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MADAGASCAR 2021

The severe drought in southern Madagascar had a devastating impact on a wide range of human rights, including the rights to life, health, food, water and sanitation. At least 2,747 prisoners were pardoned but detention facilities remained overcrowded, and conditions poor. Media workers were harassed for reporting on subjects such as the Covid-19 pandemic. Gender-based violence, particularly against women and girls, was widespread and abortion remained criminalized. LGBTIQ+ people continued to face discrimination.

Background

In June, the security forces said they prevented an alleged assassination attempt on President Andry Rajoelina and other members of the government, including the then minister of interior and decentralization, the minister of national defence and the minister of communication and culture. Dozens of people, including national police and military personnel, were investigated for their involvement in the alleged assassination attempt.

Human rights impact of climate change

The southern region of Madagascar experienced its worst drought in 40 years, with more than 1 million people on the brink of famine and over 14,000 people living in famine-like conditions.

Rights to food, water, education and sanitation

The severe drought affected the population of southern Madagascar, most of whom rely on subsistence agriculture, livestock and fishing as their main sources of livelihood. Their ability to enjoy the internationally recognized right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment which is essential to the enjoyment of many other rights, including the rights to life, health, water and sanitation, was seriously undermined.1

Children and women were disproportionately affected by the drought. Children dropped out of school to help their families to find food. Women had to engage in negative coping mechanisms, such as restricting adult family members’ food intake to provide for children and preparing cheaper and less nutritious food for their families. Additionally, families increasingly migrated to other regions to escape hunger.

Detainees’ rights

Conditions in detention facilities were poor and overcrowded. The prison administration’s statistics showed that by July, prisons with a maximum capacity for 10,645 inmates held 27,611 people, including 918 children, all of whom suffered inhumane conditions. Thousands of people continued to be detained without trial. By July, around 45% of the prison population, including 77% of child prisoners, were in pretrial detention.

In June, President Rajoelina commuted the sentences of 10,840 detainees and pardoned at least 2,747 sentenced prisoners, including people convicted of minor offences who had up to three months left on their sentence; women over 55 and men over 60 who had been in prison for 10 years or more; and children who had served at least half their sentence.

Freedom of expression

Media

On 22 April, an inter-ministerial decision led to the banning of radio and audiovisual broadcasts in the regions of Analamanga, Atsinanana, Sava, Boeny and Sofia as they were deemed to be “responsible for threatening public order and security and threatening national unity.” The decision was reversed on 26 April after a backlash from civil society and media organizations.

The government used Law 91-011 of 1991 – intended to be applied only in exceptional circumstances – to limit the media’s ability to share information on the Covid-19 pandemic, except for government sanctioned information. Journalists who attempted to report information not sanctioned by the government were harassed and intimidated.

On 30 May, the Madagascar Collective of Journalists denounced harassment against journalists. Police officers said journalists were not allowed on the streets during the Covid-19 lockdown. Also in May, a journalist from Basy Vava newspaper was harassed and threatened with prosecution for public defamation after she published an article on alleged embezzlement of public funds by a former communications director in the president’s office.

Sexual and gender-based discrimination and violence

Sexual and reproductive rights

On 28 September, Nifin’Akanga, which campaigns for decriminalization of abortion, published a report based on findings from its national survey. The report highlighted that 52.5% of abortions took place in unhygienic conditions outside health facilities, such as in the homes of women and girls or of the abortion practitioners; and that 31% of abortions were performed by people with no medical training. The report noted that unsafe abortion increased the risks of severe complications, including haemorrhage, physical damage, psychological trauma and even death. The report also found that over 90% of women and girls were not using contraceptive methods, due to lack of access and lack of sexual education and were therefore not protected from the possibility of unwanted pregnancies.

On 19 October, proposed law 004-2021/PL to modify article 317 of the Penal Code to decriminalize abortion was tabled before the National Assembly. The law aimed to decriminalize abortion where pregnancy presents a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or girl, in cases of serious fetal impairment, and pregnancy resulting from rape or incest.

Gender-based violence

Local organizations and the media reported an increase in the number of domestic violence cases during the pandemic and the resulting rise in the numbers of people in poverty.

LGBTIQ+ people’s rights

Discrimination against and stigmatization of people on grounds of their sexual orientation and gender identity remained widespread in Malagasy society. On 1 July, the interior ministry suspended an annual LGBT event scheduled for 3 July in Antananarivo, the capital. The Director General for Culture explained the ministry’s decision, saying that “homosexual-related activities are not yet permitted in Madagascar” and concluded that “the event will be cancelled as it harms morality”.


  1. Madagascar: It Will Be Too Late to Help Us Once We Are Dead: The Human Rights Impact of Climate Change in Drought-Stricken Southern Madagascar (Index: AFR 35/4874/2021), 26 October