Amnesty International has called on Pope Francis to use his powerful voice to raise urgent human rights concerns with the leaders of Madagascar and Mozambique when he visits the two countries this week.
Pope Francis will embark on a three-nation tour dubbed “Apostolic Journeys” in Southern Africa between 4 and 10 September, visiting Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius. He will meet with government leaders, civil society organisations, diplomatic representatives and other communities.
Amnesty has documented serious human rights violations in the two Southern African countries, including the use of prolonged pretrial detention in inhumane conditions in Madagascar and escalating assaults on journalists and human rights defenders in Mozambique.
The rights group has urged Pope Francis to use his visit to highlight the need for justice and reform.
“The pomp surrounding Pope Francis’ visit presents an opportunity to shine a spotlight on human rights violations in Madagascar and Mozambique. In his meetings with Malagasy and Mozambican authorities, Pope Francis must address the human rights violations unfolding in the two countries and remind leaders that the world is watching,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa.
“Pope Francis’ voice on human rights violations in both countries could be a powerful tool for change. Issues like Madagascar’s use of mass, prolonged pretrial detention in inhumane conditions and Mozambique’s harassment of journalists must be squarely on the table this week.”
In Madagascar, people who have not been tried, let alone found guilty of any crime are subjected to pre-trial detention for months, and sometimes years. Many are held in appalling prison conditions on suspicion of having committed only petty crimes such as stealing a chicken.
Amnesty International has documented how, in 2017 alone, 52 out of the 129 detainees who died in Madagascar’s prisons were in pre-trial detention. In 2018, more than 11,000 people were arbitrarily placed in pretrial detention. This has resulted in severe overcrowding which, coupled with shortages of food, grossly inadequate medical care and unhygienic facilities, is damaging the health of detainees and putting lives at risk.
The organization has also documented gruesome killings of suspected cattle rustlers, often extrajudicially through torture and other violent means, by the police. The Malagasy authorities must immediately end these attacks, investigate them and bring perpetrators to justice. Around 4,000 people have been killed in southern Madagascar in the past five years – including alleged rustlers, police, soldiers and civilians – in the context of the government’s crackdown on cattle rustling, according to official figures.
In Mozambique, brutal attacks in the Cabo Delgado Province by a local militant group known as ‘Al-Shabab’ has claimed at least 200 lives and forced thousands of others to flee their homes since October 2017.
Attacks have continued despite a heavy military presence in affected areas. The province has become a no-go area for journalists, researchers, scholars and non-governmental organizations, and many who have tried to access the area have been arbitrarily detained. Journalist Amade Abubacar spent nearly four months in arbitrary pre-trial detention for reporting on the attacks and fleeing residents. While in detention, he was subjected to ill-treatment, including 12 days in incommunicado military detention, denial of family visits and poor medical treatment.
Ahead of Mozambique’s election in October, Amnesty International has also documented cases of intimidation, harassment and threats against civil society organizations, local journalists and anyone critical of the government.