Madagascar is a semipresidential democratic republic with a popularly elected president, a bicameral legislature (Senate and National Assembly), prime minister, and cabinet. A presidential election was held on November 7, 2018, with a two-candidate run-off on December 19, 2018. The winner, Andry Rajoelina, took office on January 19. Independent observers judged the election to be generally free and fair, despite several candidates’ allegations of irregularities in the electoral process, including voter suppression. Legislative elections took place in late May with no major incidents. Observers judged these elections to be generally free and fair, with some irregularities. Nationwide municipal elections took place on November 27 and were generally considered to be free and fair.
The national police, under the authority of the Ministry of Public Security, are responsible for maintaining law and order in urban areas. The gendarmerie, under the Ministry of National Defense, is responsible for maintaining law and order in rural areas at the village level, protecting government facilities, and operating a maritime police contingent. The military is also active in rural areas, particularly to maintain order in areas affected by cattle rustling and banditry, and reports to the Ministry of National Defense. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.
Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary or unlawful killings by government agents; torture by government agents; arbitrary detention by government agents; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention center conditions; substantial interference with the right of peaceful assembly; pervasive corruption; trafficking in persons; violence against women and children, which the government took little action to prevent or prosecute; and use of forced child labor.
The government prosecuted and punished some officials who committed abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government; however, impunity remained a problem.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but these “may be limited by the respect for the freedoms and rights of others, and by the imperative of safeguarding public order, national dignity, and state security.” The government sometimes restricted these rights. The communications code includes several provisions limiting freedom of speech and expression. The code also grants broad powers to the government to deny media licenses to political opponents, seize equipment, and impose fines.
The government arrested journalists and activists who had publicly denounced the misbehavior of public authorities. The government often used unrelated charges to prosecute them.
Freedom of Expression: In accordance with the constitution, the law restricts individuals’ ability to criticize the government publicly.
On May 13, the police commissioner of Antananarivo limited activities meant to commemorate the 1972 political movement in which some demonstrators died. He prohibited political speeches, with only representatives of associations and political parties allowed to enter the city hall and lay wreaths on the memorial to “avoid overflow.”
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, but not without restriction. The communications code contains several articles limiting press and media freedoms. For example, Article 85 requires the owner of a media company to be the chief publisher. This article may permit candidates for political office, who are also media owners, to use their outlets to advocate against opponents.
The communications code gives the communications ministry far-reaching powers to suspend media licenses and seize property of media outlets if one of their journalists commits two infractions of the code. Finally, the code allows only state-owned radio and television stations the right to broadcast nationally, although this limitation was not always enforced.
The country had numerous independent newspapers. More than 300 radio and television stations operated in the country, although many shifted to live call-in shows in recent years to distance themselves from editorial responsibility for content. Many of them continued to have a national audience, despite the code’s limitations. The opposition had greater access to state-run media than in previous years.
Violence and Harassment: There were several reports of journalists being harassed for criticizing the government and public services. A columnist and human rights activist was reportedly the target of anonymous threats and insults on social media for writing an open letter denouncing the failure of the government to address the most urgent issues affecting the population.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists practiced self-censorship, and authors generally published books of a political nature abroad.
Libel/Slander Laws: Although defamation is not a criminal offense in the communications code, a separate cybercrime law allows for the charge of criminal defamation for anything published online. It is unclear whether the cyber criminality law, which includes prison sentences for online defamation, has precedence over the communications code, as all newspapers are also published online. The fines allowed for offenses under the communications code are many times higher than the average journalist’s annual salary.
There were several reports of government authorities using libel, slander, or defamation laws to restrict public discussion. During the year journalists and citizens faced police investigation and legal prosecution for defamation and infringement of public order for posting criticism of government performance and public services on social media.
In June authorities tried Mahery Lanto Manandafy, son of a political party president, for defamation using information technology for criticizing the president’s development plan on his Facebook page. The court acquitted him on June 22.
On September 16, three journalists and the cultural director of Antananarivo municipality went on trial on charges of spreading false news and disparaging the army. The journalists, who worked for press associated with the opposition party, reported in August on an army helicopter hovering above the municipal stadium of Mahamasina without the municipality’s authorization. They reported Chinese investors interested in bidding on a stadium renovation project were on board the helicopter, while the Ministry of Defense claimed the helicopter was performing a security drill ahead of the Pope’s visit. On September 19, the court sentenced two of the journalists to a fine of 10 million ariary ($2,700) each for defamation of the army while acquitting the two other defendants.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution and law provide for peaceful assembly and association, but the government restricted these rights.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
A 2013 decree prohibits citizens from leaving the country to work abroad in countries deemed “risky,” as a measure to reduce trafficking in persons. Because destination countries are not specifically identified in the decree, citizens may be prevented from leaving the country to work abroad at the discretion of border agents.
