimed to have foiled a coup attempt in 2015, though it did not produce evidence. In late 2018, multiple military officers were arrested; the timing and circumstances of the arrests appear similar to those of the alleged 2015 incident.

B4 0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 2 / 4

The law provides for equal opportunity for all Nigeriens to seek political office and participate in political processes. However, women have been underrepresented both in elected and cabinet positions. A parity law calls for women to hold 10 percent of parliamentary seats and 25 percent of cabinet positions. While 16 percent of the parliament was female as of 2016, the quota has historically not been respected, nor does it guarantee that women participate equally once elected or appointed to cabinet positions.

While the Hausa and Zarma (or Djerma) ethnic groups have dominated many government positions, ethnic minorities are increasingly visible in politics, particularly Tuareg and Arabs. Nomadic groups, including the Fulani, are underrepresented in elected positions and have difficulty registering to vote.

C Functioning of Government

C1 0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 2 / 4

Elected representatives were duly installed into office following the 2016 polls. However, the harassment of the opposition during the 2016 electoral period, as well as irregularities in the elections themselves, damaged the government’s legitimacy.

C2 0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 2 / 4

There are several anticorruption authorities and programs. The High Authority for Combating Corruption and Related Crimes (HALCIA) is the official anticorruption body. The government operates an anticorruption hotline and has established an anticorruption initiative focused on the judiciary. The HALCIA actively tracks corruption cases and informs the public of its activities. However, the government often has refused to carry through HALCIA recommendations or pursue identified corruption cases in court. Corruption is thought to be particularly high in Nigerien taxation agencies. Bribes are sometimes required to gain access to public services.

A government audit completed in February 2020 reported that as much as 76 billion CFA francs ($130 million) in public money was diverted due to the manipulation of defense procurements between 2014 and 2019. In August, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) reported that two businessmen with government ties had orchestrated the diversion of funds. No prosecutions were launched based on the audit by year’s end.

In recent years, the International Crisis Group (ICG) has found increasing evidence of relationships between traffickers and politicians. In 2019, an adviser to the National Assembly president was arrested in Guinea-Bissau while transporting cocaine, though there was no proof of involvement on the part of the legislature’s president.

C3 0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 2 / 4

Implementation and enforcement of the 2011 Charter on Access to Public Information and Administrative Documents has been uneven. Government information related to the mining, uranium, and oil sectors, and state-operated companies, is often not disclosed.

In February 2020, Niger resumed its participation in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). In 2017, Niger, a global leader in uranium production, withdrew from EITI after the organization suspended the country; EITI cited its failure to meet standards for transparent licensing allocation and contract disclosure, lack of a comprehensive public license register, and other concerns.

Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 2 / 4

In 2010, Niger adopted a press law eliminating prison terms for media offenses and reducing the threat of libel cases. However, journalists still face difficulties, including occasional police violence while covering protests, and detention or prosecution in response to critical or controversial reporting. Niger Search editor Samira Ibrahim Sabou was arrested in June 2020 after outgoing president Issoufou’s son accused her of defamation. Sabou was released in July.

Journalists also faced scrutiny for reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic. In early March 2020, journalist Kaka Touda Mamane Goni was arrested after reporting on a suspected COVID-19 case in a Niamey hospital, which filed a complaint. Mamane was handed a suspended sentence and freed later that month.

D2 0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 2 / 4

Freedom of religion is legally guaranteed, but there are some constraints on religious expression and worship in practice. The rise of militant groups has increased the threat of violence against Christians.

In March 2020, the government shuttered places of worship as part of its COVID-19 response; the decision was heavily criticized by Muslims, who represent the overwhelming majority of the population, and sparked protests.

In 2019, citing security concerns, the government adopted a new law that imposed greater control over religious activities, including building worship places, preaching, and religious education.

D3 0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 3 / 4

Academic freedom is generally upheld, but insecurity and heavy-handed responses to campus protests can impede academic freedom.

D4 0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 3 / 4

Freedom of expression is generally upheld in Niger. However, the government has shown some intolerance of criticism, and has prosecuted people over social media comments. In May 2020, Amnesty International reported that at least 10 people were arbitrarily detained over alleged cybercrime violations since March. In one of these cases, authorities gained access to an individual’s WhatsApp conversations.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 2 / 4

Freedom of assembly is constitutionally guaranteed, but authorities do not always respect this right in practice, and police have at times used force to break up demonstrations. In 2017, the government announced the prohibition of public protests on “business days.”

