Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions

Niger is a multiparty republic that returned to democracy in 1999. In 2004 Mamadou Tandja won a second five-year presidential term in an election that international observers deemed generally free and fair. In February 2007 the predominantly Tuareg rebel group Movement of Nigeriens for Justice (MNJ) launched a series of attacks against military and strategic installations in the north. The frequency and intensity of attacks have diminished in recent months, and the government is participating in negotiations to end the rebellion. Initial talks in Libya in April 2009 resulted in a de facto cease-fire agreement, followed by disarmament negotiations, and finally a personal meeting at which President Tandja appealed to the rebels to lay down their arms in exchange for amnesty. However, the government has not yet lifted the state of emergency declared in 2007. Government respect for human rights in 2008 did not improve from the previous year. Human rights abuses included use of excessive force by security forces; poor jail and prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; prolonged pretrial detention; executive interference in the judiciary; excessive use of force and other abuses in internal conflicts; restrictions on press freedom; forcible dispersal of demonstrators; restrictions on freedom of movement; corruption; societal discrimination and violence against women and children; female genital mutilation; trafficking in persons; chattel and traditional forms of slavery and forced labor, including children; and hazardous forms of child labor. The MNJ committed arbitrary killings and other abuses.

Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

The U.S. Government's immediate priority for promoting democratic principles and human rights is to remove restrictions on the ability of press and human rights groups to conduct investigations and report on events in the country. Promoting efforts to strengthen media capacity, including community radio, is also a priority. Conflict mitigation and anticorruption efforts are also areas of U.S. focus. Strengthening government decentralization to the regional, communal, and municipal levels remains a priority.

The United States supports efforts to ensure free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections in 2009. This includes preparing for a peaceful transfer of power as President Tandja constitutionally is precluded from running for another term. The United States continues to focus on issues such as trafficking in persons, discrimination against women, religious tolerance, slavery, and child labor.

Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance

The U.S. Government stresses the importance of free and fair elections that are inclusive and broadly participative in order to anchor democracy. U.S. officials used the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign and President Obama’s inauguration to offer programs highlighting free and fair elections in a democratic society, respect for the democratic process, and the peaceful and constitutional transfer of power from one administration to another.

The United States supports a freer media environment in the country and strengthened media reporting through its diplomatic and assistance efforts. U.S. officials continue talks with government officials, the media, and NGOs regarding travel and media restrictions in relation to the conflict in the north and other reported government restrictions on their ability to operate. The U.S. Ambassador and other U.S. officials have participated in public diplomacy activities including speaking about media capacity and press freedom, as well as fostering journalistic professionalism. In October 2008 the U.S. sponsored a workshop on conflict prevention and mitigation whose participants included representatives of government, NGOs, and civil society. The U.S. Government supports community radio stations and other activities designed to reach targeted audiences, such as youth and ethnic minorities.

To reduce corruption, U.S. programs fund activities such as strengthening the legal framework, improving public procurement systems, and supporting civil society and media anticorruption efforts. U.S. programs are working to reduce corruption by improving governance. For example, one program works with tax authorities to identify and reduce fraud and non-compliance in revenue collection. Another includes training local officials to improve the business climate. An additional program promotes girls' education through the construction of girl-friendly schools. Additionally, a U.S.-sponsored youth-oriented activity brought live musical performances to each of the nation’s regional capitals, promoting peace, tolerance, and anticorruption.

Efforts to eliminate human trafficking and labor abuses, as well as to address religious freedom continue to be areas of focus for the United States. U.S. Government programs support training law enforcement officers on combating human trafficking, workshops on ending the practice of slavery, the provision of shelter and reintegration services to trafficking victims, and efforts to eliminate exploitative child labor. The United States continues to lobby for the passage of a trafficking law and the promulgation of a list of the worst forms of child labor. U.S.-sponsored programs support civil society efforts to strengthen implementation and oversight of existing child protection and labor laws. U.S. public diplomacy programs have also addressed issues including religious tolerance among Muslim and non-Muslims and the role of women in Islam.