Foreign Travel: During the year the government issued an exit ban to several individuals known to be close to the opposition or to the former regime. Authorities often justified such measures as necessary for investigative needs. In January the Ministry of Interior issued an exit ban against a group of five journalists and former presidential candidates who had publicly opposed the winning presidential candidate, accusing them of offenses against national security. There was no known further legal action against any of them, except for Mbola Rajaonah, who remained in prison as of September under separate corruption charges.
In March and August, the government issued an exit ban against two former government officials who served under the former regime for their presumed involvement in corruption and public fund embezzlement.
f. Protection of Refugees
Official refugees or asylum seekers were present in Madagascar in small numbers.
Access to Asylum: The law does not include provisions for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. Authorities generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting the small number of refugees in the country.
Freedom of Movement: Refugees and asylum seekers reported that police frequently detained some of them and sometimes did not honor UNHCR-issued documents certifying their status or tore them up, rendering them vulnerable to arrest or expulsion.
Employment: Refugees and asylum seekers did not have access to employment, because without a resident visa they were unable to get a work permit.
Access to Basic Services: Refugees and asylum seekers received no support from the government, but the government did not interfere with support provided by UNHCR via a local NGO. Refugees and asylum seekers complained that the amount of support they received was insufficient because they could not work and received no government support. Hospitals and service providers charged refugees higher rates as foreigners, making basic medical care unaffordable to refugees.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides for criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Corruption was pervasive at all levels of government; however, the new administration focused greater attention on combating corruption, leading to multiple convictions.
Corruption: Corruption investigations by the Independent Anti-Corruption Bureau (BIANCO) led to several cases going to trial at the Anti-Corruption Court and resulted in the conviction of former high-level individuals for embezzlement and bribery. These legal actions targeted mainly former government officials and related to cases including public fund embezzlement, rosewood trafficking, and illegal sale of state-owned land.
For example on May 3, the Anti-Corruption Court (PAC) committed former senator Berthin Andriamihaingo to pretrial detention at Antanimora Prison on charges of favoritism, abuse of power, and public fund embezzlement totaling 618 million ariary ($167,000), in regard to a vaccination campaign by the Ministry of Public Health in 2018.
In August the PAC sentenced Claudine Razaimamonjy, an unofficial advisor to the previous president, to seven years’ imprisonment with hard labor and a fine of 100 million ariary ($27,000) for public fund embezzlement. She had been held in pretrial detention since 2017.
During the year the government subjected working-level civil servants in the police, gendarmerie, and judiciary to legal procedures or disciplinary measures for bribery or involvement in natural resources smuggling. In March the Ministry of Justice ordered a six-month suspension for five magistrates from the Court of Appeals of Toamasina for collectively granting a temporary release to someone accused of masterminding a kidnapping scheme. The minister of justice stated the magistrates had acted corruptly in their release decision.
In its annual activities report for 2018, BIANCO reported receiving 2,689 complaints. It investigated 851 of those cases and referred 179 for prosecution, leading to the arrest of 147 persons, 39 of whom were put in pretrial detention. During the same period, BIANCO summoned approximately 150 government officials for hearings, including members of government, high-ranking civil servants, local authorities, elected officials, and members of the security forces.
In July the president issued a new law on recovery of illicit assets. The law provides for government seizure of assets proven to result from public fund embezzlement, corruption, and money laundering. A newspaper reported in early September the law was not yet enforced due to a delay in adoption of the enactment decree.
Government officials conducted surprise visits to departments that were highly affected by corruption, such as customs and passport delivery. Such visits led to disciplinary measures against agents. In May the Ministry of Justice installed surveillance cameras inside court buildings in Antananarivo and began implementing a more rigorous control of entry points to stem bribery and corruption. In May, in collaboration with a German foundation, BIANCO officially launched an online grievance system to collect complaints related to corruption.
