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Niger Court May Lift Immunity of Ex-President After Unfair Proceedings

Mohamed Bazoum Denied Access to Lawyers, Evidence

Former Niger President Mohamed Bazoum at the Elysee Palace in Paris, February 16, 2023. © 2023 Michel Euler/AP Photo

Niger’s highest court on June 14 may decide to lift the immunity from prosecution of former President Mohamed Bazoum following proceedings that failed to meet basic due process standards. The Nigerien authorities should drop this problematic case and respect Bazoum’s fair trial rights.

Bazoum has been arbitrarily detained in the presidential residence since last July, when Nigerien army officers overthrew his government in a military coup. In August, the junta authorities announced plans to prosecute him for “high treason” and undermining national security, but never brought him before a judge. In April, the authorities initiated legal proceedings against him to lift his presidential immunity so he could be prosecuted for alleged crimes committed after he was elected president in 2021.

Following the coup, the junta created the State Court to replace the Court of Cassation and the Council of State, making it the highest court in Niger. The proceedings before the State Court have been marred by serious irregularities, including violations of Bazoum’s rights to present evidence in his defense, to communicate with his legal counsel, and to be heard before an independent court. By bringing the case before the country’s highest court, they also denied Bazoum his right to appeal the ruling.

Nigerien human rights advocates have questioned the court’s proceedings. One lawyer said: “How can a court whose president is named directly by the head of state be an impartial and independent body?”

Bazoum’s lawyers told Human Rights Watch that they have been unable to communicate with him since last October and have had restricted access to case material. “Authorities amended article 141 of the court statute [concerning access to case information], while the case was already pending before the court, hindering us from consulting key documents in the file,” said Moussa Coulibaly, one of Bazoum’s lawyers. “You can’t change the rules during the match.”

In September, Bazoum filed a petition with the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), citing violations of human rights against him and his family during his detention. In December, the ECOWAS court ruled that Bazoum was arbitrarily detained and called for his release.

The African Union Principles on the Right to a Fair Trial provide that the essential elements of a fair hearing in all legal proceedings include: access to legal counsel, adequate opportunity to prepare a case, and the right to an appeal to a higher judicial body.

Niger’s authorities should drop the current proceedings, and if there are recognizable charges against Bazoum, file the case before the regular criminal courts and ensure all fair trial rights are respected. 

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