Niger: one more decree, one less fundamental freedom

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On 24 February 2022, the President of Niger, Mohamed Bazoum, issued a decree supplementing the 1984 ordinance on the regime for associations. This decree specifies in its first article that "Non-governmental development organisations (NGO/D) are non-political and non-profit organisations. They are created on the initiative of natural or legal persons who are autonomous from the State, driven by a spirit of volunteerism that they place at the service of others and whose vocation is to support development through social and/or economic activities."

The decree takes a very restrictive view of the application of the ordinance, jeopardising the freedom of association. It provides for total control of NGOs’ actions by the Nigerien authorities, as demonstrated by its article 41: "For any project or programme initiated by the NGO/D, it must obtain the approval of the State or its branches before implementation". This article clearly contradicts the first article of the decree and ignores the principle of the autonomy of NGOs vis-à-vis the State.

This decree poses a series of major obstacles for associations, imposing on them heavy bureaucratic formalities both at the time of their creation (Articles 4, 5, 8, 37 and 39), and for obtaining funding (Article 34), planning their activities (Articles 40, 41 and 44) or using their assets (Article 27). Moreover, all associative projects that are not "coherent with national development orientations and priorities" cannot be carried out and any offender will have his or her approval withdrawn.

Furthermore, the application of the decree is retroactive since it stipulates in article 62 that: "existing NGOs/Ds have a period of six (06) months [after its adoption on 24 February 2022] to comply with the provisions of this decree". This retroactivity means that NGOs risk losing their approval — including some that have been active in the country for a long time — serving the population, particularly the most disadvantaged.

With this decree, Niger is furthering the reduction of civic space that has been occurring in the country since 2014, even though Clément Voule, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, had "urged the Nigerien authorities to keep their promise to create and maintain effective civic space in the country [1] Between the multiple arrests of activists and journalists, the quasi-systematic prohibition of peaceful demonstrations and meetings and the adoption of repressive laws, Niger, which has already been downgraded twice out of Civicus’ five tiers ranking the openness of civic space [2] continues to reduce its civic space. This inclination to control NGOs and minimise their independence seems to be widespread throughout the world, even though they play an essential role in stability, the fight against inequality, and the promotion of human rights and the rule of law.

We, associations and NGOs fighting for the opening of civic space, demand the immediate withdrawal of this text and a real commitment from the State of Niger to put an end to this repression, to guarantee the right to freedom of association and to restore civic space in the country.

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