Madagascar: President Rajoelina must deliver on his promise to decongest prisons


One year after President Andry Rajoelina pledged to decongest prisons, detainees in Madagascar are still suffering in overcrowded prisons at nearly three times their capacity, Amnesty International said today. Thousands of people are languishing in Malagasy prisons without having been convicted of any crime, due to Madagascar’s excessive use of pre-trial detention.

President Andry Rajoelina has broken his promise to decongest Madagascar’s alarmingly overcrowded prisons
Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's Director for East and Southern Africa

“President Andry Rajoelina has broken his promise to decongest Madagascar’s alarmingly overcrowded prisons. Even as COVID-19 spreads through the country, prisons remain filled with pre-trial detainees accused of petty and non-violent crimes, including many children,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.

“Systematic failures in Madagascar’s criminal justice system have resulted in thousands of people being condemned to prison before they have had their day in court, leading to severe overcrowding. President Rajoelina must immediately release pre-trial detainees, beginning with those who do not pose any threat to society, held for minor and non-violent offences, and children, and ensure that remaining detainees have access to adequate healthcare.” 

The overcrowded conditions in Malagasy prisons pose serious security and health risks, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pre-trial detainees account for 54% of the prison population in Madagascar. This includes hundreds of children who are held in appalling conditions without being convicted of any crime - 75% of boys and 68% of girls in prison are in pre-trial detention.

Systematic failures in Madagascar’s criminal justice system have resulted in thousands of people being condemned to prison before they have had their day in court, leading to severe overcrowding
Deprose Muchena

While President Andry Rajoelina used his prerogative as a president in June to pardon more than a thousand detainees, paving a way for their release, this exceptional measure unfortunately excluded all pre-trial detainees. The country’s prisons only have the capacity to carry approximately 10,000 detainees.

But as of August 2020, the country’s 82 prisons were holding nearly three times their capacity with more than 27,000 detainees nationwide. In August, 22 inmates were killed by Malagasy security forces while attempting to escape from Farafangana prison in the south-east of the country. Dozens more were hospitalized with severe injuries. In total, 88 detainees escaped.

Detainees’ human rights are regularly violated due to appalling conditions, including lack of sufficient food and sanitation. Inmates don’t have enough space to sleep and take turns sleeping on the floor. The escape at Farafangana prison was prompted by poor living conditions, ill-treatment and the lack of contact with their families. The majority of those who escaped were in pre-trial detention.

President Rajoelina could start by considering the release of detainees who clearly do not pose any threat to society
Deprose Muchena

“Many of the people in Malagasy prisons have been held for extended periods without trial and many, including children and people accused of petty offences, should not be there in the first place.  President Rajoelina could start by considering the release of these detainees who clearly do not pose any threat to society,” said Deprose Muchena.

“The COVID-19 pandemic could make this appalling situation worse, and there must be immediate action to protect detainees.”

Background

Amnesty International researchers, who visited various Malagasy prisons in 2017 and 2018, witnessed poor infrastructure and inhumane conditions. The organization documented Madagascar’s excessive use of pre-trial detention in its report ‘Punished for Being Poor: unjustified, excessive and prolonged pre-trial detention in Madagascar’.

The report revealed that people who have not been found guilty of any crime were dying in Madagascar’s prisons due to appalling conditions. Pre-trial detention harms the poorest people in society. The majority of pre-trial detainees surveyed by Amnesty International from the report were poor, from rural areas, lacked formal education and were under-informed about their rights.