Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1990

The Democratic Republic of Madagascar is governed by President
Didier Ratsiraka, who has been in power since 1975, and the
National Popular Assembly. The President and Assembly
deputies are elected by universal direct suffrage for 7- and
5-year terms respectively. The President selects the members
of the Supreme Revolutionary Council (SRC), which is the
executive branch's policymaking body. He won reelection in
1989 with 63 percent of the vote, and his position is further
enhanced by the influence of his political party, the Vanguard
of the Malagasy Revolution (AREMA) , which controls the
National Assembly.
In January the SRC promulgated, and in July the National
Assembly passed. Ordinance 90-001 which permitted the creation
of political parties outside of the now defunct National Front
for the Defense of the Revolution (NFDR) , which formerly
grouped several parties, with widely varying political
platforms, under a common umbrella of socialism. Faced with a
growing and increasingly outspoken opposition, the NFDR was
reorganized into the Militant Front for Malagasy Socialism
(MFMS) on July 21, 1990. By the end of the year, 30 political
parties were registered in Madagascar, including 16 opposed to
the MFMS. The major parties in the opposition call for the
creation of Western-style democracy, further economic
liberalization, and reform of the Constitution to remove all
references to socialism.
The gendarmerie (rural police) and the national police (urban
police) are responsible for internal security. The President
has under his direct control the Directorate General of
Documentation and Economic Investigations (DGIDIE) , or
security service. The DGIDIE and the police have reportedly
employed physical mistreatment of detainees, particularly
during interrogation.
Agriculture dominates the Malagasy economy. About 85 percent
of the population is employed in the agriculture sector which
in turn provides about 80 percent of the country's export
earnings. In 1990, to encourage both greater domestic and
foreign investment, the Government enacted a new investment
code and an export processing zone law. Despite some modest
gains, personal incomes remain abysmally low, and unemployment
remains high, particularly among youth (60 percent of the
population is under age 25).
In 1990 the AREMA-dominated Government moved forward in a
carefully controlled manner with its program of political
reform. It permitted a reorganization of the old National
Front and the formation of many new political parties, but it
firmly rejected opposition calls to move up presidential and
parliamentary elections before 1996 and 1994 respectively.
The independent press continued to operate freely and to be
critical of the Government. Press censorship, suspended in
1989, was legally abolished with passage of the new
Communications Charter by the National Assembly in December.
The new Charter contains elements which significantly increase
press freedom, but other aspects of the Charter could place
limitations on the media, depending upon their implementation.
The Government permitted the Christian Council of Churches to
hold two national conventions of what the Council called the
"nation's active forces" to discuss a wide range of topics,
including constitutional reform. Opposition parties held
regular public meetings. During an armed takeover of the
national radio station in May, some police without
authorization by superiors fired on a stone-throwing crowd,
killing 6 and injuring 44 (see Section l.a.). The authorities
conducted an investigation into the shootings. There was no
indication whether the police involved were found guilty and
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
      a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no politically motivated killings. The Government
arrested a group of 14 persons after an armed takeover of the
national television and radio station in Antananarivo on May
13. Court authorities subsequently released four of these
persons on bail. The trial in December of the 14 resulted in
acquittal of 2 persons, with the remainder receiving sentences
ranging from 6 to 30 months' imprisonment. Some police fired
without authorization on a crowd gathered outside the radio
station, some of whom had begun to stone police, killing 6 and
injuring 44.
      b. Disappearance
There were no known cases of politically motivated
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The DGIDIE, police, and gendarmes have been known to beat
suspects in their custody. The DGIDIE, in particular, has had
a reputation for ruthless treatment of detainees, frequently
during interrogation. In May the DGIDIE was reorganized with
the objective of curbing past abuses, and a new director
appointed, a well-respected jurist and diplomat, who is also
the head of Madagascar's Human Rights Commission.
Conditions in Malagasy prisons are harsh. The diet provided
is inadequate, and family members of prisoners must augment
daily food rations. Those prisoners without relatives in the
prison vicinity sometimes go for several days without food.
