The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Niger is a State Party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Niger is also a State Party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the State has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
At regional level, Niger is a State Party to the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. Article 11 provides as follows:
Every individual shall have the right to assemble freely with others. The exercise of this right shall be subject only to necessary restrictions provided for by law in particular those enacted in the interest of national security, the safety, health, ethics and rights and freedoms of others.
Niger is also a party to the 1998 Protocol on the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, but has not recognised the right of individual petition.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Under the 2010 Constitution, the State recognises and guarantees the freedoms of assembly, procession, and demonstration within the conditions defined by the law.Art. 32, 2010 Constitution (as amended).
There is no dedicated national legislation on assemblies in Niger.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the State and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
Niger does not have detailed provisions governing police use of force in its domestic laws. A 2011 decree approved the Code of Ethics and Duties of the National Police.Decree No. 2011-164/PCSRD/MIS/D/AR dated 31 March 2011.According to the 2011 Decree, when the law allows the use of force, and in particular, the use of weapons, a police officer must only use force that is strictly necessary and proportionate to the objective sought.Art. 10, Decree No. 2011-164/PCSRD/MIS/D/AR dated 31 March 2011.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
The 2003 Penal Code authorises the use of force, including potentially lethal force, to disperse an unlawful gathering that may disturb public order.Art. 97, 2003 Penal Code.This does not comply with international law.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2019 Concluding Observations on Niger, the Human Rights Committee expressed its concern about the definition of terrorism in Ordinance No. 2011-12 of 27 January 2011 amending the Criminal Code.
By referring to an act committed with the intention of disrupting the normal functioning of public services, this provision could, by its vague and ambiguous nature, result in the penalization of peaceful activities linked to the right to freedom of expression, association or assembly.
The Committee was also concerned about reports of excessive use of force by police officers to disperse demonstrations. It further expressed concern over allegations of police violence during demonstrations, such as the student demonstrations in April 2017, and about the prohibition by municipal authorities of demonstrations for which prior authorisation had been given by the courts
In its 2017 Concluding Observations on Niger, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights referred to "difficulties relating to the exercise of the freedom of association and demonstrations".
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Niger:
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 2018, authorities refused to authorize several public protests, most of which were organized in opposition to a new Finance Law that had raised taxes on housing and electricity, or against the presence of foreign military forces in the country. In March, over two dozen activists were arrested on charges of participation in one such protest that went ahead without authorization. Authorities forcibly dispersed the gathering, and many of those arrested spent months in prison.