A team from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) met on Tuesday with former president Mohamed Nasheed at his residence, where he remains under house arrest over a terrorism conviction.
Nasheed’s wife Laila Ali met with UN human rights commissioner on human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in Geneva on July 8. The commissioner has previously said the rushed trial appeared to contravene the Maldives’ constitution and international treaties it was signatory to.
Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail over the arrest of a judge during his tenure. He was transferred to house arrest in a move widely perceived as a deal made with the government for opposition backing on a constitutional amendment that will allow President Abdulla Yameen to replace his deputy.
The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) is now in talks with the government. An MDP representative has suggested Nasheed may be freed by July 26.
Nasheed has filed a petition with the UN working group on arbitrary detention asking for a judgment ruling his imprisonment as illegal and arbitrary. A decision is expected in September or October.
The OHCHR team has also met with the Maldivian foreign secretary Ali Naseer on July 13.
The government has assured its commitment to “constructive engagement” with international partners and “structured political dialogue” with opposition parties in a conciliatory shift in policy.
The foreign ministry noted in a statement yesterday that imprisoned former President Mohamed Nasheed has been transferred to house arrest for eight weeks and pledged to keep the international community informed of the opposition leaders’ condition under a “broader commitment to strengthening transparency and dialogue.”
“This commitment to dialogue and cooperation with the international community is reflected in the government’s desire to foster strong and constructive relations with the opposition political parties in the Maldives,” the foreign ministry said.
“As with the development of reforms, the government recognises that the promotion of open and inclusive dialogue of this kind will take time. The government will continue to engage constructively with its international partners, and in particular with the Office of the UN Secretary General, European Union and the Commonwealth.”
“The government of President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom will not take instructions from a foreign government on any issue in governing the country,” foreign minister Dunya Maumoon had declared in February, urging foreign countries and international organisations to “refrain from acts and signals that could undermine the sovereignty of independent states.”
In April, President Abdulla Yameen urged the armed forces to defend his administration claiming international pressure is undermining the Maldives’ sovereignty and weakening the rule of law.
The arrest of former President Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim in February and the pair’s subsequent imprisonment on terrorism and weapons smuggling charges, respectively, triggered a political crisis with daily protests, mass anti-government demonstrations and hundreds of arrests.
Yesterday’s statement noted that President Yameen has asked UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon to send a team to the Maldives to help resolve the crisis.
“President Yameen reiterated his pledge to ensure that a process of structured political dialogue with the opposition parties is realised,” the foreign ministry said.
International pressure has been mounting on the government in recent months to release “political prisoners.” Nasheed’s transfer to house arrest this week appears to be a step towards political reconciliation.
In April, the European parliament adopted a resolution calling for Nasheed’s release while earlier this month Senators John McCain and Jack Reed urged the US government to press for the opposition leader’s release.
In a tweet this afternoon, the foreign ministry said that minister Dunya spoke with UK Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Hugo Swire, today and offered updates on the Maldives’ situation.
“She noted that there are no political prisoners in the Maldives,” the foreign ministry said.
President Yameen also told the UN secretary general that there are no political prisoners in the Maldives
Jailed opposition politicians were convicted of criminal offences, he said.
According to the foreign ministry, the president assured Ban Ki-moon that the government was ready to engage in talks with Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party.
The foreign ministry said yesterday that the government “considers its obligations towards legislative, constitutional and judicial reform as an integral part of its development plans”.
“As is the case for every state, successful and far-reaching reform takes time. This is especially true in a small state with limited resources; however, the Government remains committed to sustaining and building on the current rate of progress that has already been achieved in the Maldives,” the foreign ministry said.
President Abdulla Yameen has invited a UN team to the Maldives to help resolve the Maldives’ political crisis triggered by the imprisonment of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed.
In a phone call with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday, President Yameen asked for help “to cool down” the Maldives’ political crisis. Ban welcomed the offer, a statement by the foreign ministry said.
Nasheed, who is serving a 13-year-jail term on terrorism charges, was transferred to house arrest on Sunday for health reasons. His house arrest was extended by eight weeks, hours after the opposition parties announced they would support a government-backed constitutional amendment to set new age-limits to the presidency.
The amendment passed today with overwhelming bipartisan support.
International pressure has been mounting on the government to release Nasheed and other jailed opposition leaders. Ex-defence ministers Mohamed Nazim and Tholhath Ibrahim Kaleyfaanu were jailed in March.
