COURT SCHEDULES DATE FOR JUDGMENT IN SUIT FILED BY NGO CHALLENGING THE BAN ON DEMONSTRATIONS BY NIGER

The ECOWAS Court has scheduled judgment for 20th February 2023 in a case filed by a Civil Society Organisation (CSO) in Niger alleging the violation of the fundamental liberties of the citizens by the Republic of Niger following the ‘consistent ban on marches, meetings and peaceful demonstrations,’ by the government.

The presiding judge, Justice Edward Amoako Asante announced the date after the Tuesday, 6th December, 2022 hearing in the suit filed by the Mouvement Nigerien pour la promotion des Peuples et de la Promotion de la Democratie (MNPDA) which claimed that the ban was imposed over three years and constitutes a breach of the country’s obligation under international law.

The hearing of Tuesday, 6th December 2022 was only attended by the Counsel to the Applicant, Mr. Boudal Effred Mouloul while the government was not represented.

In the suit, the MNPDA, which is engaged in the fight and defence of human rights and the promotion of democracy, alleged the actions of the government which lasted three years, violated the citizen’s rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly as enshrined in international law. It cited Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights; Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; Article 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 11 of the European Convention for the safeguard of human and fundamental rights.

The Applicant contended that since March 2018, Civil Society Organisations (CSO’s) have been illegally prevented from holding peaceful gatherings in the form of demonstrations, marches or meetings on the street and that the Government of Niger through the Chairman of Niamey Municipal Council issued a decree against such actions. The Decree dated 12 January 2017 banned « all demonstration or meeting during work days and in evenings throughout Niamey,» while  CSO’s were only permitted to assemble and hold  daytime meetings on Sundays.

Since then, the Applicant said the Government has issued more than 25 bans,  the most recent after the Applicant notified the administrative Authority of Niamey, « The President de la Delegation Speciale de Niamey » on 18th January 2021 of its desire to hold a march on 27th January 2021 that was refused on the ground: « risks of disturbing public peace and order » pursuant to article 5 of law 2004-45 of 5th June 2004 on public protests in the streets and the need to comply with the social distancing requirement of Covid-19.

The Applicants further said that most of these enactments were unsuccessfully challenged before national courts and that « either the actions were rejected or the judges before whom they were filed failed to make pronouncement on them before the dates scheduled while the decrees  were usually communicated to the Applicants on Friday evenings in order to ensure that the marches did not take place on Sundays ».

In his initiating application filed by his counsel on 11 February 2021 , Mr Ahmed MAMANE and Mr Boudal EFFRED MOULOUL, the Applicants, urged the Court to among other things, rule the case admissible  and declare the Respondent in default of its international obligations relating to the protection of fundamental freedoms and liberties, particularly the freedom of association and peaceful assembly.

The Applicant also asked the Court for an order compelling the government of the Republic of Niger to take all necessary measures to bring an end to this ‘disproportionate and unjustified infringement of the citizens’ fundamental right to liberty.

But in its response dated 23rd May 2022, the Respondent rejected the allegation of violation of the right of the Applicant and urged the Court to declare and adjudge that there has been no violation of human rights in this case and asked the Court to dismiss all claims made by the Applicant.

It also asked the Court to disregard the counter claim of the sum of One Hundred and Fifty Million (150.000.000) Fcfa made by the Applicant in response to its observations as damages for prejudices suffered.

The State, which was represented by the country’s judicial agency said that between 2018 and 2020, several CSO’s filed 24 requests for demonstrations in the municipalities of Niamey, Zinder, Tahoua, Dosso, Maradi and Loga. He argued that due to terrorist activities in the Sahel and the Gulf of Guinea, the authorities of the municipalities could not approve these requests which were construed by the MNPDA as the violation of their freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration which necessitated the action in the Court.

Also on the panel for the suit are Justices Gberi-be Ouattara and Dupe Atoki.