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Events of 2023

Protesters hold a Niger flag during a demonstration a few days after the coup in Niamey, Niger, August 3, 2023.

© 2023 AFP via Getty Images

The July 26 military coup drew global attention to the human rights situation in Niger, including restrictions on freedom of expression and the erosion of civic space. On that day, army officers of the self-proclaimed National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (Conseil national pour la sauvegarde de la patrie, CNSP) announced on national television the overthrow of the government of President Mohamed Bazoum. They dissolved the constitution, suspended all institutions, and closed the country’s borders. They arrested Bazoum, his wife and son, and several other state officials, arguing that they were taking action because of Niger’s deteriorating security situation. On July 27, Gen. Abdourahamane “Omar” Tiani, head of Niger’s presidential guard, appointed himself head of the country’s new military government.

In response to the coup, on July 30, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) suspended all ties with Niger and threatened military action if the CNSP did not release Bazoum, return him to power, and restore constitutional order. On August 10, ECOWAS further condemned the coup and imposed sanctions on the country and the coup leaders, including travel bans and asset freezes.

On August 19, following talks with an ECOWAS delegation, Tiani announced a three-year transition to democratic rule, a plan rejected by ECOWAS.

Since the coup, freedom of expression has been curtailed and independent journalists have faced arrests, threats, and harassment. Political space shrank, with the junta banning the activities of all political parties and arresting several members of the ousted government and its supporters.

Niger continued to battle Islamist armed groups, including the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) and the rival Al-Qaeda-linked Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wa al-Muslimeen, JNIM), as well as Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) in its western and southeastern regions.

Flooding and torrential rains in July destroyed tens of thousands of homes and crops and led to at least 41 deaths across the country as well as mass displacement.

The humanitarian situation remained critical, with 4.3 million people, about 17 percent of the population, in need of humanitarian assistance and over 370,000 people internally displaced. Niger also hosted over 320,000 refugees and asylum seekers as of August, and continued to receive new arrivals, primarily from Nigeria, Mali, and Burkina Faso, as well as over 20,000 migrants expelled from Algeria to Niger’s Agadez region during 2023.

Post-Coup Violence

After the coup, supporters of the CNSP, at times organized in vigilante committees, have committed several acts of violence against members of Bazoum’s party, the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (Parti Nigérien pour la Démocratie et le Socialisme, PNDS-Tarayya). CNSP supporters are believed to have perpetrated the violence as a result of political tensions over a possible ECOWAS military intervention.

On July 27, supporters of the junta ransacked and set fire to the PNDS headquarters in the capital, Niamey. They also burned scores of vehicles and physically assaulted several PNDS members who had gathered at the party’s headquarters for a meeting. The security forces did not take adequate measures to prevent the violence. In August, youth vigilantes supporting the CNSP sexually assaulted several women during unlawful patrols at Niamey’s main roundabouts, according to the police and the Nigerien League for Women’s Rights. At least four of the victims filed complaints with the Nigerien police against their abusers, but so far, none of the perpetrators has been charged with these offenses.

Post-Coup Arbitrary Arrests

Since the coup, the junta has arbitrarily arrested several officials from the ousted government, including Sani Mahamadou Issoufou, former minister of petroleum; Hamadou Adamou Souley, former minister of home affairs; Kalla Moutari, former defense minister; and Ahmad Jidoud, former minister of finance. In September, they were transferred to prisons in Filingué, Say, and Kollo in Tillabéri region and in Niamey and charged with “threatening state security” by a military court despite being civilians, in violation of due process.

Bazoum, his wife, and his son have remained in detention since July 26 at the presidential palace in Niamey. On August 13, the military authorities announced plans to prosecute Bazoum for “high treason” and undermining national security, but he had not been brought before a judge at time of writing. On September 18, Bazoum filed a petition with the ECOWAS Court of Justice in Abuja, Nigeria, citing human rights violations against him and his family in detention. He also called for his immediate reinstatement as president. At time of writing, the court was due to issue its verdict on November 30. On October 3, Salem Mohamed Bazoum, the former president’s son, contested the legality of his detention before a Niamey high court and on October 6, the court ordered his release. However, the CNSP has yet to comply with the ruling. In an October 20 press release, lawyers representing Bazoum said that he, his wife, and his son were being detained in a secret location and rejected the military authorities’ claim that he had attempted to escape.

Post-Coup Attacks on Freedom of Expression

Since the coup, the junta has restricted freedom of expression and shut down media. Local and international journalists have been physically attacked, threatened, verbally harassed, and cyber-harassed.

On July 28, Soufiane Mana Hassan, editor of the newspaper Le Témoin de l’Histoire, was threatened on the street about his newspaper’s coverage and his social media posts.

On July 30, demonstrators at a CNSP march threatened French journalists Anne-Fleur Lespiaut and Stanislas Poyet. In early August, Lespiaut was cyber-harassed by CNSP supporters.

On August 3, the CNSP indefinitely suspended local retransmissions of international news broadcasters Radio France Internationale (RFI) and France 24, a violation of the right to free and independent information. The blocking created an information gap, as local media outlets lost access to reliable and independent international news sources. Nigerien outlets were also stopped from reporting freely.

