The next government of Madagascar must bring an end to the brutal suppression of human rights in the country, Amnesty International said ahead of the island nation’s upcoming election.
In Madagascar it has become very dangerous to speak out against the illegal trafficking of rosewood and environmental degradation caused by multinational corporations
Amid a recent spike in human rights violations, thousands of people have been held in unjustified pre-trial detention, while environmental human rights defenders have been targeted for protecting the country’s natural resources, such as rosewood. The first round of presidential elections are scheduled for 7 November.
“In Madagascar it has become very dangerous to speak out against the illegal trafficking of rosewood and environmental degradation caused by multinational corporations,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Southern Africa.
“Thousands of people are languishing in jail without having been found guilty of any crime, owing to the government’s excessive and unjustified use of pre-trial detention.”
Targeting of activists
Human rights defenders, particularly environmental activists who speak out against illegal trafficking or exploitation of natural resources such as rosewood, have continued to be harassed, intimidated and arbitrarily detained for their peaceful activism.
Clovis Razafimalala spent almost a year in jail between 2016 and 2017 on politically motivated charges for his environmental activism. He has denounced the illegal trafficking of rosewood and other timber as part of his role as the Coordinator of the Maroantsetra Lampogno coalition, a group fighting against illegal trafficking of natural resources.
Another environmental activist, Christopher Manenjika, was handed an absurd $8 USD fine in June – on fabricated charges – for collecting information on cases of corruption, illegal trafficking of rosewood and mining exploitation.
Excessive pretrial detention
In its October 2018 report, Amnesty International documented how pre-trial detention is used excessively and abusively, including for petty offences which did not justify the deprivation of liberty.
Prisons are severely overcrowded and detainees, both pre-trial detainees and those who have been sentenced, are held together in inhumane conditions where they have no access to adequate food, clean water, hygiene and healthcare.
This election represents a golden opportunity for whoever emerges as the next leader of Madagascar to end the human rights abuses we have witnessed in recent times
The report revealed that in 2017 alone, 52 out of the 129 detainees who died in Madagascar’s prisons were in pre-trial detention. The criminal justice system remained extremely weak and under-resourced.
Criminalizing of abortion
Under Malagasy law, abortion remains criminalized in all circumstances under Article 317 of the Penal Code inherited from the French colonial period. This is despite commitments made by the government to make it a minor offence not punishable by prison sentences in the previous year.
“This election represents a golden opportunity for whoever emerges as the next leader of Madagascar to end the human rights abuses we have witnessed in recent times,” said Muleya Mwananyanda.
“This begins by effectively protecting human rights defenders, including their right to freedom of expression, and releasing pre-trial detainees whose detention has been unjustified and have been enduring long jail terms for petty and non-violent crimes.”