Prisoners suffer a wide range of medical problems that are not
routinely treated, including mainour ishment , infections,
malaria, and tuberculosis. The prison death toll rises
significantly during the winter months. A number of children
live in the prisons with their mothers. The Minister of
Justice has appealed for international assistance to help
ameliorate these conditions.
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
In a normal criminal case, the accused must be charged or
released within 3 days after arrest. Generally, defendants in
ordinary criminal cases are charged formally within the
specified time frame and, upon being charged, are allowed to
obtain an attorney. Counsel is readily available, and
court-appointed counsel is provided for indigents.
Under Malagasy law, persons suspected of activity against the
State may be detained incommunicado for 15 days, subject to
indefinite extension if considered necessary by the
Government. At the end of 1990, there were no persons being
held under this provision of law. Bail may be requested by
the accused or by his attorney immediately after arrest, or
after being formally charged, or during the appeal process.
Of those arrested following the May 13 takeover of the radio
station, four were released on bail.
On June 25, President Ratsiraka by executive order released
two former gendarmerie officers who had been imprisoned since
1977 and convicted in 1983 of plotting against the security of
the State, possession of unauthorized arms, and other
charges. Immediately following their release, the two left
for France. There was speculation that they may have been
exiled as part of the agreement for their release. Neither
man has spoken publicly about the conditions for his release.
      e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and in
practice the judiciary seems to function in most cases without
outside influence from the executive. The judiciary has three
levels of courts: lower courts for civil and criminal cases
carrying limited fines and sentences; a court of appeals which
includes a criminal court for cases carrying sentences of 5
years or more; and a Supreme Court. The judiciary also has a
number of special courts designed to handle specific kinds of
cases under the jurisdiction of the higher courts. A
Constitutional High Court, with a totally separate and
autonomous status, may review the constitutionality of laws,
decrees, and ordinances, and the legality of elections.
A Military Court has jurisdiction over all cases involving
national security. The definition of national security is
largely a matter of interpretation by the authorities but
includes acts constituting a threat to the nation and its
political leaders, invasion by foreign forces, and riots that
could lead to an overthrow of the Government. In exceptional
cases, civilians may be tried in the Military Court if they
are charged with having broken military laws. Military
courts, like civilian courts, provide for an appeal process.
Furthermore, military courts are presided over by a civilian
magistrate. The rank of the four military officers comprising
the court is determined by the rank of the accused.
There were no political prisoners in Madagascar at year's
end. Of the 14 persons arrested following the May 13 takeover
of the radio station, 4 were released on bail. The trial
began on December 18 and resulted in acquittal for two of the
defendants, while the others received sentences ranging from 6
months' imprisonment for unlawfully occupying a public
building to 30 months' imprisonment for unlawfully occupying a
public building, possession of unauthorized firearms, and
possession of a false national identity card.
      f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The State does not generally intervene in the private aspects
of the lives of the people. The home is traditionally
inviolable under Malagasy law. However, in December 1989,
Article 42 of the Constitution was amended to permit
authorities to enter the homes of persons caught in a criminal
act or who explicitly consent to a search. In the course of
suppressing cattle rustlers and bandits, military authorities
without court orders have entered and ransacked some homes.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
There was noticeable improvement in these areas in 1990. With
increasing frequency, opposition figures publicly denounced
the Government and called for the revision of the Charter of
the Socialist Revolution. Viewpoints were openly debated and
discussed in public forums, including in the National Assembly.
While the new Communications Charter provides for private
ownership of radio and television stations, the broadcast
media are at present under state control and usually provide
positive coverage of the Government's activities while
limiting coverage of opposition activities. A weekly radio
discussion program which features prominent figures has
included opposition party leaders. The new Communications
Charter requires government broadcast media to present a
variety of opinions.