Financial Disclosure: The law requires regular income and asset declarations by individuals in the following positions: prime minister and other government ministers; members of the National Assembly and Senate; members of the High Constitutional Court; chiefs of regions and mayors; magistrates; civil servants holding positions of or equivalent to ministry director and above; inspectors of land titling, treasury, tax, and finances; military officers at the company level and above; inspectors from the state general inspection, the army’s general inspection, and the national gendarmerie’s general inspection; and judicial police officers.
As of September, according to the HCC website, the prime minister, 20 of the 22 members of his cabinet, and 112 of the 214 members of both houses of parliament had declared their assets as required by law.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
Numerous domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were not always responsive to their views, but authorities allowed international human rights groups to enter the country, work, and consult freely with other groups.
In response to Amnesty International’s call for an investigation into the killing of eight thieves by gendarmes on February 7 in Betroka, the state secretary for national gendarmes said the officers had acted legitimately and in self-defense, and he stood ready to protect them against criticism for their actions against wrongdoers.
Several domestic NGOs worked on human rights, but few had the capacity to work effectively and independently.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNIDH is composed of 11 commissioners, each elected by members of a different human rights organization and given a mandate to investigate cases of, and publish reports on, human rights violations. The government dedicated a budget for the commission to operate during the year. In addition, some international organizations and diplomatic missions provided some equipment.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides that public and private sector workers may establish and join labor unions of their choice without prior authorization or excessive requirements. Civil servants and maritime workers have separate labor codes. Essential workers, including police, military, and firefighters, may not form unions. The maritime code does not specifically provide the right to form unions.
The law generally allows for union activities and provides most workers the right to strike, including workers in Export Processing Zones (EPZs). Authorities prohibit strikes, however, if there is a possibility of “disruption of public order” or if the strike would endanger the life, safety, or health of the population. Workers must first exhaust conciliation, mediation, and compulsory arbitration remedies, which may take eight months to two and one-half years. Magistrates and workers in “essential services” (not defined by law) have a recognized but more restricted right to strike. The law requires them to maintain a basic level of service and to give prior notice to their employer. The labor code also provides for a fine, imprisonment, or both for the “instigators and leaders of illegal strikes.”
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers. In the event of antiunion activity, unions or their members may file suit against the employer in civil court. The law does not accord civil servants and other public sector employees legal protection against antiunion discrimination and interference.
The law provides workers in the private sector, except seafarers, the right to bargain collectively. Public sector employees not engaged in the administration of the state, such as teachers hired under the auspices of donor organizations or parent associations in public schools, do not have the right to bargain collectively. Authorities did not always enforce applicable laws, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Larger international firms, such as in the telecommunications and banking sectors, more readily exercised and respected collective bargaining rights. These rights, however, were reportedly more difficult to exercise in EPZs and smaller local companies. Union representatives reported workers in such companies often were reluctant to make demands due to fear of reprisal.
The government was inconsistent in its respect for freedom of association and collective bargaining rights. The law requires that unions operate independently of the government and political parties. Union representatives indicated employers increasingly attempted to dissuade or influence unions, which often prevented workers from organizing or criticizing poor working conditions. Unions reported that many employers hindered their employees’ ability to form or join labor unions through intimidation and threats of dismissal for professional misconduct. Due to pervasive corruption, labor inspectors, bribed by some employers, usually approved dismissal of union leaders. As a result, workers were reluctant to join or lead unions.
Strikes occurred throughout the year, including by public school and university teachers, staff of some municipalities, and national company employees. There were no reports of official sanctions taken against any labor leaders.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced labor, with penalties that were sufficient to deter violations. Trafficking in children was a significant problem in the informal sector. Forced labor also persisted in dina judgments (see section 1.d.). In some communities, local dinas imposed forced labor to resolve conflicts or pay debt. These arrangements persisted because authorities did not effectively enforce the law. The legal definition of trafficking includes forced labor.
The government has a national service requirement law, under which all men are required to perform two years of military service or other work, which the ILO criticized as a potential means of mobilizing compulsory labor for economic development. The national service requirement, however, was not enforced, because those wishing to enlist exceeded the available spaces and funding.
