*Say deposed president exposed to inhuman, degrading treatment in violation of international human rights law
*Coup leaders brandishing threat of killing Bazoum in the event of military intervention
*Coup supporters protest near French military base
*ECOWAS cautions Russia against involvement of Wagner Group
The African Union, United Nations, the European Union and Germany yesterday spoke out against the worsening conditions deposed Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum and his family are living under, as decided by the military junta that overthrew him.
Soldiers from the Presidential Guard had on July 26 deposed President Bazoum, thus truncating the constitutional political leadership in the West African country. Two days later, the soldiers named General Abdourahamane Tchiani as the new leader of the country, with Tchiani warning against any foreign military intervention.
After a meeting of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Heads of States and Government in Abuja on Thursday, the bloc directed the deployment of a “standby force” to restore democracy in Niger after the coup.
However, the African Union in a statement yesterday expressed “deep concern” at the reported poor conditions of Bazoum’s detention, calling his treatment at the hands of coup leaders “unacceptable”.
“Such treatment of a democratically elected president through a regular electoral process is unacceptable,” AU Commission head Moussa Faki Mahamat said, joining a chorus of concern about 63-year-old Bazoum.
“Concordant sources attest to a worrying deterioration of conditions,” Faki said.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres have also spoken out about the worsening conditions that Bazoum and his family are living under.
It was reported on Wednesday that Bazoum was being kept in isolation and forced to eat plain rice and pasta, with no access to medicines.
Faki also expressed his “strong support” for the decisions adopted by the Economic Community of West African States, which on Thursday approved the deployment of a standby force to restore constitutional order in Niger.
An attempt this week to send a joint team of ECOWAS, UN, and AU representatives to Niger’s capital Niamey was rejected by the coup leaders.
Fears for Bazoum
The European Union joined others in sounding the alarm for Bazoum yesterday.
“Bazoum and his family, according to the latest information, have been deprived of food, electricity and medical care for several days,” said EU Foreign Policy Chief, Josep Borrell.
UN rights chief Volker Turk said Bazoum’s reported detention conditions “could amount to inhuman and degrading treatment, in violation of international human rights law.”
The AU echoed the concern, saying “such treatment of a democratically elected president is unacceptable”.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock warned that the “coup plotters must face harsh consequences should anything happen” to Bazoum or his family.
A source close to Bazoum said “he’s OK, but the conditions are very difficult,” adding that the coup leaders had brandished the threat of assaulting him in the event of military intervention.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it had spoken to Bazoum earlier this week. The 63-year-old described the treatment of him, his wife and their 20-year-old son as “inhuman and cruel”, HRW said.
“I’m not allowed to receive my family members or my friends who have been bringing food and other supplies to us,” the group quoted him as saying.
“My son is sick, has a serious heart condition, and needs to see a doctor,” he was quoted as saying. “They’ve refused to let him get medical treatment.”
Coup Supporters Protest Near French Base
Thousands of coup supporters rallied near a French military base in Niger yesterday, a day after West African leaders said they would muster a “standby” force in their efforts to reinstate the country’s deposed leader.
Fears also mounted for Bazoum, who was ousted by members of his guard on July 26, with reports saying his detention conditions were deteriorating.
Protesters near the base on the outskirts of the capital Niamey shouted “down with France, down with ECOWAS”, a reference to the West African bloc which on Thursday approved deployment of a “standby force to restore constitutional order”.
Many brandished Russian and Niger flags and yelled their support for the country’s new strongman, General Abdourahamane Tchiani.
“We are going to make the French leave! ECOWAS isn’t independent, it’s being manipulated by France,” said one demonstrator, Aziz Rabeh Ali, a member of a students’ union.
Former colonial power France has around 1,500 personnel in Niger as part of a force battling an eight-year-old jihadist insurgency.
It is facing growing hostility across the Sahel, withdrawing its anti-jihadist forces from neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso last year after falling out with the military governments that ousted elected leaders.
Niger’s new leaders scrapped defence agreements with France last week, while a hostile protest outside the French Embassy in Niamey on July 30 prompted Paris to evacuate its citizens.
Falana: Limit Sanctions to Military Junta
Lawyer and human rights activist, Femi Falana wants ECOWAS to limit its sanctions on Niger to members of the military junta.
In a statement yesterday, Falana said: “Upon the removal of democratic governments in Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Mali, the leaders of ECOWAS imposed sanctions that were specifically targeted against members of the military junta.
“However, in reaction to the recent overthrow of President Bazoum by a group of military officers, the Authority of Heads of State and Government suspended Niger Republic. In addition, economic sanctions were imposed on Niger Republic.
“In implementing the economic sanctions, the Tinubu administration has cut electricity supply to Niger Republic with dire consequences for the civilian population. In other words, the masses have been thrown into darkness even though they were not involved in the planning and execution of the coup d’etat which sacked the democratically elected government.
“In view of the fact that the disconnection of electricity has no negative effect on the members of the military regime, President Tinubu should direct the Nigerian Electricity Regulation Commission to restore light to Niger Republic forthwith. All sanctions should be limited to the members of the Nigerien military junta with a view to fast tracking the restoration of democratic rule. The military regimes in Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali and Niger should be treated equally by the ECOWAS and the African Union since they have been involved in unconstitutional changes of governments.”
Junta Threatens to Kill Bazoum
Niger’s military junta on Thursday threatened to kill Bazoum if ECOWAS attempted any military intervention to reinstate him.
According to a report by The Associated Press on Thursday night, “two Western officials” said the coup plotters issued the threat to kill Bazoum if ECOWAS troops enter Niger, while speaking to a top U.S. diplomat.
ECOWAS Cautions Russia against Involvement of Wagner Group
ECOWAS yesterday said it will hold Russia responsible if a private military contractor of the Eastern European nation, Wagner Group, gets involved in the crisis in Niger.
The ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, Ambassador Abdel-Fatau Musah, said on a television interview in Abuja.
Musah noted that another West African nation had a separate arrangement with the private military security outfit from Russia.
The official of the West African bloc further warned the Wagner Group against violating human rights in the wake of the coup in the Niger.
“The Wagner Group, apparently, is in Mali today. The Malian government says this is an agreement between them and the Russian Federation,” Musah said.
“We want to take them by their word, which means any sort of action that infringes on human rights or yeah, or devastation in our region by these private military contractors, we are going to hold the other countries of our region responsible for that.”
Musah was asked if he was referring to Russia, to which the ECOWAS official replied, “That’s Russia (we will hold them) responsible diplomatically. The West African region is just not Russia.”
According to Musah, private military companies have been a feature of the African conflict scene for so many years.
He said: “Private military companies were involved in Sierra Leone. They were involved in Liberia during those civil wars, long ago. And even recently, in the global conflict, there has been the use of private military companies.
“The Americans are using them in Iraq, in Afghanistan, they use them, and others. What we are seeing is that these groups are not acceptable in Africa, even though they are there, and we are going to hold their countries of origin responsible for any violations.”