UNODC continues its work for peacebuilding in Niger

04-12-2020

Niger and Mali share their western border, and both countries are home to populations that share common cultures, languages and religious practices. The deterioration of the security situation in these areas for many years has been affecting communities in general, and women and young people in particular in the border areas of both countries. The fragility of the security and justice systems and the fight against insecurity in these border areas have led to the rise of radical groups that have taken advantage of weak state governance, the presence of armed groups, the low purchasing power of the population, and social and community conflicts.

In addition, there is mistrust between the populations, the Defense and Security Forces (DSF) and the actors in the penal chain (APC). Indeed, this situation makes it difficult for the population to participate in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism. Similarly, the current state of mutual understanding of the mandate, role and functioning of the actors in the penal chain and the DSF does not very often facilitate the judicial treatment of terrorism cases, which often end up being acquitted for lack of sufficient evidence. This acquittal, which is very often poorly perceived by the population and the DSFs, is not likely to improve the relationship while also altering the trust between these categories of actors.  

Peacebuilding necessarily involves safeguarding human rights and gender in situations that may have an impact on them: hence, this project takes into account the promotion of human rights and gender issues.

To respond to these challenges, UN Women and UNODC initiated a joint project entitled "Support to cross-border initiatives of community dialogue with security and justice sector actors for peacebuilding in Mali and Niger" with funding from the Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) for a period of 18 months.

From 25 to 26 November 2020 was held in Tillabéry, Niger, a forum for exchanges between actors of the penal chain (APC), defence and security forces (DSF), representatives of the G5 Sahel, the High Authority for the Consolidation of Peace in Niger, the National Human Rights Commission, Civil Society organisations, women's organisations, youth, customary leaders and community radio stations. 

The objective of the forum was to create a framework for exchanges in order to allow dialogue between these different actors and to make an overall analysis of the state of coordination of their actions. Indeed, only a common appreciation and understanding of the complementarity of their respective mandates and roles can enable an effective fight against terrorism with strict respect for human rights and the involvement of women and young people.

It was also an opportunity to launch a strong awareness of civil society on its role and responsibility among the population in the fight against terrorism.

Indeed, as Prosecutor ALICHINA recalled: "civil society must be at the heart of the collaboration with the DSF, the ACP and the communities in order to be able to relay the need for this collaboration in the field". He also reminded the latter of its "duty of responsibility with regard to transparency in the funding received in order to avoid benefiting from the illicit financing of terrorist groups that seek to position themselves in different cross-border areas to better convey their ideology in a society where women and young people have no prospects". 

45 people participated in the forum, 28% of whom were women represented in the SDS, ACP and Civil Society representatives.

They insisted on the usefulness of these discussion forums, stressing the importance of making them more popular in cross-border areas because communities do not have the opportunity to exchange with DSFs and ACPs to report on their concerns and the elements that contribute to their lack of confidence in them.

According to Ms. Aïssa KADA of the AREN group in Banibangou, "The lack of understanding of the roles and mandates of the DSF and ACP promotes the confidence of communities towards armed groups, who give them easily convincing speeches and have a faster criminal procedure in a context where there is insufficient or even lack of dialogue between the DSF, ACP and communities and a feeling of slowness of criminal justice that the litigant finds difficult to understand due to a lack of training and communication. This forum has really edified us, and we can now relay the information to the different women's groups in our locality. I am also happy to participate for the first time in this kind of meeting that brings together different key peacebuilding actors. It was also an opportunity for us, as women, to make a strong plea for a law on the age of marriage for girls so that they can go to school in better conditions, and for the adoption of a law on limiting the power of the husband in matters of repudiation.”

Various recommendations were made, including the popularisation of this type of meeting, the strengthening of communication between DSF, ACP and the population, a strong involvement of women and young people in the management and resolution of conflicts, respect for human rights by banning certain DSF practices against the population, corruption and impunity in the judiciary as well as the stigmatisation of certain ethnic groups.

The forum was an opportunity for the different actors to get to know each other and to exchange views on certain conflicts which are difficult to resolve due to the lack of knowledge of the legal texts and procedures by the populations (principle of proof, presumption of innocence, etc...), the lack of dialogue between the communities, the DSFs and the ACP. Some conflicts have already seen the beginnings of resolution thanks to the commitment of different actors to resolve the situations once they return to their respective areas. At the end of the work, each actor promised to further strengthen this collaboration on the ground and to raise the awareness of the communities by organising new meetings of this kind.