Sheikh Imran Abdulla, the president of the Adhaalath Party, is in police custody until a trial on terrorism charges concludes. Two senior Jumhooree Party (JP) officials have fled the country days before terrorism charges were filed. JP leader and MP Gasim Ibrahim has been abroad since late-April in the wake of sanctions on his businesses.
President Yameen, however, told Ban there are no political prisoners in the Maldives. Jailed opposition politicians were convicted of criminal offences, he said.
He assured Ban that the government has opened doors for Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to sit for talks without conditions, the foreign ministry statement said.
However, the President’s Office has previously ruled out negotiations over Nasheed and Nazim’s release and rejected representatives put forth by MDP and the religious conservative Adhaalath Party i.e. Nasheed and Imran, on the grounds that they are serving jail sentences or in police custody.
Discussions with Gasim’s JP, however, are ongoing.
President Yameen also told Ban he had rejected Nasheed’s appeal for clemency and asked the opposition leader to first exhaust all appeal processes.
Nasheed maintains the criminal court has blocked him from filing an appeal by failing to provide required court documents within the 10-day appeal period. Lawyers say the law is silent on late appeals and that there is now no mechanism to file an appeal.
The government, however, insists Nasheed can still appeal.
A New-Delhi based advocacy NGO, the Asian Center for Human Rights (ACHR), has meanwhile reiterated a call on the UN Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution on the deteriorating human rights situation in the Maldives in its ongoing session.
The NGO, which has special consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council, on June 16 urged the UNHRC to appoint a Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Maldives and to suspend the Maldives from the council.
The Maldives was first elected to the council in 2010 and re-elected for a second term in November 2013.
The ACHR said President Yameen has taken more draconian measures since its June 16 statement. It noted the Supreme Court had ruled a Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) report to the UN unlawful and issued a 11-point guideline on the watchdog.
“The president of the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Human Rights Council ought to take necessary measures against such reprisals for cooperating with the United Nations human rights mechanisms,” the statement saud.
No other Supreme Court in the world has passed such restrictions on national human rights watchdogs for cooperating with the UN, the NGO said.
The ACHR also blamed government’s economic sanctions for Gasim’s announcement he will retire from politics and censured the government for hiring a UK based private law firm, chaired by Cherie Blair, the wife of ex-UK PM Tony Blair, to strengthen democracy consolidation.
“That the government of Maldives decided to hire a private law firm rather than seeking support of the United Nations for democratic reforms once again shows that President Yameen is not committed to democratic reform,” the ACHR said.
The Supreme Court judgment, which bars the human rights watchdog from communicating with foreign organizations, appears to weaken its ability to engage with the UN human rights system and is “yet another example of the judiciary undermining human rights protection in the Maldives,” a UN rights chief has said.
The apex court on Tuesday declared a rights assessment submitted to the UN by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) as unlawful, and issued a legally binding 11-point guideline.
The guideline requires the HRCM to communicate with foreign bodies through relevant government institutions, and warn against causing damage to the reputation of the Maldives.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in a statement on Friday said it was “completely unacceptable” for the Supreme Court to impose restrictions on the commission’s engagement with international bodies.
“In this case, the Supreme Court appears to be yet again overreaching its mandate by playing a legislative role. Laws regulating the very important human rights monitoring and reporting work of civil society and independent institutions must be transparently adopted by legislative bodies following wide consultations and open debate, in line with international human rights and standards,” he said.
The guideline was issued under controversial suomoto regulations that allow the Supreme Court to prosecute and pass judgment.
The charges relate to an HRCM report to the UN’s Universal Periodic Review, in which the commission said the Supreme Court controlled and influenced the lower courts to the detriment of the Maldivian judiciary.
The UPR studies the human rights record of all 193 UN member states and is aimed at supporting and expanding the protection of human rights.
The Maldives underwent a second inspection in May. Nations across the world criticized the Maldives over the politicization of the judiciary and raised concern over the Supreme Court’s prosecution of HRCM.
Zeid reminded the government that it had committed to ensuring the HRCM’s independence after the UPR. The foreign ministry had also committed to ensure that the HRCM and other civil society groups would be able to participate in international mechanisms without reprisals.
Noting that three new commissioners are to be appointed for August and September, Zeid said: “The appointments must be made through a participatory, transparent and consultative selection process, with the extensive involvement of civil society.
