Humanizing the prison world: A diplomatic victory in Madagascar

President of Madagascar, Andry Rajoelina, accompanied by the Minister of Justice, visited the Central Prison of Antanimora in October 2019. © OHCHR

Madagascar has a total of 24,000 prisoners in various prisons across the country. According to Omer Kalameu, the Human Rights Adviser in the country, the material and judicial conditions of detention are well below international standards.

Sixty per cent of detainees are in pretrial detention and overcrowding remains a serious problem. The country’s largest prison, Antanimora, in Antananarivo, has an 800-person capacity, but more than 4,000 detainees are being held there, significantly impacting their health, hygiene and nutrition.

Following extensive advocacy undertaken by UN Human Rights in the country, Malagasy President Andry Rajoelina visited Antanimora, on 31 October, marking the first presidential visit to a penitentiary since 1960.

After meeting with prisoners and prison officials, the President proposed solutions to reduce overcrowding, pardoned detainees who had committed minor offenses and vowed to release 2,000 people by 31 December.

“We have managed to put the prison issue at the heart of reflection, discourse and political action,” said Omer Kalameu. Monthly meetings between the Resident Coordinator and the Malagasy Minister of Justice, facilitated by the Human Rights Adviser, provided opportunities for discussions on the inclusion of human rights in public policies. Madagascar’s second UPR cycle, in November, offered further avenues for discourse on protecting the rights of detainees.

In addition, OHCHR provided extensive technical and financial support for the implementation of a new penal policy, which aims to end the systematic detention order and strengthens the operational capacities of the justice system to reflect Madagascar’s international human rights obligations.

This multifaceted advocacy has produced tangible results. Following the President’s visit to the Antanimora Central House, the Government increased the allocated budget for prisons, resulting in a more nutritious diet. It also began construction of the new Fianarantsoa Prison. Funding from the Peacebuilding Fund was used to set up a drinking water supply network at the Tsiafahy High Security Prison and Norway supported the building of a separation wall between minors and adults in Ankazobe Prison. Finally, the Ministry of Justice and UN Human Rights organized a campaign of reforestation and fruit tree planting in some prisons.

The Minister of Justice, Johnny Richard Andriamahefarivo, welcomed “the exemplary partnership between the UN and Madagascar to improve the detention and judicial conditions of inmates.” He continued, “thanks to the efforts of the Ministry of Justice and the technical and financial support of the Office and others, the target ratio of 60 per cent of convicts and 40 per cent of pretrial detainees was almost reached by the end of 2019.”

The Resident Coordinator, Violet Kakyomya, noted that “these positive achievements constitute an important step towards reinforced protection of human rights. The entire UN family is proud to have contributed to these achievements.” The next step is establishing preventive measures. “After 31 December, the work must continue to ensure that this criminal policy is effective, irreversible and sustainable.”

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