Union representatives charged that working conditions in some garment factories were akin to forced labor. Setting production targets instead of paying overtime allowances became a general practice among EPZ companies. Workers were assigned higher targets each time they reached the previous goals, obliging them to work more hours to avoid sanctions like salary withholding or even dismissal for low performance. The media and union representatives reported additional abuses perpetrated in call centers run by offshore companies and reported that managers required employees to work overtime beyond legal limits.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law establishes a legal minimum working age of 16, with various restrictions. The law also regulates working conditions of children, defines the worst forms of child labor, identifies penalties for employers, and establishes the institutional framework for implementation. The law allows children to work a maximum of eight hours per day and 40 hours per week with no overtime and prohibits persons younger than 18 from working at night or where there is an imminent danger to health, safety, or morals. The law prohibits hazardous occupations and activities for children. The law requires working children to undergo a semiannual medical checkup performed by the company’s doctor or an authorized doctor at the expense of the employer.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of Civil Services, Administrative Reform, Labor, and Social Laws is responsible for enforcing child labor laws.
Child labor was a widespread problem. Centers operated by NGOs in Antananarivo, Antsirabe, and Toamasina cared for children who were victims of human trafficking and forced labor. Children in rural areas worked mostly in agriculture, fishing, and livestock herding, while those in urban areas worked in domestic labor, transport of goods by rickshaw, petty trading, stone quarrying, artisanal mining for gemstones such as sapphires, in bars, and as beggars. Children also worked in the vanilla sector, salt production, mining, deep-sea diving, and the shrimp industry. Some children were victims of human trafficking, which included child sex trafficking and forced labor. The results of the 2018 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey indicated 47 percent of children were involved in child labor, including 36 percent of those between five and 11 years old. In addition, 32 percent of children between ages five and 17 worked in dangerous environments or occupations.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
Labor laws prohibit workplace discrimination based on race, gender, religion, political opinion, origin, or disability. A special decree on HIV in the workplace bans discrimination based on serology status. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, age, or language. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Discrimination remained a problem. Employers subjected persons with disabilities and LGBTI individuals to hiring discrimination. Stateless persons had difficulty accessing employment, and refugees and asylum seekers were barred from employment. Members of some evangelical churches reported limited access to employment if their Sabbath was not on Sunday.
In rural areas, where most of the population engaged in subsistence farming, traditional social structures tended to favor entrenched gender roles, leading to a pattern of discrimination against women. While there was little discrimination in access to employment and credit, women often did not receive equal pay for substantially similar work. The law does not permit women to work in positions that might endanger their health, safety, or morals. According to the labor and social protection codes, such positions included night shifts in the manufacturing sector and certain positions in the mining, metallurgy, and chemical industries, and this was generally respected in the formal sectors.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The government raised the minimum wage to an amount slightly above the poverty level as defined by the World Bank. The standard workweek was 40 hours in nonagricultural and service industries and 42.5 hours in the agricultural sector.
The law limits workers to 20 hours of overtime per week and requires two and one-half days of paid annual leave per month. The law requires overtime pay, generally for more than 40 hours work in one week, but the exact circumstances requiring such pay are unclear. If the hours worked exceed the legal limits for working hours (2,200 hours per year in agriculture and 173.33 hours per month in other sectors), employers are legally required to pay overtime in accordance with a labor council decree that also denotes the required amount of overtime pay.
The government sets occupational safety and health standards for workers and workplaces, but the labor code does not define penalties for noncompliance, and only requires an inspection before a company may open. Workers, including foreign or migrant workers, have an explicit right to leave a dangerous workplace without jeopardizing their employment as long as they inform their supervisors. Employers did not always respect this right. Labor activists noted that standards, dating to the country’s independence in some cases, were severely outdated, particularly regarding health and occupational hazards and classification of professional positions. There was no enforcement in the large informal sector, which was estimated to comprise as much as 85 percent of the work force.
The Ministry of Civil Services’ Department of Administrative Reform, Labor, and Social Laws is responsible for enforcing minimum wage and working conditions but did not effectively enforce the law. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to monitor conditions outside of the capital. Apart from the insufficient number of inspections, authorities reportedly took no other action during the year to prevent violations and improve working conditions. There were no prosecutions, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations.
Violations of wage, overtime, or occupational safety and health standards were common in the informal sector and in domestic work, where many worked long hours for less than minimum wage. Although most employees knew the legal minimum wage, high unemployment and widespread poverty led workers to accept lower wages.
Media and union representatives reported that employees of offshore companies operating in customer service and online commerce generally worked in harsh conditions. These employees were subjected to long working hours including night shifts, weekends, and holidays, generally with no appropriate allowances such as overtime pay. Representatives reported many of them were frequently sick or gave up their jobs within a few days as a result.