Land Rights Activist Jailed in Madagascar Amidst Escalating Land Dispute

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Land Rights

In a disconcerting turn of events, land rights activist Nathassa Razafiarisoa was incarcerated on Friday, December 15, at Antalaha prison in the northern region of Madagascar. The president of a human rights defense association in the Sava region, Nathassa was advising residents of the Marotsiazo neighborhood in Sambava, who had filed a complaint following the destruction of their homes. This case serves as a poignant example of the pervasive land disputes and the repression faced by whistleblowers on the island.

Marotsiazo, a modest neighborhood near a branch of the sea in Sambava, witnessed its residents taking possession of a plot in 2010, having dutifully paid property taxes. However, in 2017, a private individual laid claim to the entire land, totaling 23 hectares. The judiciary sided with the businessman in the first instance, on appeal, and ultimately in cassation last year.

In recent weeks, homes have been demolished without prior notice. The affected residents filed a complaint, but they found themselves incarcerated one after the other based on counter-complaints filed by the opposing party—the new property owner. Nathassa Razafiarisoa, a whistleblower advocating for her neighbors, was recently remanded to Antalaha court last month and has now been placed in pretrial detention after a second round of questioning in less than two months.

Land disputes are rampant in Madagascar, with the core issue, according to Mamy Rakotondrainibe, President of the Collective for the Defense of Malagasy Lands, stemming from the difficulty in obtaining a legal land title. Rakotondrainibe highlights the arduous process, plagued by corruption, involving twenty steps to acquire a land title, often requiring excessive payments beyond what is due, leaving many without proper documentation.

Mamy Rakotondrainibe urges authorities to intervene to address such conflicts, emphasizing that mass arrests are not a viable solution. She notes the presence of numerous potential land disputes in Sambava, and representatives from the United Nations on-site observe a disturbing trend of targeting whistleblowers and human rights defenders across the island.

As the situation unfolds, calls for proactive measures from the authorities intensify to prevent further escalation of land-related conflicts in Madagascar.

Soukaina Sghir

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