(Nairobi) – Military forces responsible for a coup in Niger should immediately restore fundamental human rights and protect people from harm, Human Rights Watch said today. Coup leaders should ensure that the deposed president, Mohamed Bazoum, and all others in custody, including Interior Minister Hamadou Adamou Souley, are treated lawfully and with respect and ensure a swift transition to democratic civilian rule.
On July 26, 2023, Nigerien army officers of the self-proclaimed National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (Conseil National pour la sauveguarde de la patrie, CNSP) announced on national television the overthrow of Bazoum’s government. Speaking on behalf of the coup leaders, major-colonel Amadou Abdramane proclaimed that the constitution had been dissolved, all institutions suspended, and the nation’s borders closed. He said the deteriorating “security situation, poor economic, and social governance” led to his forces toppling Bazoum.
“Niger’s new military leadership should ensure that everyone’s human rights are respected,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, senior Sahel researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Niger’s regional and international partners should closely monitor the situation and use their influence so that basic rights are not violated.”
The media reported that early on July 26, Niger presidential guards blocked the presidential palace in Niamey, the country’s capital, with military vehicles, holding President Bazoum inside. Residents told Human Rights Watch that later in the day, crowds had taken to the streets in support of Bazoum and that soldiers behind the coup fired warning shots to disperse the protests.
On July 27, media reported that several hundred people gathered in front of the National Assembly to show their support for the coup leaders, calling for the intervention of Russia and the departure of French troops in Niger. Media also reported chaos and burned vehicles around the headquarters of the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (Parti Nigérien pour la Democratie et le Socialisme, PNDS-Tarayya), Bazoum’s party.
Bazoum’s whereabouts remain unclear, but in a Twitter post from his official account on July 27, he said that the “hard-won gains will be safeguarded” and that “Nigeriens who love democracy will see to it.” Bazoum, 63, was Niger’s fourth elected president since it gained independence from French colonial rule in 1960. He has had the backing of Western powers for his support for counterinsurgency operations in the Sahel region.
Since 2015, armed Islamist groups have carried out attacks against Niger’s security forces and civilians. Until 2019, most of these attacks occurred in southeastern Niger by Nigeria-based groups Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). Beginning in 2019, armed Islamist groups linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State ramped up their attacks in western Niger. Niger has also been experiencing serious hazards due to climate change, including floods and droughts. According to the United Nations, Niger faces a complex humanitarian crisis with 4.3 million people, about 17 percent of the population, requiring humanitarian assistance.
This coup, the fourth in Niger’s history since 1960, is the latest in a long line of military takeovers in the Sahel region and West Africa. Since 2020, there have been four military coups in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso. In 2021, military coups also occurred in Chad, Guinea, and Sudan.
The prominent Nigerien human rights defender Rabia Djibo Magagi told Human Rights Watch that she hoped the new military authorities would scrupulously respect human rights. “The unrest generated by the coup should not create a void in the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms,” she said. “The new military authorities should ensure that the human rights of all Nigeriens are upheld.”
On July 27, the UN human rights chief, Volker Türk, said that President Bazoum “must be immediately and unconditionally released, and his security ensured. The arbitrarily detained members of his Government and their relatives must also be released forthwith, and without preconditions.”
“Niger’s military authorities are obligated to respect the rights of everyone in custody, including Bazoum, his family, and others detained,” Allegrozzi said. “The military authorities should promptly provide a specific timeline for the return to democratic civilian rule and uphold the right of all Nigeriens to elect their leaders.”