Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions

In March 2009 former mayor of Antananarivo Andry Rajoelina seized power from democratically elected president Marc Ravalomanana through a military coup. The coup followed approximately three months of political confrontation, including large-scale protests that sometimes turned violent, between supporters of Ravalomanana and Rajoelina. Prior to the coup, the government increased restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly, and limited political participation through a new political parties law passed in January; in February, demonstrators were shot and killed at a confrontation in front of the presidential palace. Before the coup, the Republic of Madagascar was a multiparty democracy, although Ravalomanana's party, Tiako-i-Madagasikara (TIM), dominated all levels of government. The legislative elections in September 2007 and April 2008 were judged at the time to be generally free and fair, although international and domestic observers noted the need for a number of electoral reforms; increasing allegations of irregularities in that election have since been made. Rajoelina's transitional government has suspended parliament, pending new elections. The following serious human rights problems also persist: unlawful killings; security force abuse; harsh prison conditions that result in deaths; arbitrary arrest; lengthy pretrial detention; censorship; official corruption and impunity; societal discrimination and violence against women and children; trafficking of women and children; and child labor, including forced child labor.

Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

The top U.S. priority in country is promoting a return to a constitutionally based democratic government. The United States will focus on promoting elections in the shortest practical time frame, and will continue strengthening civil society and media freedom in order to increase voter participation, foster democratic debate, and promote good governance. In addition, the U.S. will continue to place a priority on other human rights issues including prison conditions, child labor, and trafficking in persons.

Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance

U.S. efforts to promote the return to a democratic government in the wake of the March 2009 coup include the suspension of assistance that directly benefits the government of Madagascar, public statements and advocacy for an immediate return to democracy, and coordinated diplomatic efforts with other governments and multilateral entities. The United States continued to support the activities of the National Consortium of Election Observers (CNOE), advocating in December 2008 for a grant from the UN Democracy Fund to enable CNOE to continue its civic education programs nationwide. In addition, the United States continues efforts to promote good governance by lending support to civil society organizations working on environment, agriculture and health in key areas of capacity building, advocacy, networking, dissemination of information and strategy development.

U.S. efforts also promote media freedom and freedom of speech, particularly by broadening journalists' access to information and strengthening their professionalism. The United States continued to organize a regular discussion group for English-speaking journalists. Video conferences and Internet chats are used to provide journalists with information on a full range of democracy-related topics including the 2008 U.S. presidential election. The U.S.-run American Press Center in Antananarivo provides a platform for Malagasy journalists to improve their professionalism by providing access to media resources, the Internet, journals, periodicals, and other sources of information. In the last year, the Press Center has hosted U.S. speakers on topics including good governance and communications law.

In order to promote public dialogue on human rights, the United States coordinates and chairs the monthly Madagascar Human Rights Working Group, which remains an important public forum for government officials, the diplomatic community, and civil society to discuss a broad range of issues including trafficking in persons, child labor, religious freedom, women's rights, the rights of the disabled, and corruption. This group has been temporarily unable to meet due to the crisis, but will resume activities soon. The United States continues to pursue a number of actions specifically to address the deplorable prison conditions in the country. The U.S. ambassador has made strategic interventions with the president's governance team and Ministry of Justice, and has publicly called on the government to ensure a fair and efficient justice system during recent speaking engagements, including the December 2008 opening ceremony of the country's week-long celebration of International Human Rights Day. The U.S. Government funded a documentary film and photo exhibit to raise public awareness of prisoners' rights. Local leaders participate in U.S.-funded programs to visit the United States to study issues such as grassroots and multi-party democracy, good governance, and the challenges for emerging Muslim leaders.

The United States continues efforts to improve respect for women and children's rights through awareness raising, advocacy, and protection activities.  A U.S. antitrafficking program supported four centers in coastal cities prone to sex tourism. The centers provided counseling and psychosocial support to over 200 individuals, and additional legal and medical assistance to trafficking victims. The United States funded police training on the investigation and prosecution of child abuse and exploitation cases, as well as the creation of the country's first database for tracking and analyzing criminal networks in order to assist police and gendarme officers in their investigations of trafficking suspects.