December 31, 2017 Articles

Madagascar: Environmental Defender Clovis Razafimalala

Environmentalist Clovis Razafimalala , coordinator of the Lampogno Network, faces harassment and threats over his work to end the destruction of their ancestral lands.

Madagascar is home to a rich diversity of plant and animal life, much of which is unique to the region. Unfortunately, this puts many of Madagascar’s protected forests at risk. The famed rosewood forest, identifiable by its vibrant red bark, is routinely targeted by illegal rosewood traffickers despite Malagasy law prohibiting its export and its trade banned under international law. As the world’s most trafficked wild product, rosewood has become a lucrative market for traffickers exporting the bark to be turned into luxury products sold globally.

While the United States and the United Kingdom (this article focuses on just England and Wales) both have common-law civil justice systems, their respective procedural rules, practice conventions, and public policy pressures (whether current or historical) give their litigation landscapes important differences.

The U.K. Civil Litigation Process

The Civil Procedure Rules 1998 (as amended) set out the procedure for civil litigation in the United Kingdom. Their cornerstone is the overriding objective that all cases must be dealt with justly and proportionately to the amount of money at stake, the claim's importance, the complexity of the issues to be decided, and the relative financial positions of the parties.

There is a strong impetus on the early identification of the issues in dispute through pre-action correspondence, and the parties are encouraged to resolve their grievances at an early stage without the need for trial. A party may be penalized in costs for unreasonably refusing to engage in settlement discussions, and, at certain stages of the litigation, the parties are required to inform the court if any settlement discussions have taken place or are pending, although the content of any discussions remains confidential between the parties.

Environmentalist Clovis Razafimalala is the coordinator of the Lampogno Network, a coalition of environmental justice organizations seeking to end the illegal rosewood trafficking in Madagascar. They have been actively documenting the destruction and calling for investigations and prosecutions of those involved in or complicit in the illicit trade.  Unfortunately, arrests remain rare and the “Rosewood Mafia,” as they are known locally, continue their illegal trafficking with apparent impunity while environmental defenders like Clovis face harassment and threats over their work to end the destruction of their ancestral lands.

Last year, Clovis, who is well known for his public campaign to end the rosewood trade and seek accountability for businesses and individuals involved, was arrested for leading an alleged “uprising” after a local protest against the court victory of a known rosewood trafficker resulted in property damage.  Although witnesses and he insist he was not at the protest, nor was he one of its organizers, Clovis was subsequently charged with inciting a rebellion, destruction of public property, goods and documents, and arson. After 10 months of being arbitrarily detained, Clovis was tried in one day, with no witnesses given the opportunity to testify to his whereabouts on the day in question.  The proceedings were riddled with significant fair trial violations.  Although he was acquitted of the rebellion charges, the court convicted him of the others and imposed a five year suspended sentence.  He was released from prison with the potential for the State to at any time invoke the sentence and place him back in detention.

Amnesty International reports claim that Clovis was prosecuted on “trumped-up charges” in retaliation for his peaceful environmental activism. Other activists believe he was jailed for his outspoken criticism of a notorious rosewood trafficker.

This harassment is not to unique to Clovis. Environmental activists in Madagascar continue to face extreme pressure to give up their activities. Malagasy farmer Rajoany, known locally as Raleva, was arrested in September 2017 and held in detention for over a month after asking to see the permit for a harmful gold mining company to resume operations in his hometown of Vohilava, in Eastern Madagascar. Raleva was released and given a 2 year suspended sentence, leaving him susceptible to future reproach for his outspoken environmental activism. 

In 2015, fellow environmental activist Armand Marozafy was fined and arbitrarily jailed for 6 months for distributing and posting to Facebook a report on illegal rosewood logging. Augustin Sarovy was threatened with death before fleeing to Europe as an ecological refugee for denouncing timber trafficking in Madagascar.  Worldwide, environmental defenders are considered some of the most at risk for both physical attack and frivolous criminal charges.  As UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, John H. Knox has repeatedly condemned the harassment and violence environmental defenders face and called for the global community to recognize that human rights include the right to speak against environmental travesties without fear of violence and retaliation.  It is vital that the global community continue to press States such as Madagascar to fulfill their obligations under international human rights law to promote and protect basic rights.  And where defenders are exposing criminal enterprises, States should be investigating and prosecuting those crimes and not the advocates who risk their wellbeing to shine a spotlight on illicit trades that hurt communities and their environment.

The American Bar Association Center for Human Rights issued a report on the arrest, detention and prosecution of Malagasy Environmental Rights Defender Clovis Razafimalala.

ABA Report on Clovis Razafimalala


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