Law enforcement in Niger
Law enforcement in Niger is the responsibility of the Military of Niger though the Gendarmerie Nationale and the Ministry of the Interior through the National Police and the National Forces for Intervention and Security (FNIS), a Paramilitary police force. While both Human Rights and effectiveness of Law Enforcement has improved since the 1999 creation of the Fifth Republic, western monitors generally regard Nigerien law enforcement and ineffective and at times corrupt.
Following the 1999 Constitution, other police forces were removed from the Ministry of Defense and placed under control of the Ministry of the Interior. These are the FNIS, a Paramilitary police force, the National Police who police urban areas, as well as local civilian police forces.
The Ministry of Defense includes the Gendarmerie Nationale which is responsible for national policing outside urban areas. The system of law enforcement and criminal justice are similar to the systems of Law enforcement and Justice in France, the former colonial power in Niger.
The police emergency telephone number is 17.
The police of all branches have consistently been accused of inadequate training and equipment, and ineffectiveness. Foreign governments have described police corruption, especially the demand of bribes for services as endemic.
The police force, which is under the direction of the Ministry of Interior, is ineffective in the assessment of foreign governments, primarily because of inadequate resources. Basic supplies, such as vehicle fuel, radios, uniforms, handcuffs, batons, and badges are scarce. Patrols are sporadic, and emergency response time in Niamey can take 45 minutes. Police training is minimal, and only specialized police units had basic weapons handling skills. In December 2003, the National Assembly adopted legislation granting police more decision-making authority and increased compensation; however, corruption has remained pervasive.
Human rights, denial of fair public trial
If police failed to gather sufficient evidence within the detention period, the prosecutor can give the case to another officer, and a new 48 hour detention period begins. Poor communications can hinder accurate identification of detainees and can result in prolonging the 48 hour detention period. A defendant has the right to a lawyer immediately upon detention, and bail is available for crimes carrying a penalty of less than 10 years' imprisonment. Widespread ignorance of the law and lack of financial means prevents many of the accused from taking full advantage of these rights.
Security forces, acting under government direction, have occasionally detained journalists and opposition politicians. Police, acting under authority granted them by the Security Law, occasionally conduct sweeps to detain suspected criminals. Police and Military roadblocks and checkpoints are a common sight on Niger's roads, both to check papers and to collect tolls or internal tax on goods, but also to enforce laws and regulations. Accusations of corruption in such incidents are common.
The law generally requires that police conducting a search have a warrant, normally issued by a judge; however, according to foreign observers, police reportedly often conduct routine searches without warrants. Under the State Security Law, police may conduct searches without warrants when they have strong suspicion that a house shelters criminals or stolen property.
Pretrial detention and charge
There were serious backlogs in the judicial system. Despite legal limits to the pretrial confinement period of indicted persons, detention frequently lasts months or years; some persons have been waiting as long as 6 years to be charged.
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, the executive branch has been accused by foreign observers of sometimes interfering with the judicial process. Defendants and prosecutors can appeal a verdict, first to the Court of Appeals, then to the Supreme Court. The Court of Appeals reviewed questions of fact and law, while the Supreme Court reviewed only the application of the law and constitutional questions. There also were customary courts.
Defendants have the right to counsel, to be present at trial, to confront witnesses, to examine the evidence against them, and to appeal verdicts. The Constitution affirms the presumption of innocence. The law provides for counsel at public expense for minors and indigent defendants charged with crimes carrying a sentence of 10 years or more. Although lawyers complied with government requests to provide counsel, the Government generally did not remunerate them. Widespread ignorance of the law prevented many accused from taking full advantage of these rights. There was only one defense attorney known to have a private practice outside the capital, although lawyers traveled to various locations of the country to provide legal assistance as requested.
In civilian matters, there are reports, judged credible by the United States government, that family and business ties influenced lower court decisions. Judges sometimes fear reassignment or having their financial benefits reduced if they rendered a decision unfavorable to the Government. Nevertheless, there continued to be evidence of increased judicial independence. In May 2003, the Constitutional Court of Niger ruled against changes proposed by the Government to the Electoral Code. In 2002, the Constitutional Court noted that the Government did not have the right to remove the Sultan of Zinder from his position; the Sultan still faced fraud charges.
A military court, the Special Security Court, was reestablished in November 2003 and provides the same rights as civilian courts; however, it cannot try civilians. The Special Security Court functioned previously under the Military government established by General Seyni Kountché, but was outlawed with the coming of democracy in 1991.
Traditional chiefs act as mediators and counselors and have authority in customary law cases as well as status under national law, where they were designated as auxiliaries to local officials. Chiefs collect local taxes and receive stipends from the Government, but they had no police or judicial powers and may only mediate, not arbitrate, customary law disputes. Customary courts, located only in large towns and cities, try cases involving divorce or inheritance. They are headed by a legal practitioner with basic legal training who is advised by an assessor knowledgeable in the society's traditions. The judicial actions of chiefs and customary courts are not regulated by law, and defendants can appeal a verdict to the formal court system. Women generally are assessed by foreign observers as not having equal legal status with men in the traditional and customary courts and do not enjoy the same access to legal redress.
- Niger. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2004. Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. February 28, 2005
- France and Niger. Framework partnership document France - Niger (2006-2010). French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
- Samuel Decalo. Historical Dictionary of Niger (3rd ed.). Scarecrow Press, Boston & Folkestone, (1997) ISBN 0-8108-3136-8
- Fund for Peace, Governance Report for Nigerien institutions, 2007.
- Government of Niger: United States State Department report, 2004.
- Ministère de l'Intérieur, de la Sécurité Publique et de la Décentralisation, Presidency of Niger, 2007.