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Are Forced Exile, Madagascar & French Influence Not on UN Map?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 14 -- There was a time that Madagascar was important to the UN, at least enough so to be included in the so-called horizon briefings by the UN Secretariat to the Security Council.

But these days, amid growing controversy in and about Madagascar, the UN has little to say, and says it late. At the noon briefing on May 13, Inner City Press asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Martin Nesirky:

Inner City Press: On the Madagascar question, is, is, there has been since I last asked this, the SADC (Southern African Development Community) has come out and said that three candidates, they are encouragedto withdraw their candidacies, saying they are not consistent with the road map. This is Mr. [Andry] Rajoelina, also Lalao Ravalomanana and another candidate. And so, one, I wanted to know if there is a UN response to that, but two, since Ms. Ravalomanana is being barred for having been out of the country, and this was a forced exile by the Government, I am wondering whether the UN has any view on forced exile, that being used as a basis to bar a candidate from running.

Spokesperson Nesirky: We can check for you on that, Matthew. I don’t have anything right now.

  This exchange took place at Monday's noon briefing (video here, from Minute 22:15), and three hours later Inner City Press was again told that it was being looked into. And perhaps there is already an answer. But none has yet been provided to Inner City Press, as of Tuesday morning.

  And so we'll report: the third candidate mentioned is Didier Ratsiraka. For Rajoelina, the criticism is that he filed his candidacy papers after the 28 April deadline but was nevertheless approved by the Special Electoral Court (CES). He also broke the pledge he made in January 2013 to not be a candidate.

  For Lalao Ravalomanana, who filed her candidacy papers on April 25, the UN told Inner City Press on April 29, “It is up to the Special Electoral Court, which is in charge of receiving electoral disputes and proclaiming the final results of the presidential and legislative elections, to decide on the validity and qualifications of all prospective candidates”. Similarly, SADC mediator Joaquim Chissano said on May 2 that Lalao Ravalomanana’s candidature “is a matter to be seen by the Special Electoral Court."

  But after the CES decided on May 3 that Lalao Ravalomanana is officially a candidate, France announced on May 6 its “deception” on learning that the CES accepted Lalao Ravalomanana’s candidature.

A little canned history: in Madagascar, France has a long history of using forced exile as a political tool for maintaining control over the island nation. In 1897 it exiled Madagascar’s last queen who died in Algeria in 1917 having never been allowed to return to her country. After the 1947 uprising against French rule, France exiled the three Malagasy political leaders that France said were responsible. When one tried to return to Madagascar in 1959, France prevented him from returning.

 In the current crisis, after Marc Ravalomanana was overthrown in Rajoelina’s 2009 coup, France has admitted trying to find a country to accept Ravalomanana in exile. In January 2013 France publicly voiced its opposition to allowing Marc Ravalomanana to return from forced exile before elections.)

In its May 10 communiqué, SADC “expressed grave concern on the decision of the Special Electoral Court to endorse illegitimate candidatures for the forthcoming Presidential elections in violation of the Malagasy Constitution and the Electoral Law.”

  The CES defended its decision to accept the legitimacy of Lalao Ravalomanana’s candidature by saying that her absence from Madagascar resulted from circumstances and events independent of her will that prevented her from enjoying her right to return to her country, despite repeated expression of her desire to return.

  In fact, Lalao Ravalomanana returned to her country on July 27, 2012, but was promptly kicked out of the country by armed security forces.

  The SADC roadmap requires that all political exiles be allowed “to return to the country unconditionally”. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes the right to return to one’s country as a basic human right. So to maintain, as France and SADC do, that Mrs. Ravalomanana’s candidacy is not legitimate is to condone forced exile as a means for preventing someone from taking part in the political life of their nation.

And so, again: What is the UN’s position regarding Mrs. Ravalomanana’s forced exile in July 2012? Does the UN consider forced exile to be a legitimate reason for barring a person from being a candidate for election in his or her country?

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