In March 2020, at least 15 civil society activists who organized a protest over procurement-related corruption were arrested by the authorities, and 6 were kept in detention. Authorities also used force to disperse the Niamey rally, which had been prohibited under COVID-19 measures; 3 people in a market were killed after a tear gas canister reportedly ignited the structure. Three of the detained individuals were bailed in late April, while the other three were provisionally released in late September.

E2 0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 2 / 4

The government occasionally restricts the operations of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and a lack of security in certain regions also impedes their functioning. The government has restricted the movement of UN personnel and aid workers without military escort in some areas, impacting the delivery of humanitarian assistance. In August 2020, staff members of NGO ACTED were among six French and two Nigeriens killed by armed assailants at a wildlife reserve.

E3 0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 2 / 4

While the constitution and other laws guarantee workers the right to join unions and bargain for wages, a large portion of the workforce is employed informally and lacks access to formal union representation. The legal definition of “essential” workers not permitted to strike is broad, and the can invoke mandatory arbitration processes to settle strikes.

F Rule of Law

F1 0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 1 / 4

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and courts have shown some level of independence, though the judicial system is subject to executive interference. Recent rulings against opposition leaders and civil society activists have decreased trust in the judiciary.

F2 0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 2 / 4

Arbitrary arrests and imprisonments are frequent. Many people accused of crimes are held in pretrial detention for extended periods of time, sometimes in the same population as people convicted of crimes. In 2018, several military officers accused of plotting a 2015 coup against the Issoufou government received 5– to 15-year prison sentences, after spending over 2 years in pretrial detention.

States of emergency declared in several regions allow the army to engage in mass arrests and detain those suspected of links with terrorist organizations.

F3 0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 1 / 4

Nigeriens face insecurity due to ongoing militant activity. Several militant groups, including Boko Haram, are active within Nigerien territory. Militants launched several attacks against civilians and military personnel in 2020. Some 89 soldiers were killed by suspected militants who attacked an army base in the western town of Chinagodrar in January. At least 50 Boko Haram fighters were reportedly killed when government forces repelled a March attack on a military installation in Toumour. In May, Boko Haram reportedly attacked an army base in Diffa Region; at least 12 soldiers were killed. The day before local elections were held in December, Boko Haram reportedly attacked a village in Diffa, killing at least 28 people.

Criminal groups from Nigeria were observed in the southern region of Maradi in 2019, and engaged in village raids, kidnappings, sexual violence, and killings.

A reliance on nonstate armed groups to conduct counterterrorism operations has inflamed intercommunal tensions near the Niger-Mali border, leading to instances of violence. Furthermore, increased attacks on the Burkina Faso border have prompted concerns about militant activity there. The government has imposed states of emergency within the regions of Diffa, Tillabéri, and Tahoua over ongoing insecurity.

F4 0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 2 / 4

The rights of ethnic minority groups are protected by law. While two ethnic groups, Hausa and Zarma (or Djerma), have dominated economic leadership positions, Tuareg and Arabs are increasingly represented. Same-sex sexual activity is not illegal in Niger, but same-sex relationships are highly stigmatized, and there is no protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Although the 2010 constitution prohibits gender discrimination, women suffer widespread discrimination in practice. The application of the law by customary courts often discriminates against women.

Niger has made efforts to welcome Malian and Nigerian refugees and other forcibly displaced populations.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 2 / 4

The constitution guarantees freedom of movement, but this is hampered by militant activity and bribery by security officials who guard checkpoints. COVID-19-related movement restrictions were also introduced in March 2020, when authorities closed external borders. A curfew was imposed in Niamey that month, though it was loosened in late April and lifted in May. While air travel resumed in August, authorities again tightened borders in October.

G2 0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 2 / 4

Several complications undermine legal guarantees of the right to own property. Few people hold formal ownership documents for their land, though customary law provides some protection. However, the enforcement of both state and customary law often gives way to tension and confusion. Women have less access to land ownership than men due to inheritance practices and inferior status in property disputes.

G3 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 1 / 4

Family law gives women inferior status in divorce proceedings. Female genital mutilation (FGM) was criminalized in 2003 and has declined, but it continues among a small percentage of the population. Penalties for rape are heavy, but societal attitudes and victims’ fears of retribution discourage reporting, and when rape is reported it is often poorly investigated. Domestic violence is not explicitly criminalized, though women may lodge criminal allegations of battery against partners. Some cases have resulted in convictions, but reporting is similarly discouraged in practice.

G4 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 1 / 4

Although slavery was criminalized in 2003 and banned in the 2010 constitution, it remains a problem in Niger. Estimates of the number of enslaved people vary widely but is generally counted in the tens of thousands. Niger remains a source, transit point, and destination for human trafficking.

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