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8.19.2010

A Culture of Impunity in Niger?

Last week, the interim government of Niger announced a proposed amnesty for the country's ruling junta in its new draft constitution. State radio channels hailed the action as the best possible outcome for the majority of “social and political forces.”

Although the text itself is still being finalized by the constitutional consultative council, the gist is that General Salou Djibo and his military allies would be protected from potential prosecution for their role in toppling the government of Mamadou Tandja. Mr. Tandja was overthrown in February of this year after taking controversial steps towards prolonging his official mandate despite the existence of constitutional term limits.

Ibrahim Yacouba, an official on the consultative council, was quoted by Radio France Internationale as arguing that the move was necessary and would ease the transition back to democracy when the junta voluntarily gives up control in March of 2011. Mr Yacouba also assured that it was not “the first time that such measures have been written into the constitution.” When asked if that, in itself, might pose a problem he assured that there was “no reason to fear that guaranteeing junta members amnesty would create a culture of impunity.”

Despite the councilman’s protestations however it seems clear that this “culture of impunity” is already in place. Niger’s history is rife with coups. For example, on April 9th, 1999 President Bare Mainassarra was shot dead boarding his plane in the capital city of Niamey and those behind the violent coup were granted amnesty – as had Bare Mainassarra himself when he came to power through coup in 1996. If this proposed amnesty is included it would mean that of the nation’s seven constitutions since independence in 1959, all save two (including the very first) will have included provisions for providing amnesty to those behind the dissolution of the previous government.

--Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez, Caracas

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