April 01, 2019

Madagascar: Environmental Activist Clovis Razafimalala Faces Harassment

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 trafficking[1]. 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 to the wealthy.

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. However, the “Rosewood Mafia” continue their illegal trafficking, seemingly with impunity, while environmental defenders like Clovis are arbitrarily detained for protesting the destruction of their ancestral lands.

On one such occasion last year, Clovis was arrested for leading an uprising at a protest he insists he did not attend. He was then charged with inciting a rebellion, destruction of public property, goods and documents, and arson, despite witnesses who could testify to his whereabouts. After 10 months of being arbitrarily detained, Clovis was tried in a surprise one day trial, acquitted of rebellion charges but given a five year suspended sentence for the other charges and released from prison. Despite gaining freedom, Clovis’ trial seems to have been marred by numerous fair trial violations.[2]

Amnesty International reports claim that Mr. Razafimalala 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.

Unfortunately harassment of environmental activists in Madagascar is not unique to Clovis. 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.

These instances of judicial harassment and fair trial violations must not be tolerated. UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment John H. Knox has repeatedly condemned the harassment and violence environmental defenders face, asserting the notion that human rights include the right to speak against environmental travesties without the fear of violence.

For more on judicial harassment of defenders, read the ABA Center for Human Rights report on Mr. Razafimalala's trial.

[1] In 1975, Madagascar ratified the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), which banned the trafficking of rosewood.

[2] Trials are normally held in the same town where a defendant is arrested, but Mr. Razafimalala was transferred to the City of Tamatave, some 250 miles away. No official notice from the Maroantsetra court has been disclosed that would justify the Court of First Instance in Tamatave taking control of his case. The defense did not call any witnesses who would have been able to corroborate Mr. Razafimalala’s innocence, partly due to how far away the trial was being held from Mr. Razafimalala’s hometown and due to the fact the entire trial took place over a single day. The trial date itself was not known until it had already happened, giving defense nor witnesses warning as to when to appear.