“New commissioners must be selected on the basis of their proven commitment to human rights, integrity and independence, not their political loyalties.”
President Abdulla Yameen has nominated a former MP of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), the wife of a current PPM MP and a senior official at the gender ministry for the HRCM. The three are expected to gain parliamentary approval as the ruling coalition enjoys a comfortable majority in the parliament.
The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), a Geneva-based advocacy group, has said the Supreme Court’s ruling is a clear breach of the Maldives’ membership of the UN human rights council.
The Maldives was first elected to the council in 2010 and re-elected for a second term in November 2013.
“For a member state of the UN Human Rights Council to retaliate against a national human rights institution for providing a report to the council is tantamount to contempt and is plainly incompatible with membership of that body,” ISHR Program Manager, Eleanor Openshaw.
The Asian Center for Human Rights has also called for Maldives to be suspended from the council over the imprisonment of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and other politicians.
Zeid, in his statement also said: “We have long been concerned about the deeply flawed role of the judiciary in the Maldives, including in the case against former president Nasheed.”
The UN Special Rapporteurs on independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, and on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst have described the Supreme Court verdict “an act of reprisal” and urged the court to reconsider its verdict.
In March last year, the Supreme Court had sacked the Elections Commission’s president and vice-president when they criticized a 16-point electoral guideline issued by the court after it annulled the first round of presidential elections in September 2013.
In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that the anti-corruption watchdog was not authorized to suspend government contracts even if they suspected major corruption.
The president of the Anti – Corruption Commission at the time said the ruling rendered the ACC powerless to stop corruption.
The Maldives has deferred accepting or rejecting recommendations put forth at the UN human rights council on judicial reform and protection of human rights defenders, pending “national level consultation”.
Of the 258 recommendations from UN member states, the government accepted 132 and rejected 49 due to constitutional constraints. The Maldives said it will examine the remaining 77 recommendations and “provide responses in due time” before the 30th session of the Human Rights Council in September or October 2015.
The recommendations under review include calls to ensure the impartiality and independence of the judiciary, reform the Judicial Service Commission, and provide training to judges.
The “politicised” judiciary came under fire from countries across the world during last week’s UPR session, which took place amidst heightened international scrutiny and political turbulence triggered by the imprisonment of former president Mohamed Nasheed.
The UK recommended steps to “ensure the administration of justice is fully consistent with international human rights standards and seek international technical assistance.”
“Strengthen the independence of the judiciary by reforming the Judicial Services Commission’s process for selecting and appointing judges,” recommended the US.
Canada advised the formation of an independent bar association while several countries recommended steps to ensure the separation of powers.
Ireland recommended providing “adequate training for judges, including human rights training, to ensure all judicial proceedings conform to international fair trial standards”.
New Zealand recommended accepting “a follow up visit by the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers and accept the outstanding request of a visit by the Special Rapporteur on the situations of human rights defenders.”
Responding to criticism of the judiciary at the working group session, foreign minister Dunya Maumoon said the Maldives is training and building capacity of judges and has formulated a judicial sector strategic action plan to increase effectiveness, efficiency and public confidence.
The 49 recommendations Maldives rejected include allowing freedom of religion, ensuring the rights of homosexuals, banning the death penalty, and decriminalising consensual sexual relations.
The rejected recommendations also included removing a requirement that prevents non-Muslims from being members of the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM).
The Maldives constitutional assembly had declared Islam to be the state religion and the basis of all laws enacted in the country, and requires judges to refer to Islamic law, legal secretary Aishath Bisham said last week.
Other rejected recommendations included calls from Norway and Canada to release ex-president Nasheed and other “political prisoners.”
The US also called for an end to “politically-motivated prosecutions and court proceedings” against HRCM members and Nasheed, who was “convicted and imprisoned without minimum fair trial guarantees”.
Human rights defenders
Several countries also recommended taking steps to ensure the safety of human rights defenders, civil society actors and journalists against attacks and reprisals, calling for investigation and prosecution of individuals behind threats and intimidation.
The independence of the HRCM should also be assured, its members protected from reprisals, and the HRCM law brought in line with Paris Principles, reads the recommendations under review.
During the review, many countries expressed alarm over the Supreme Court’s suo moto case against the human rights watchdog over its UPR submission.
