The deposed President and Others in Custody Should Be Treated Lawfully and with Respect
In the aftermath of the recent coup in Niger, Human Rights Watch has called for the military forces responsible to prioritize the restoration of fundamental human rights and ensure the safety and protection of the people.
The coup leaders have been urged to treat the deposed president, Mohamed Bazoum, and all others in custody, including Interior Minister Hamadou Adamou Souley, lawfully and with respect while facilitating a swift transition to democratic civilian rule.
The Overthrow and Suspension of Institutions: Events Leading to the Coup
On July 26, 2023, a group of Nigerien army officers, self-proclaiming as the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (Conseil National pour la sauveguarde de la patrie, CNSP), made a shocking announcement on national television about the overthrow of President Bazoum’s government.
Major-colonel Amadou Abdramane, speaking on behalf of the coup leaders, cited a deteriorating security situation and poor economic and social governance as the reasons for their actions. Consequently, the coup leaders dissolved the constitution, suspended all institutions, and closed the nation’s borders.
Pleas for Human Rights Amid Protests and Chaos
Following the coup announcement, crowds took to the streets in support of President Bazoum. In response, soldiers behind the coup fired warning shots to disperse the protests, resulting in chaos and the burning of vehicles around the headquarters of Bazoum’s party, the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (Parti Nigérien pour la Democratie et le Socialisme, PNDS-Tarayya).
Meanwhile, the media reported that several hundred people gathered in front of the National Assembly to express support for the coup leaders. They passionately called for Russian intervention and the departure of French troops in Niger.
Concerns for Democracy and Human Rights
President Bazoum’s whereabouts remain unclear.
However, in a Twitter post on his official account on July 27, he publicly reassured that the hard-won gains of democracy would be safeguarded.
The 63-year-old leader, elected in 2021 during Niger’s first democratic transition since it gained independence from French colonial rule in 1960, has received backing from Western powers for supporting counterinsurgency operations in the Sahel region.
The Context of Unrest in Niger
Niger has been grappling with armed Islamist attacks on its security forces and civilians since 2015. Initially concentrated in southeastern Niger by Nigeria-based groups Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), the attacks shifted to western Niger in 2019, perpetrated by armed Islamist groups linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
Additionally, the country faces serious hazards from climate change, including floods and droughts, leading to a complex humanitarian crisis affecting about 17 percent of the population, or 4.3 million people, who require humanitarian assistance, according to the United Nations.
A History of Military Coups in the Sahel Region
This recent coup marks the fourth in Niger’s history since gaining independence. It adds to the troubling trend of military takeovers in the Sahel region and West Africa. Neighboring countries like Mali and Burkina Faso have also experienced military coups in recent years, with Chad, Guinea, and Sudan facing similar challenges in 2021.
The Call for Respect of Human Rights
Prominent Nigerien human rights defender, Rabia Djibo Magagi, expressed hope that the new military authorities would diligently uphold human rights during these turbulent times. She emphasized that the unrest caused by the coup should not compromise the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms.
Consequently, Human Rights Watch has joined in urging the Nigerian military authorities to ensure the rights of all citizens, including President Bazoum and his family. Additionally, they should provide a clear timeline for the return to democratic civilian rule.
UN Human Rights Chief’s Plea for Release
On July 27, the UN human rights chief, Volker Türk, called for the immediate and unconditional release of President Bazoum and all arbitrarily detained members of his government and their relatives. Türk emphasized the necessity to ensure their security during these uncertain times.
In this critical moment, Human Rights Watch emphasizes that the Niger coup and the new military leaders must demonstrate a commitment to respecting human rights and the rule of law. It is essential for them to safeguard the rights of all citizens while fostering a swift return to democratic governance.
The eyes of the international community remain closely fixed on Niger, urging the coup leaders to act responsibly and uphold the fundamental rights and freedoms of all Nigeriens.