In 1990 there were seven major independent dailies in
Antananarivo as well as eight major weeklies (one of which is
government owned) . Additionally, local magazines were
published periodically. In past years, the Ministry of
Interior reviewed and censored the content of newspapers—both
official and independent—prior to printing. The President's
suspension of censorship in February 1989 was followed in
December 1990 by passage in the National Assembly of a new
Communications Charter which abolished censorship and further
strengthened freedom of information. Among its positive
provisions, the Charter removes all references to the
requirement to respect revolutionary principles of socialism,
allows journalists to protect sources unless a court
determines that national security is involved, requires the
government media to give coverage to a variety of viewpoints,
and allows private radio and television stations. On the
other hand, the Charter contains other provisions—such as
heavy fines and long prison sentences for defamation and
libel—which could place limitations on the media. Throughout
1990, foreign news publications, primarily in French, were
readily available at major hotels and bookstores.
Academic freedom is in theory restricted by a constitutional
prohibition, now largely ignored, of any public lectures or
teachings which condemn the Charter of the Socialist
Revolution, However, for the first time since 1977, high
school students during their August final exams were exempted
from answering questions on Marxism, and Socialist thought.
Marxism is not in the syllabus for the 1990-91 academic year.
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
While political opposition meetings are increasingly common,
some restrictions remain on the right of assembly and
association. Permits are required to hold public meetings and
can be denied by the Government if officials believe that the
meeting poses a threat to the State or endangers national
security. Immediately following the May 13 radio station
takeover, the Government temporarily suspended permits for all
outdoor functions and meetings, including political meetings
and concerts and cultural events.
All new political parties are required to register with the
Ministry of Interior. No political parties were denied
registration during the year. The Government granted permits
to all political parties and religious organizations wishing
to hold public meetings, including those known to be critical
of the Government. Party congresses and other meetings such
as the "national concert" took place in 1990 (see Section
2.C. ) .
University student associations meet freely. Large numbers of
students frequently gathered without permits during July and
August to protest the Government's program of university
rehabilitation which included the removal of unregistered
"students" from student housing.
      c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion. The
Government is secular, and there is no discrimination on the
basis of religious affiliation. Between 40 and 50 percent of
the population adheres to Christian beliefs, with the
remainder following traditional Malagasy beliefs, Islam, and
other faiths. Religious publications are allowed, and the
Catholic weekly Lakroa has often been blunt in its criticism
of the Government. Missionaries and clergy are generally
permitted to operate freely.
The Christian Council of Churches (FFKM), which is composed of
the Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, and Church of Jesus Christ
Churches, provided a major setting for a nationwide debate on
issues of national importance. The first meeting, termed a
"national concert" meeting, was held in August, with a
follow-up session in December.
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Officially there is no restriction on travel within the
country. Persons in the southwest who previously needed
permission to travel outside of their villages during the
height of the anticattle rustling campaign may now travel
freely. For all Malagasy, official approval must be obtained
for trips outside the country. All residents of Madagascar
(Malagasy and foreign) require exit visas issued by the
Ministry of Interior, but these are seldom denied. Foreign
travel is impeded by the difficulty of obtaining foreign
currency for that purpose. The Malagasy franc (FMG) is not
convertible abroad, and the Government limits to about $125
the amount of hard currency that can be obtained annually for
foreign travel. There is no refugee population in Madagascar.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
In November the National Assembly passed Ordinance 90-017
which revised the electoral code to allow all political
parties and political groups to present candidates in all
future elections. Coupled with the passage of Ordinance
90-001, which permitted the establishment of political parties
outside of the now defunct National Front for the Defense of
the Revolution, these changes led to a proliferation of new
political parties in 1990. These ordinances, if fully
implemented, hold the potential to enhance significantly the
ability of the people to exercise their right to change their
Two large political groupings began to form in 1990 around the
government-affiliated Militant Front for Malagasy Socialism
(MFMS) and the so-called opposition platform, but deep
divisions began to develop among the parties in the latter
group. Inasmuch as the last elections were held in 1989 prior
to the passage of Ordinance 90-001, opposition parties have
called for new elections in advance of the next regularly
scheduled ones (1994 for the National Assembly and 1996 for
the President) . President Ratsiraka, with the vast majority
of deputies in the National Popular Assembly having been
elected as AREMA candidates, has successfully resisted those
In its May-July session, the National Popular Assembly began
to assert itself somewhat. Initial steps were taken to
introduce legislation beyond items presented by the executive
branch. Opposition parties introduced four minor pieces of
legislation, which were passed, and voted against accepting
the Government's report of its activities. A large number of
AREMA party deputies called for greater accountability from
the executive branch. At its December session, the debate in
the National Assembly on the new Communications Charter was
lively, with government spokesmen closely questioned by
opposition and governing party legislators alike. Amendments
offered by both groups were adopted and modified the
Government's draft legislation.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
of Human Rights
The Government has historically not cooperated with groups,
either externally or internally based, wishing to investigate
alleged human rights violations. It denied visas to Amnesty
International (AI) representatives in the early 1980 's. Human
rights organizations are considered to be political groups
under Malagasy law and must register with the Government. No
independent local human rights groups were active in 1990.