On August 19, Amaury Hauchard and Poyet were verbally and physically attacked while covering an event of Volunteers of the Homeland, civilian auxiliaries of the army. Poyet’s passport was stolen, and his media equipment was broken. Hauchard required stitches. 

On September 30, men who identified themselves as security force members arrested and took away Samira Sabou, a blogger and journalist, from her mother’s home in Niamey. Sabou’s whereabouts remained unknown for seven days. The Niamey judicial police initially denied arresting her, but on October 7, she was transferred to the criminal investigations unit of the Niamey police, where her lawyer and husband visited her. On October 11, she was charged with “production and dissemination of data likely to disturb public order” and released pending trial.

Sabou had already been arrested previously for her journalism. In 2022, she was sentenced to a one-month suspended prison sentence for reporting on drug trafficking in Niger. In 2020, she was subjected to 48 days of arbitrary detention and cybercrime charges.

The junta has silenced dissenting voices. In an August 22 decree, Niger’s new leader Gen. Tiani announced the removal from office of six academics and state officials, without any explanation. The day before, those removed had signed a petition, along with other academics, distancing themselves from an August 1 statement by the National Union of Teachers and Researchers in support of the CNSP.

On October 3, Samira Ibrahim, a social media user known as “Precious Mimi,” was convicted and given a six-month suspended sentence and a fine of XOF 300,000 (about US$479) for “producing data that could disturb public order.” The charge related to a Facebook post, in which she referred to Algeria’s refusal to recognize the new Nigerien junta.

Attacks by Islamist Armed Groups

An Islamist insurgency, which broke out in northern Mali in 2012 before spreading to neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso in 2015, has resulted in widespread abuses in Niger for more than a decade. The so-called three borders area, in southwest Niger’s Tillabéri region, between Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, has regularly suffered attacks by armed groups linked to Islamic State (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda.

On July 14, suspected members of an Islamist group killed four civilians and injured seven others in an attack in Tillabéri region. An October 2 attack by suspected members of an Islamist armed group using improvised explosive devices in vehicles killed at least 29 soldiers in Niger’s western Tahoua region. The junta declared three days of national mourning.

Intercommunal Violence

In April, violent clashes between sedentary ethnic Djerma communities and nomadic ethnic Fulani communities in the Tillabéri region led to several deaths and injuries and the displacement of about 18,000 people. Between August 15 and 16 in the same area, clashes between the two communities led to the killing of 25 civilians.

Migrants’ Rights

Between January and August, Algeria deported more than 20,000 migrants of multiple nationalities, including children, in multiple collective expulsions to its border with Niger, according to the Niger-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Alarme Phone Sahara. An estimated 8,000 to 11,000 expelled people arrived between January and April alone in the village of Assamaka, 15 kilometers from the Algerian border, in Niger’s Agadez region. Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders, MSF) called the numbers “unprecedented.” MSF, Alarme Phone Sahara, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) raised the alarm in March and April as thousands of migrants remained stranded in Assamaka without access to shelter, health care, protection, or basic necessities, also straining resources for members of the host community.

With Niger’s borders closed following the July coup, thousands of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers remained trapped in Niger in deteriorating humanitarian conditions, some in Assamaka and others in overcrowded IOM transit centers. In September, the IOM called on Nigerien authorities to establish a humanitarian corridor to enable voluntary returns of stranded migrants to their countries of origin.

Child Marriage and the Denial of the Right to Education

Niger has the highest prevalence of child marriage of any country in the world, according to UNICEF, with 76 percent of girls marrying before their 18th birthday.

In 2018, the latest year for which data is available, about 26 percent of children completed primary education and less than 5 percent completed lower secondary school; about 20 percent of girls completed primary education and less than 5 percent completed lower secondary school. In 2019, the government issued an order specifically requiring that married and pregnant students and adolescent mothers stay in school but has done little to implement it.

Key International Actors

On July 29, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell announced the immediate suspension of budget support to Niger and of all security cooperation activities with it.

On August 3, Amadou Abdramane, CNSP’s spokesperson, announced that five military cooperation agreements with France, Niger’s former colonial power, were being revoked.

On August 22, the African Union (AU) suspended Niger from its organs, institutions, and actions. Divisions among AU member states over the use of force led to the body calling for a peaceful approach to restoring constitutional order in Niger, rather than a military intervention by West African states.

On August 25, Niger coup leaders gave French ambassador Sylvain Itte 48 hours to leave the country. France initially ignored the directive, declaring the CNSP illegitimate, but changed course on September 24, when French President Emmanuel Macron withdrew the ambassador and announced the withdrawal of all 1,500 French troops stationed in Niger by the end of 2023.

In September, the United Nations and local and international relief organizations warned about the negative impact of ECOWAS sanctions on the population of Niger, with food prices rising and limited accessibility to imported food items and other goods. They called on ECOWAS to introduce humanitarian exemptions to the collective sanctions to ensure access to humanitarian assistance services for vulnerable populations. Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world ranking 189 out of 191 in the 2022 UN Human Development Index.

On October 30, the United States announced that Niger will lose privileged access to the US market offered under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).