Madagascar’s hidden crisis: Women’s rights and human rights abuses

Published on Pambazuka News, by Zo Randriamaro, 2010-04-29.

With Madagascar’s political crisis still far from resolved, economic and social rights have remained outside of the concerns of the country’s leadership and mainstream media alike, writes Zo Randriamaro. Incidents of human rights abuses have been much less publicised than developments around political competition, Randriamaro notes, a reality reflective of elite concerns for self-protection and personal enrichment at the expense of ordinary livelihoods. 

The political situation in Madagascar is far from improving, after several unsuccessful attempts from national, regional and international mediators to resolve the political crisis during more than a year. This has overshadowed another worrying trend, which is clearly gendered: the crisis that affects not only political and civil rights, but also economic and social rights in the country.

HUMAN RIGHTS CRISIS:

The cases of human rights violations have been much less publicised than the power struggles among the proponents of the political crisis, not only because such information is not of the kind that the authorities would like to publicise, but also because it has not attracted the attention of the international mediators involved in the protracted process for the resolution of the political crisis, nor that of the mainstream media. Thus, very few local newspapers have reported on the ongoing campaign by human rights defenders for the immediate release of the so-called ‘political detainees’ who had been arrested by the police during the street demonstrations of September 2009 and had been waiting in vain for eighth months for their cases to be addressed. Among these are 13 women, who started a hunger strike together with male political detainees about one week ago to call for attention to their cases. Three of these women have reached a very critical stage (Madagascar Laza, 14 April 2010). While human rights defenders are mobilising locally and among the Malagasy diaspora to send as many letters as possible to the ministry of justice of the transitional government led by Andry Rajoelina to demand for the immediate release of these women, they also know from experience that the authorities are listening more to the voices of powerful outsiders than those of their own people … //

… The latest development in relation to the political crisis is the leading role played by the presidents of France and South Africa in the design of an agreement between the current president of the HAT, Andry Rajoelina, and the former president, Marc Ravalomanana. While the content of this agreement is not yet known, there is every reason to believe that the control of the state’s resources will implicitly remain the key item on the agenda of the discussions. Once again, human rights are likely to be sidelined, given the poor record of Andry Rajoelina and Marc Ravalomanana in relation to human rights. South African President Jacob Zuma is well-known among feminist and women’s rights activists for the controversial issues around his election, and President Nicolas Sarkozy clearly demonstrated during his visit to China that he gives priority to economic interests over human rights. With respect to the political crisis in Madagascar, it comes as no surprise that he is getting involved in its resolution at a time when the French oil company Total is in competition with Chinese companies for oil exploitation in the country.

In an earlier article, I have expressed hope as a Malagasy citizen and women’s rights activist that the political crisis in Madagascar could be an opportunity to transform unjust political, social and economic structures, and to build a new social contract based on human rights for all. Now, I am more convinced than ever that the sine qua non condition for this to happen is that we, the women of Madagascar, must fight for our rights and those of future generations. (full text).

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