The Christian churches in the country have advocated human
rights and in 1989 served as electoral observers. They did
not, however, publicly challenge or criticize government human
rights policies.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,
Language, or Social Status
Madagascar is inhabited by approximately 11 million people.
The Malagasy are a mix of Malayo-Polynesian and African
origins. The Malagasy are divided into 18 ethnocultural
groups based on regional and ancestral affiliation. While
legal discrimination does not exist, favoritism based on
regional origin is often a determining factor in selecting
personnel for positions in ministries and the private sector.
A large Indo-Pakistani community has been in Madagascar since
the earlier part of this century. Of Gujurati Muslim origin,
this group is primarily engaged in commerce. Numbering about
24,000 persons, they have often felt the brunt of resentment
from Malagasy during economically hard times. There were no
reported instances of violence specifically directed towards
this community in 1990. However, many Malagasy mistrust and
criticize these Indo-Pakistanis for holding themselves apart
from the mainstream of Malagasy life. Few have integrated
into local society, preferring to retain their language,
religion, and culture, and most have opted to retain French
rather than Malagasy citizenship.
Women have traditionally played a prominent role in the
business and economic life of the country, with many of them
managing or owning business concerns or filling management
positions in state industries. Education at all levels is
open to women. However, women in rural areas and among the
urban poor face a greater degree of hardship, bearing the
traditional responsibilities of raising a family and engaging
in farm labor or other subsistence activities.
On July 11, the National Popular Assembly passed additional
legislation dealing with the rights of married women. The new
law permits wives an equal say in choosing where a married
couple will reside. The Malagasy Family Code was also revised
to give women a more equitable distribution of marital
property in divorce cases as well as in disputes involving the
custody of children. In the case of the death of a husband, a
wife now inherits one-half of the joint marital wealth. A
widow receives a pension; however, a widower does not. There
are no specific women's rights groups in Madagascar, but
groups of professional women and women's branches of political
parties continue to work towards additional changes in the
Malagasy Family Code.
According to various sources, including magistrates,
journalists, and women doctors, violence against women, such
as wife beating, is not widespread, and neither the Government
nor womens ' organizations have addressed this issue
specifically. The society frowns on marital confrontation.
Married couples generally prefer to avoid divorce and, if
necessary, to live separate lives under one roof. In very few
divorce cases is there an allegation of physical abuse that
could be construed as wife beating. In the rare cases where
this condition is detected, police and legal authorities do
intervene. However, there is no law dealing specifically with
violence against women. Female circumcision is not practiced
in Madagascar.
Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
The Malagasy have the right in law and in practice to
establish and join labor unions. Unions are required to
register with the Government, and registration is routinely
granted. However, the labor force of 4 . 9 million is mostly
agrarian (85 percent), and unionized labor accounts for less
than 5 percent of the total . Seven of the approximately 20
national labor organizations in existence are affiliated with
the political parties that composed the National Front for the
Defense of the Revolution, and two nonaffiliated unions in the
past signed a protocol of agreement with the dominant
political union belonging to the President's party. The
primary focus of the unions is party politics, and they are
usually active only during election campaigns. In spite of
political liberalization, there was very little union
activity, and no new unions were organized in 1990. Overall,
labor unions play an insignificant role in national life.