Denmark meanwhile noted that the Maldives’ initial report to the UN Committee against Torture is overdue since 2005.
“Bring an end to arbitrary detentions, particularly on the grounds of political opinion; investigate allegations of torture and ill treatment in prisons and bring those responsible to justice,” recommended France.
Other recommendations included ratification of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and the optional protocol of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Germany and Portugal recommended the Maldives accede to Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, and the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
Other countries recommended signing the UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education and the Protocol to the Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime.
The religious conservative Adhaalath Party has condemned the government for abstaining from a United Nations vote on a resolution against providing gay marital benefits to all UN employees.
The secretary general of the Adhaalath Party, which condemns homosexuality, told Vnews the abstention indicated that the Maldives did not oppose providing the marital benefits for gay couples.
In a tweet yesterday, Adhaalath said that it was “shameful” that the Maldives abstained from voting on the resolution, which was voted down last week.
Secretary general Iaadh Hameed added that the government’s foreign policy should be built upon Islamic principles and values, and that those policies should not encourage irreligious acts.
The vote on the resolution was held on March 24, after Russia challenged UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s decision to provide marital benefits to legally wed gay and lesbian couples similar to those provided to heterosexual couples.
However, the UN General Assembly rejected the resolution, with 80 countries voting against it, 43 countries voted in favour and 37 countries abstaining.
While China, Belarus and Muslim-majority Malaysia voted in favour of the resolution, Muslim-majority Indonesia also abstained.
Previously, the Maldives government had strongly criticised the European Union, saying that EU asked the Maldives to legalise same sex marriage and freedom of religion in exchange for extending duty-free status on Maldivian fish.
Economic development minister Mohamed Saeed claimed at the time that the EU declined to extend the duty exemption after Maldives refused the condition of “allowing homosexual relations and the opportunity for people to follow any religion they want”.
“The Maldives is an Islamic state and will remain so. We will uphold Islam. We will not compromise on anything that conflicts with Islam,” he said.
The government has invited experts from the United Nations Secretary General, the Commonwealth, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the European Union (EU) to observe the appeal hearings of former President Mohamed Nasheed.
Nasheed was found guilty of terrorism and sentenced to 13 years in prison on March 13 over the military’s detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.
“On behalf of the Government the invitation was extended by the Minister of Foreign Affairs H.E. Dunya Maumoon,” read a press statement from the foreign ministry.
“President Mohamed Nasheed was sentenced on 13 March by Criminal Court of Maldives for abducting a sitting judge in 2012.”
The Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jens Toyberg-Frandzen in a telephone conversation with Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon, “stressed the need for full respect for due process and transparency” in Nasheed’s trial.
He also appealed to the government to allow peaceful political dissent and to engage with the opposition in the interest of long-term political stability in the Maldives, the statement read.
At a first hearing yesterday, a visibly injured Nasheed appeared in court with his arm in a makeshift sling and repeatedly asked for medical attention and legal counsel.
Presiding Judge Abdulla Didi denied Nasheed bail and gave him three days to appoint a lawyer and answer charges.
The former opposition leader is to remain in police custody until the conclusion of the terrorism trial over the January 2012 detention of Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed.
The EU Heads of Mission and Ambassadors of Norway and Switzerland in Colombo in a statement this evening said the delegation was “very concerned” over Nasheed’s arrest and was seeking clarification as to the nature of the terrorism charges.
“Equally, reports of former President Nasheed having effectively been denied appropriate legal representation at the court hearing on 23 February 2015, are of great concern,” the statement read.
“The EU Delegation reiterates the importance of respect for democratic principles, including respect for the rule of law, for the Constitution, for due legal process and for the independence of the judiciary.”
Foreign Minster Dunya Maumoon has hit back at the UN, and previous statements by the Commonwealth and Canada, expressing disappointment over what she called biased statements.
“Those who prefer to issue public statements about an on-going legal case, or on a domestic political situation, are advised to do a basic fact-check, before bandwagoning on to accusations made by a political party,” a press release by the Foreign Ministry this afternoon said.
Dunya insisted the police followed due process and standard procedure in arresting Nasheed and presenting him at court.
“The Government of President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom will not take instructions from a foreign government on any issue in governing the country,” she said.
She urged foreign countries and international organisations to “refrain from acts and signals that could undermine the sovereignty of independent states,” and said President Abdulla Yameen’s government “will implement to the letter, the decisions and verdicts of the Courts.”
