Pope Francis begins a three-leg pastoral visit to Southern Africa on 4 September. Human rights watchdog, Amnesty International, has called on the pontiff to address human rights violations during his meetings with civil and religious leaders. Sarah-Leah Pimentel highlights some of the human rights issues in Mozambique and Madagascar.
Pope Francis will arrive in Mozambique this evening (4 September) for the first leg of his three-country pastoral visit to Southern Africa. The pontiff will also visit Madagascar and Mauritius. All three countries are multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multicultural – which are important for Pope Francis who continually stresses the need for a cultural of encounter to be emphasised in an increasingly hostile and divided world.
Amnesty International (AI), a respected international human rights watchdog, released a statement on 2 September calling on Pope Francis to use his visit to raise human rights concerns in Mozambique and Madagascar with the civil and religious authorities.
The AI’s deputy director for Southern Africa, Muleya Mwananyanda, said that “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.”
She added that “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.”
Press freedom violations and armed attacks in Mozambique
Mozambique, which will hold general elections in October, has seen serious violations to the freedom of speech in recent years.
Journalists are regularly arrested while performing their duties. Earlier this year, Amade Abubacar was arrested and charged with terrorism while reporting on the spate of armed attacks in Cabo Delgado province. He was released four months later without charge.
In 2018, journalist Ericino de Salema was abducted outside the headquarters for the National Union of journalists. He was severely assaulted and left unconscious. No one has been arrested for the attack. Gilles Cistac, an outspoken constitutional lawyer, was gunned down outside a restaurant in 2015. His killers are still at large.
In the mineral-rich Cabo Delgado, an armed group — suspected to have terrorist links — has been ransacking villages and massacring residents since late 2017. The government arrested over 200 people for alleged involvement in the attacks, but the killings continued. The detainees were held without trial for several months, but most were eventually were released without charge.
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Arbitrary detentions and inhumane prison conditions in Madagascar
In Madagascar, continued political infighting between President Andry Rajoelina and former president Marc Ravalomanana, has done nothing to end rampant corruption and the ineffectiveness of the country’s institutions.
Citizens are arbitrarily arrested, tortured and held in unhygienic prisons for months at a time without being charged. The Centre for Civil and Political Rights estimates that 11,000 people were arrested and placed in pre-trial detention in 2018. In 2017, 52 out of the 129 people who died in detention were pre-trial prisoners.
Cattle rustling in southern Madagascar has also claimed 4,000 lives since 2014. Violent confrontations between police and suspected rustlers often result in the extreme use of force by the authorities. Brutal police killings have prompted human rights organisations to call for more effective measures to regulate police action.
Pope Francis’ message to the peoples of Southern Africa
In a video message, Pope Francis urged the people of Mozambique to “join me in praying that God, the Father of all, may strengthen efforts towards reconciliation, fraternal reconciliation in Mozambique.”
In a similar message to the Malagasy people, the pontiff highlighted the “natural beauty” of Madagascar but emphasized that holiness is “another beauty which is even more dear to Christ and to the Pope.” The Holy Father’s programme for his visit to Mozambique, Madagascar, and Mauritius can be found here.