There was widespread poverty; access to food, water, health care and education was restricted. Prison conditions remained harsh; the excessive use of pre-trial detention persisted. The criminal justice system continued to be used to harass and intimidate human rights defenders and journalists, and restrict their freedom of expression, particularly those working on environmental and corruption issues.
An outbreak of pneumonic plague, first reported in August, continued throughout the year in rural and urban areas. Of 2,348 reported cases between 1 August and 22 November, 202 resulted in deaths.
In July, the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern about human rights violations including the excessive use of force by police against alleged cattle rustlers (dahalos); and revenge attacks by members of the security forces after two police officers were killed by villagers, in the northern town of Antsakabary.
The Committee called on Madagascar to immediately provide the National Human Rights Commission with an independent and sufficient budget to enable it to carry out its mandate. It also recommended that the government expedite the establishment of the High Council for the Defence of Democracy and the Rule of Law, whose mission included the promotion and protection of human rights, and provide it with financial autonomy.
The criminal justice system remained seriously flawed and failed to guarantee due process. The excessive use of pre-trial detention continued despite provisions in the Constitution and the Code of Penal Procedure that limited its use as an exceptional measure for specific reasons; more than 50% of prison inmates were awaiting trial. Despite constitutional provisions guaranteeing the right to legal defence at all stages of the process, where lack of resources should not be an obstacle, lawyers reported that they were not paid for legal aid work, including trial attendance, and were prevented from fulfilling their duties. In practice, pre-trial legal aid was not available.
The government allowed international NGOs, as well as the National Human Rights Commission, to visit detention centres.
Prisons were severely overcrowded and conditions were inhumane. Food and medical care were inadequate. Toilets and showers did not work properly, and some prisons had open sewers putting inmates at risk of disease. Most of the country’s prisons had not been adequately renovated for more than 60 years. Infrastructure was dilapidated and, in some instances, put prisoners’ lives at risk. In July, four detainees were killed after a wall collapsed in the Antsohihy prison in the north.
Families of inmates reported being forced to pay bribes to visit their relatives and detainees relied on their families for food.
Antanimora prison in the capital, Antananarivo, held around 2,850 detainees, the highest number of inmates in the country, and three times its intended capacity. Overcrowding was mainly due to the large number of pre-trial detainees, the ineffective judicial system and lengthy trial delays. Some detainees had been held for up to five years before being brought to trial.
In contravention of international standards, convicted prisoners and pre-trial detainees were held together. As of July, Tsiafahy maximum security prison near Antananarivo hosted 396 pre-trial detainees alongside sentenced prisoners, in inhumane conditions, despite National Law 2006-015 stipulating that it should house only prisoners serving life sentences or those considered to be dangerous. The need to separate children from adults was not respected in all prisons.
Freedom of assembly
Peaceful protests were repressed. Civil society organizations claimed that the authorities banned protests on the grounds that they were likely to be a “high risk of public disorder”. In June, civil society movements Wake-Up Madagascar and SEFAFI, which works to improve democratic processes in the country, criticized a one-month ban on public protests which the government said was necessary to protect public order during National Day celebrations on 26 June.
In July, police stopped a protest planned by the Movement for Freedom of Expression to mark the first anniversary of the passing of the new Code of Media Communication law which imposes heavy fines for offences such as contempt, defamation or insult against a government official.
Human rights defenders
Human rights defenders who opposed projects to exploit natural resources, or who made allegations of corruption against government officials were particularly at risk of harassment, arrests on trumped-up charges, or other abuses under the criminal justice system. In June, after 10 months’ pre-trial detention on charges of organizing a protest which became violent, environmental activist Clovis Razafimalala was released from Tamatave prison. In July, the Tamatave Tribunal sentenced him to a five-year suspended prison sentence.1 On 27 September, environmental activist Raleva was detained in Mananjary police station, in the southeast, after he questioned the legality of a Chinese mining company in the Mananjary region.2 He was later transferred to Mananjary prison. On 26 October, the Mananjary court found him guilty of using the false title of “Head of District”, and gave him a two-year suspended sentence.
Sexual and reproductive rights
Abortion remained criminalized in all cases under Article 317 of the Penal Code. Anyone providing or attempting to provide an abortion was subject to a heavy fine and imprisonment of up to 10 years. Medical personnel providing information on obtaining an abortion were subject to, in addition to imprisonment and fines, suspension from practice for between five years and life. Women who sought or had abortions were also subject to a heavy fine and up to two years’ imprisonment. Several women were sent to prison for abortion-related offences during the year.
In July, the government stated that it was working on a bill which would make abortion a minor offence.
Later in July, the UN Human Rights Committee considered Madagascar’s fourth periodic report. The Committee called for the decriminalization of abortion, and for greater efforts to make sexual and reproductive health services more accessible to women.