Following the 26 July coup in Niger, four of the five Sahel countries are now ruled by military juntas. For at least the last three years, the serious security and humanitarian crisis in the region has been transformed into a constitutional and democratic crisis. As a result, there has been an unprecedented reduction in civic space and widespread violations of fundamental rights.
In recent years, the argument of the fight against terrorism in the Sahel region and on the African continent as a whole has been used to justify contempt for democracy and human rights. On several occasions, constitutions have been amended or flouted to allow presidents whose terms had expired to come to power or remain in power, in the name of regional stability.
These allegedly democratic regimes have adopted vague and repressive anti-terrorist regulations that have led to all-out restrictions on civic space. Regimes of exception have been in force since at least 2015, enabling them to pass laws that undermine the exercise of people's rights and freedoms.
Between 2018 and 2021, more than 50 demonstrations were banned by the authorities in Niger and Chad using the fight against terrorism as a pretext
Throughout the Sahel, human rights defenders who are members or partners of our SOS-Torture network are threatened with death, imprisoned, and sometimes tortured because of their opinions on the governance of their country.
Military solutions to social problems undermine democracy and establish the army's grip on political power. In Chad, the military coup was accepted by many leaders in the Sahel, on the pretext that the army was the sole guarantee of regional stability. Yet massacres of civilians and arrests of political opponents and human rights activists have multiplied. Even Senegal, once the democratic exception in the region, is now using the security argument to the detriment of civil liberties.
The prospect of military intervention in Niger by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is a cause for concern for the whole region. The migration crisis that has prevailed in Niger for several decades has recently spread to the Maghreb, with thousands of sub-Saharan migrants in Tunisia, Libya, and Algeria. Military intervention could lead to further forced displacement.
The military is primarily responsible for the human rights violations that our organisations denounce daily. Their presence in power, far from ensuring stability in the region, endangers it. Civil society, which has been attacked in recent years on the pretext of the fight against terrorism, must be rehabilitated. The restoration of democratic order in Africa will be the work of these local actors.
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