Public servants may not form independent trade unions but may
join "Malagasy Revolutionary Organizations" under the
supervision of the Government. The Cormiittee of Experts of
the International Labor Organization (ILO) asked the
Government to take appropriate measures to ensure that public
servants can establish organizations without prior
authorization or other restrictions. It also asked the
Government to introduce legislation explicitly guaranteeing
the trade union rights of seafarers; no government action was
known to have occurred in response to this request.
Workers have the legal right to strike, but strikes are a
rarity because of the severe unemployment problem and the
politicization of the labor federations. There are occasional
wildcat strikes. In these, the Government generally sides
with m.anagement for the restoration of order. The Labor Code,
which covers all workers except civil servants and merchant
marine employees, prescribes an arbitration procedure which
must be followed in labor/management disputes. Should this
procedure not lead to a settlement, workers individually, or
as represented by a union, may in theory call a strike.
Several of the union organizations are members of the World
Confederation of Labor or of the Communist-controlled World
Federation of Trade Unions. One, the Confederation of
Malagasy Workers, has links with the International
Confederation of Free Trade Unions.
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Union activity is governed by the Labor Code of 1975 which
provides for free unions and the right to bargain
collectively. The Labor Code formally prohibits antiunion
discrimination by employers against union members and
organizers. It also states that collective bargaining may be
undertaken between management and labor at either party's
behest. When there is failure to reach agreement, the
Ministry of Labor convenes a committee of employment
inspectors who attempt to resolve the matter. If this process
fails, the committee refers the matter to the Chairman of the
First Circuit Court for final arbitration. As noted above,
workers' interests are not represented equally in this
process. Collective bargaining agreements are not routinely
negotiated. The minimum wage is set by the Government. Other
wages are negotiated between employers and employees.
While there are no geographic export processing zones (EPZ's)
operating yet in Madagascar, there are companies operating
under the 1989 legislation authorizing the creation of such
EPZ's. Labor laws are applied uniformly throughout the
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Forced labor is explicitly prohibited by Article 2 of the
Labor Code and is not practiced. The ILO in 1990, as it has
on previous occasions, again urged the Government to amend its
legislation regarding prison labor and compulsory national
service to bring it into conformity with ILO Convention 29 on
forced labor which Madagascar ratified in 1960.
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The Labor Code describes a child as any person under the age
of 18. The minimum age for employment is 14, and the use of
child labor is prohibited in those areas where there is
apparent and imminent danger. The Government enforces these
child labor laws relatively effectively in the small wage
sector through inspectors from the Ministry of Civil Service,
Labor, and Social Law. However, in the large subsistence
agricultural sector many young children work with their
parents on family farms at much earlier ages. Similarly, in
the urban areas many children earn a living as parking
attendants, newspaper vendors, and through other street
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Labor Code and its enforcing legislation prescribe the
working conditions for employees. Malagasy law distinguishes
between agricultural and nonagricultural work. There is a
44-hour workweek in nonagricultural and service industries.
There are also provisions for holiday pay, sick and maternity
leave, and insurance. There are several legal minimum wage
rates in. Madagascar according to categories of work. The
ilowest Cfor unskilled workers) is approximately $24 per month
and is inadequate to ensure a decent standard of living.
Accordingly, such workers must supplement their incomes
through subsistence agriculture or reliance on the extended
family structure.
The Labor Code has rules concerning building safety, machinery
and moving engines, operational safety, and sanitation
standards. It appears that, in practice, the rules and
regulations of the Code are generally adhered to by employers
and are enforced by the authorities. Labor inspectors from
the Ministry of Civil Service, Labor, and Social Law carry out
regular visits to industrial work sites. Violations of
safety, sanitary, operational, and other work code laws are
the subject of reports by these inspectors. If the violations
are not remedied within the specified time frame, the
violators are legally charged and subject to various