In a statement released Wednesday, Human Rights Watch urged Niger’s newly elected President Mohamed Bazoum and his administration to investigate war crimes and hold accountable those responsible for recent atrocities committed against civilians including attacks by armed Islamist groups and by security forces.
Bazoum was sworn in April 2, 2021, marking Niger’s first democratic transition of power since the country gained its independence.
Human Rights Watch asserts that the government of Niger is currently presented with an opportunity to “prioritize accountability for alleged war crimes committed by all sides in Niger’s armed conflict.”
According to Human Rights Watch, over 310 people have been killed by armed Islamist groups in Niger since January.
“With a rising civilian death toll, scores of disappeared people, and increasing unlawful attacks by armed Islamist groups, it’s clear that abuses by one side beget abuses by the others,” said Jonathan Pedneault, crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“President Bazoum’s government should take urgent and bold action to reverse this trend by aggressively pursuing justice for all war crimes, whether by Islamist fighters or the security forces,” said Pedneault.
In recent years, armed Islamist groups in Niger have reportedly killed hundreds of villagers, executed leaders and officials, and targeted civilian facilities including schools. The resulting counterterrorism operations taken by security forces have allegedly entailed the arbitrary detainments, executions, and forced disappearances of scores of suspects, indicating that there have been numerous injustices committed by both sides of the conflict.
There have been very few legitimate investigations into the allegations of war crimes, which have reportedly worsened over the past year.
“States have an obligation to investigate and appropriately prosecute alleged war crimes committed within their territory,” said Human Rights Watch, calling for investigations into the accusations against Islamist groups as well as security forces in order to hold those responsible accountable.
There is much to be hopeful and optimistic about in Niger in the wake of its first democratic transition of power. However, there are many challenges facing the nation where there is an ongoing conflict between security forces and Islamist terrorist groups, with many civilians getting caught in the middle of it all.
Currently, one of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of rectifying the situation is simply a lack of access to information. A proper and appropriate response cannot be taken until these allegations are thoroughly investigated.
As many celebrate Niger’s democratic transition of power, many hope that the country is moving toward a more democratic and equitable future.
If Bazoum’s Presidency is to truly signal a monumental step toward progress, he and his administration must make it a priority to stand up to human rights abuses, which starts with investigating the atrocities that have been committed and attributing blame where it belongs.