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Niger: Human rights training in the police academy curriculum strengthens trust in the police

In Niger, more than 10,000 police officers have been trained in human rights compliant policing. As a result of the Danish support, the population’s trust in the police has increased remarkably. Trust plays a key role in the fight against the terrorism straining the Sahel Region in West Africa.

 

‘You have been stealing, you idiot’, a police officer shouts and kicks a suspected thief, while another officer hits him in the head with a baton. This case is part of a Human Rights Guide found in the jacket pocket of Sergeant Omar Mounkaila. He is a police officer in Niger, a desert state located in the poor and conflict-ridden Sahel Region.

Police should only resort to physical force when all other options have been depleted. When they use physical force they risk violating a person’s bodily integrity and basic human rights such as the right to life. This is what the text below the drawing in the Guide teaches, as well as other human rights related issues: prison inmates in Niger have the right to health services and all inmates have the right to water, to food and to receive visitors.

Human rights in the jacket pocket and on the backbone
Sergeant Omar Mounkaila is one of more than 10,000 police officers who have received human rights training at the police school in the capital Niamey, facilitated by the Danish Institute for Human Rights since 2004. Police officers now carry a guide to fundamental human rights principles, both on the backbone and in pocket format.

The fact that the work of the country’s police force is based on human rights is vital to solving the many challenges facing Niger. Niger is located at the center of the Sahel Region in West Africa, which comprises fragile states such as Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania and Mali. In addition to extreme poverty, Niger is also struggling with a high population growth and very low levels of education. In addition the country is a transport corridor for migrants, weapons and drug smuggling – and is plagued by terrorist groups like Boko Haram and al-Qaeda.

A strong society ruled by law is based on trust
Trust between the population and the police is a precondition for creating stability, security and combating violent extremism and human trafficking in the Sahel Region. Without trust the population might not consider telling the police if they see or hear anything unusual that requires investigation. Furthermore, studies indicate that young people in the Sahel region among others are radicalized due to violations from the security forces. Trust between the local population and the police are thus important to mitigate radicalization. That is one of the reasons why Denmark for a number of years has supported efforts to protect and promote human rights as well as strengthen the legal system in Niger.

For almost 20 years the Danish Institute for Human Rights has helped anchor human rights both at the police school, in the National Guard of Niger as well as helped the Ministry of Justice develop capacity to fulfil its obligations. The Danish Institute for Human Rights has also contributed to the development of the educational materials on which the teaching that Omar Mounkaila and future police officers receive at the school is based.

86 percent of the population trust the police
A survey conducted by the pan-African research network Afrobarometer indicates that this has contributed to increase the population’s trust in the police. As much as 86 per cent of the population in Niger now trust the police. In some of the neighbouring countries, where human rights have not been integrated into the curriculum at the police schools and are not anchored in the authorities, the percentage of the population that trusts the police is significantly lower.

“10 years ago you could not talk to the police in Niger about human rights,” says President of the Collective Organisations for the Defence of Human Rights and Democracy (CODDHD Niger) Mr. Abdoulaye Kanni.

“People used to be afraid of talking to the police. Today people are not afraid to contact the police to report crime and other incidents. I think this is because the police have built an image of respect for human rights and democracy,” Abdoulaye Kanni argues.

Human rights training exported to the rest of the Sahel Region
Today the Danish Institute for Human Rights is transferring its valuable experiences from supporting human rights training in Niger to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Mali. Inspired by the police school in Niger, the police school in Mali developed educational materials on human rights in 2017, and since 2015 human rights have been part of the curriculum at the two police schools in Burkina Faso. 

Facts about Denmark's human rights efforts in Sahel

  • The support to The Danish Institute for Human Rights in 2019 from The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark amounts to 33 million DKK. The ministry has supported the Danish Institute for Human Rights’ work in Niger since 1997. From 2018 to 2020 the institute is allocating 1, 8 million DKK to human rights work in Niger.
  • Denmark’s efforts in Sahel are part of a broad Danish commitment comprising long-term development and security collaboration with Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.
  • Denmark is leading the way to improve trust between the security forces and the local population and improve the respect for human rights among the security forces. Denmark supports activities to promote the G5 Sahel Joint Force respect for human rights with 35 million DKK from 2018-2020

Results of the Collaboration

  • The Danish Institute for Human Rights supports POLI.DH, which is a network between the police forces in six West African countries. The network strives to strengthen human rights education at the countries’ police schools.
  • In February 2017, Denmark initiated a major conference in Bruxelles, which has contributed to the political support to the respect for human rights of the Joint Force.
  • The Danish regional stabilization program for Sahel and the cooperation with partners in Burkina Faso has contributed to increased trust between the population and the security forces in Sahel – for instance in the border region between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.