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Niger: the new government should investigate the massacres

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Niger: the new government should investigate the massacres

Bazoum administration should make justice a priority

NEW YORK, United States, May 6, 2021, – / African Media Agency (AMA) / – Niger‘s first democratic transition since independence gives the new administration of President Mohamed Bazoum the opportunity to prioritize accountability for alleged war crimes committed by all parties to Niger’s armed conflict, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the new justice and defense ministers. The massacres of suspected armed Islamist groups in Niger that have killed more than 310 people since January 2021 highlight the need to investigate serious abuses and hold all those responsible accountable.

On March 15, in the deadliest attack on civilians in Niger’s recent history, gunmen attacked several villages and hamlets in the Tillia area of ​​Tahoua, killing at least 137 people, according to official reports. One media outlet reported that many of the victims were watering their livestock in wells at the time of the attack.

“With a growing number of civilians killed, dozens of missing people and the rise in illegal attacks by armed Islamist groups, it is clear that abuses on one side breed abuses on the other,” said Jonathan Pedneault, crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The government of President Bazoum must take urgent and bold action to reverse this trend by aggressively seeking justice for all war crimes, whether committed by Islamist fighters or by security forces.”

In the letter, Human Rights Watch urged the new administration to investigate 18 serious allegations of abuses by Islamist armed groups and government security forces in the border regions of Tillabéri and Tahoua since October 2019. Human Rights Watch found that the forces of security were allegedly responsible for at least 185 of the 496 reported deaths.

The Tillabéri region, which borders Mali and Burkina Faso, is a focal point for the activity of armed Islamist groups in Niger, as well as for national, regional and international counterterrorism operations. The Tahoua region, bordering Mali, has also faced attacks from Islamist fighters.

Since 2015, armed Islamist groups in Niger have reportedly killed hundreds of villagers, executed humanitarian workers and village leaders, attacked election officials and attacked schools. And since at least 2019, security forces involved in counterterrorism operations have reportedly executed dozens of suspects shortly after detaining them in markets, in their villages or at water points, and have subjected dozens of people to enforced disappearance. There have been few credible investigations and little accountability for these crimes, which have dramatically worsened over the past year.

In 2020, Human Rights Watch remotely interviewed 12 people from Tillabéri who provided information on 12 incidents in which uniformed men arriving in military vehicles arbitrarily arrested, tortured, and summarily executed civilians and suspected Islamists.

Eleven of these incidents were included in a report prepared in May 2020 by local Fulani civil society activists. In total, Human Rights Watch has compiled the names of 178 people who were allegedly killed or forcibly disappeared and 7 who were allegedly tortured by Nigerian security forces between October 2019 and May 2020.

A witness and two other local sources said that on the morning of March 25, 2020, men dressed in military uniforms arrived in military vehicles at a village where members of the Fulani Djalgodji clan have spent the last 20 years in the dry season, 6 kilometers . from the town of Adabdabe, in the commune of Banibangou. The witness said that the security forces arrested the 13 Djalgodji men they found, aged between 18 and 66, and then took them out of the village and executed them.

Human Rights Watch is only aware of a government investigation into allegations of war crimes by the security forces. In April 2020, the former Defense Minister ordered an investigation into the alleged enforced disappearance of 102 men in the Inatès commune in the Tillabéri region in March and April 2020. While investigators found no credible evidence of the involvement of the security forces in these incidents did not provide any reasonable evidence. explanation of the men’s disappearances, claiming that those responsible may have been armed Islamists dressed in stolen military uniforms.

However, a subsequent investigation into the same complaints by the Niger National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), from May to July 2020, found 6 mass graves containing 71 bodies in the commune of Inatès, some of the people reported as missing, and concluded that the security forces were most likely responsible for the killings.

Under applicable international humanitarian law in Niger, all parties to the armed conflict, including Islamist armed groups, are prohibited from executing, torturing or forcibly disappearing anyone in their custody, including captured civilians and combatants. Those responsible for committing serious violations of the law of war with criminal intent, including command responsibility, can be prosecuted for war crimes. States have the obligation to adequately investigate and prosecute alleged war crimes committed within their territory.

The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, to which Niger is a party, codifies the prohibition of enforced disappearances and establishes the obligations of States to prevent, investigate and prosecute all enforced disappearances.

The failure of Niger’s military justice system to seriously investigate alleged abuses by military personnel against civilians points to the need for civilian investigators and courts to handle these cases. Such criminal investigations must meet international standards for transparency, impartiality and independence, Human Rights Watch said. Investigations should seek to establish the line of command, assess responsibilities and carry out appropriate prosecutions in accordance with international fair trial standards.

“President Bazoum, as he faces difficult times and armed groups that have committed numerous atrocities, has the opportunity to show strong leadership by prioritizing accountability for abuses by all parties,” Pedneault said. “Niger’s international partners must support these efforts by keeping justice on the agenda and supporting national efforts to strengthen the rule of law.”

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