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Young people to fight impunity in Madagascar

29 August 2022

Rary Aro Mada Bootcamp © A.J.F.A.C.E Antsiranana

“With over 50% of the Madagascar population under 20 years of age, the participation of youth in addressing the root causes of conflict is essential if we are to succeed in consolidating sustainable peace,” said Sabine Lauber, Senior Human Rights Adviser for the UN Country Team.

The Rary Aro Mada project that supports the protection of young human rights defenders and peace builders has just entered its second phase with the establishment of regional human rights observatories.

These observatories were launched in January 2021 thanks to funding from the Peacebuilding Fund and are implemented by UNESCO and the UN Human Rights Office, with the support of the Office of the Resident Coordinator for Madagascar.

The main missions of these observatories are to document cases of human rights violations by conducting investigations and fact-finding missions; to monitor human rights by collecting and analysing the information gathered and transmitting it to the Peace Committee; and to conduct advocacy campaigns for the protection and promotion of human rights at the regional level.

The Rary Aro Mada Symposium (December 2021) had 454 young students participate. Among the six sessions organised was to advocate for the adoption of the draft bill on human rights defenders. Front row, centre, UN Human Rights Senior Human Rights Adviser, Sabine Lauber. © UN Madagascar

The Rary Aro Mada Symposium (December 2021) had 454 young students participate. Among the six sessions organised was to advocate for the adoption of the draft bill on human rights defenders. Front row, centre, UN Human Rights Senior Human Rights Adviser, Sabine Lauber. © UN Madagascar

These observatories cover the nine intervention zones, including Antananarivo, Antsiranana (Diego), Fianarantsoa, Mahajanga, Morondava, Sambava, Toamasina, Taolagnaro (Fort-Dauphin) and Toliara, and are under the responsibility of representatives of the National Platform of Civil Society Organisations of Madagascar (PNFOSCM) at the local level.

They will contribute to following up on cases of human rights violations in the country (monitoring and reporting) and to strengthen the role of youth as human rights defenders. Among the young people trained by the human rights team in Madagascar under this project are nine young people, including five women, who have been designated as coordinators of these regional observatories.

Youth participation brings dynamism and innovation to community participation in governance processes.

Sabine Lauber, Senior Human Rights Adviser, UN Country Team

“At the same time, youth engagement in human rights advocacy helps them to build self-confidence, initiative and advocacy skills that fight against impunity and hold the state accountable,” she said.

Mijoro: inspiring young activists

Among these regional coordinators is 30-year-old Razafindramavo Danielysa, also known as Mijoro. Mijoro has a university degree in Biodiversity and an environmentalist. Her work as an activist, often dominated by men, has made her a target for discrimination by the community and threats from several companies.

Despite these challenges, Mijoro decided to establish an NGO, NGO Mijoro, which means ‘Stand Up’. Her dream is to help young women and vulnerable people get involved in the development of the country. This is also the essence of her slogan, “Resilience and Human Rights”.

Mijoro, a coordinator for the Boeny Regional Observatory (located in the western region of Madagascar)

Mijoro, a coordinator for the Boeny Regional Observatory (located in the western region of Madagascar) © UN Madagascar

“[I chose] resilience because we are here to help young people and vulnerable people get back on their feet and stand up,” she said. “[I chose human] rights because in order to stand up, young people and or vulnerable groups of people need their rights protected. Until rights are protected, they cannot withstand shocks and crises.”

Having witnessed several cases of human rights violations over the years, including violence against children, women and people living with disabilities, Mijoro didn’t hesitate joining the Rary Aro Mada project and to participate in human rights training in her hometown, Majunga. Strengthened by this first experience, Mijoro committed herself to defending human rights and followed further training modules through the Boot Camp project with UNESCO launched in December 2021 and the observatories workshop with the National Platform for Civil Society Organisations of Madagascar  held in March 2022.

Because of her leadership and civic commitment, Mijoro accepted a position as Coordinator of the Regional Observatory of the Boeny region, which includes her hometown. It was a responsibility that she agreed to take on despite her various commitments because she felt it was an important project.

“In the end, it was a natural thing to do and managing my schedule should not be an obstacle,” she said.

Torn between hesitation and commitment, Mijoro allowed herself this challenge, which also fulfils her personal aspirations.

“It is thanks to Rary Aro Mada that I became aware of the importance of knowing my rights, and it has enlightened my point of view and even my vision of this society,” she said.

She adds that this project has been a crucial step in her struggle.

“To start with, you have to know your rights in order to protect yourself psychologically and morally,” she said.

Self-taught by nature, Mijoro has not skimped on her efforts to continue her education. She works hard, researching human rights and society in depth, without losing sight of her main objective — to get involved in the best possible way and to make those around inspired to do the same.

One of the challenges Mijoro faces as a human rights defender is the lack of understanding of human rights that persists within some state structures at the regional level. This leads her to another challenge, that of consolidating peace and her role towards the regional authorities.

“Being a young woman active in this field is really not easy,” she said. “You have to be ready for anything. There is nothing you can't learn when you have ambition. It is learning and especially motivation that leads to success.”

Young defenders committed to human rights

Mijoro’s commitment is shared by the 463 young people, representing 65 districts, who were trained from September 2021 to March 2022 under the Rary Aro Mada project. In a mid-term evaluation, more than 93 per cent of these young people said they now feel more confident about their role as human rights defenders.

“Young people must act for the country,” said Dina Mandroso, a beneficiary of the Rary Aro Mada project in the Haute Matsiatra region.

Valencia Ravololonirina, a beneficiary from the Sava region, explains that previously their efforts were scattered.

“Our association, for example, used to receive reports of violations, but we didn’t know how to address them,” she said. “Today, with the observatories that bring together several young people from the districts, we have more coordinated action and clearer guidelines for responding to these cases of violation.”

The commitment of these beneficiaries is supported by the United Nations in Madagascar, as mentioned by the UN Resident Coordinator in Madagascar, Issa Sanogo, at the launch of the regional observatory for the SAVA region in March 2022.

“Within the UN system, through the peacebuilding programme, we reiterate our commitment to the involvement of young people as actors of change and we wish them every success in the tasks they will have to perform within the regional human rights observatories,” he said.

The next steps for the Rary Aro Mada project will be to collect data from regional human rights observatories as well as to initiate academic research to better understand the root causes of human rights violations. This data will also serve as input for Madagascar's next Universal Periodic Review report at the Human Rights Council.

The personal safety of these young observers is a major issue for the project partners. A series of trainings will be conducted to provide them with advice and guidelines on personal safety when conducting investigations in the field. They will also be trained to deal with online harassment and threats. Additional training will provide them with knowledge of international human rights mechanisms.

In addition, the project partners will continue to advocate with the Madagascan Ministry of Justice for the adoption of a law protecting human rights defenders.

“Youth inclusion is the key to consolidating peace,” Lauber said.