It added that Nasheed was arrested with a court warrant and presented before a judge within 24 hours in accordance with “normal procedure,” after which the judge granted the former president the opportunity to appoint a lawyer.
However, Nasheed was brought to court more than 24 hours after the arrest for the first hearing of a trial on terrorism charges, rather than a remand hearing.
Meanwhile, the Asian Centre for Human Rights has called “upon the United States, European Union, India, Singapore and others to impose a travel embargo on Prosecutor General Muhthaz Muhsin and presiding Judge Abdulla Didi for the illegal arrest and detention of Mr Nasheed.”
“The arrest and detention of former President Nasheed on terrorism charges is a grotesque act of political vendetta. The accountability of Prosecutor General Muhsin and Presiding Judge Didi must be established, including under universal jurisdiction for meting out torture, inhumane and degrading treatment to former President Nasheed in the court premises,” stated the ACHR’s Director Suhas Chakma.
The Maldives should forget about stopping the effects of climate change and focus instead on adaptation, says environmental NGO Bluepeace.
“Mitigation is something we have to forget about at the national level,” said Bluepeace Executive Director Ali Rilwan.
Rilwan’s comments come after the conclusion of UN climate change talks in Peru, which have resulted in an agreement slammed as “very weak” by environmental groups.
“We don’t have much faith,” said Rilwan, citing the international community’s failure to follow through on previous commitments. “Locally, we have to look at adaptation. Maldives is the most low-lying country – we have to have dry land.”
As talks concluded in Lima, a delegation of cabinet ministers headed to Beijing for economic talks that will include plans for oil exploration in Maldivian territorial waters – a policy Rilwan described as “ironic”.
“On paper, there are a lot of adaptation programmes, but in reality you don’t see it happening,” he said, perceiving a lack of concern about climate change within the Maldives.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed, who has gained international acclaim as an environmental activist, has recently expressed his concern that the chance to mitigate the effects of climate change has been missed.
“The world has lost the window of opportunity to mend its ways,” he told the International Bar Association in October, suggesting Maldivians were likely to become the world’s first climate change refugees.
“Big emitters have sentenced us. The world temperature will rise, and the seas will rise over our nose.”
“And what restitution, if any, can be made for the damage done to us – damage we warned about, but did not cause? I fear that these questions will be answered one day, not in the abstract, but in a court of law. And I fear that we, the people of the Maldives, will be the star witness.”
The Lima Declaration sets out a framework which further differentiates developing and rich states, as well as retaining plans for a “loss and damage” scheme to provide financial support to “vulnerable” developing nations.
However, plans to determine what information countries should provide in future emission reduction pledges were watered down after fierce negotiations.
The word “may” instead of “shall” was eventually used in the final text regarding quantifiable information to show how states intend to reduce emissions targets.
WWF officials have said the declaration text “went from weak to weaker to weakest and it’s very weak indeed”, while Friends of the Earth International said fears the talks would fail to deliver “a fair and ambitious outcome” had been proven “tragically accurate”.
The reduction pledges are required prior to the COP 21 climate change talks in Paris next December, which will seek to decide upon a new framework for a universal and legally binding agreement on climate change.
Maldivian representatives in Lima told the conference this week: “We do not want to be in Paris to get perished”.
Noting the recent pledges to the Green Climate Fund – intended to raise $100 billion a year by 2020 – Ambassador Ahmed Sareer said that “as a small island developing state that is constantly facing an existential threat, the current pledges are simply not enough”.
Officials from the environment ministry were not responding to calls at the time of press.
Ambassador Sareer said this week that the Maldives’ share of global emission is negligible, and that the government of Maldives was striving to make the country resilient.
The Ministry of Environment and Energy reported that Sareer also attended a number of fringe events in Lima, telling attendees at a Japanese event of the Maldives’ plans to reduce dependency on fossil fuels.
As part of a move to reduce this dependency – which consumes around 30 percent of the country’s GDP – the current government has pledged to work with international groups to explore the potential of oil and gas reserves in the country.
Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Shainee told media that the government would discuss the issue with two Chinese companies this week as a delegation headed to Beijing for the first China-Maldives Joint Committee on Trade and Economic Cooperation.
India has already offered to assist in oil exploration within Maldivian territorial waters, while a seismic survey was carried out by a German research vessel in August.