Environmentalists converge for ‘1 Nation Coral Revival’ festival

Environmental organisations, state agencies, and marine enthusiasts gathered in the Vilimalé beach this weekend for a unique environment festival aimed at educating and informing the public about conserving coral reef ecosystems.

The ‘1 National Coral Revival’ festival – the first of its kind – was organised by Vilimalé-based NGO Save the Beach as part of an awareness campaign about its reef rehabilitation and monitoring programme.

Amid a backdrop of live music by local artists, the event featured coral planting, information sessions and talks at an “awareness tent,” food stalls, diving lessons, free water sports, and guided snorkelling.

The festival was planned to coincide with World Environment Day on Friday, but kicked off a day late due to stormy weather. Environment minister Thoriq Ibrahim and tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb attended the opening ceremony on Saturday.

Students, teachers, and parents with their children visited the festival and participated in interactive activities.

The UNDP offered a “nature walk” while the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme gave presentations about the largest fish in the sea. NGOs such as the Olive Ridley Project, marine consultancy company Seamarc, and marine biologists from several resorts shared information about environmental initiatives.

Fathmath Thanzeela from Save the Beach said participatory activities such as coral planting were intended to give “a sense of ownership” and encourage engagement.

“What we hoped to achieve is a demonstration project so that we can share knowledge and build capacity of other NGOs,” she said.

A core message from the festival is the importance and vulnerability of the reef ecosystem in Vilimalé.

A coral reef is “very delicate and takes thousands of years to grow,” Thanzeela said, and coral planting is not a viable solution for rebuilding a devastated reef.

Coral planting is intended to “beautify and boost biodiversity,” she said.

Save the Beach started a coral nursery in Vilimalé last year with coral colonies rescued from a reclamation site in Hulhumalé.

Photo from Save the Beach
Photo from Save the Beach

As Malé does not have a natural beach, Thanzeela noted that the Vilimalé beach is used by the one-third of the Maldivian population that resides in the capital.

“We owe it to the next generation to preserve this beach,” she said.

Thanzeela said the public response to the festival was positive and expressed gratitude to business partners who “wholeheartedly contributed to the cause”.

“There were about 70 people ‘try diving,’ close to 200 people who planted corals in the shallow, and lots of people did water sports,” she said.

The public support suggested that “people’s minds are opening up,” she said, and a conservation ethic would follow when “people become friendlier with the sea.”

Coco Island resort marine biologist, Nathaniel Stephenson, said the festival brought together “organisations with the same moral core conservation ethic” in one place to network and share ideas.

“But most importantly, to educate the local people, the local community, and I think it’s really done that well, mixing music with awareness, making it fun and accessible as well,” he said.

Photo from Save the Beach
Photo from Save the Beach

The festival 

The Project Damage Control stall challenged visitors to sort garbage under general waste, organic trash, paper, or recyclables.

Visitors were also asked to guess the time it takes for plastic bottles, glass, and aluminium cans to decay.

“We want to spread awareness through a challenge. When you throw out trash, there are recyclable items and there are separate bins for that,” said Ihusan Abdul Muhsin.

Most visitors guessed right but stumbled on the biodegradation timelines, expressing surprise with the one million years it takes for glass to decompose.

The message: “When you throw a plastic bottle to the sea, it takes 450 years to degrade and it destroys corals,” said Ihusan.

In its stall, Manta Trust, a UK-based charity, showcased its work in identifying manta rays with photos of the unique pattern of spots on its underside.

Ibrahim Lirar said Marine Trust has more a catalogue of than 3,000 “photo IDs” of individual manta rays.

“We need more events like this, more platforms, so we can talk about the conservation of our environment. The current situation is very dire. The skipjack tuna catch is dropping. 2007 was the peak. We’re now catching the same number of tuna we caught in 1999 with today’s technology and fishing power,” Lirar said.

Dr Shamha Abdulla Hameed, dean of the faculty of marine studies at Villa College, suggested that the festival should be held at least once a year.

“You get to do a lot of networking. And everybody sees that there are a lot of people involved in this area of work,” she said.

Some parents are unaware of the job opportunities for marine science graduates, she observed, noting that most resorts have dive masters, water sports assistants, and a marine conservation centre with interns earning US$400 a month.

The UNDP meanwhile offered a nature walk with a guide explaining the environmental benefits of than 40 species of plants in Vilimalé. Some trees act as wind barriers and help to prevent coastal erosion.

“Usually we just give information in stalls about projects, which is not very interactive. So we came up with something that might involve them and make them passionate about the environment,” said Abdulla Adam, who took visitors on a tour across the island.

Mohamed Shimal from the Marine Research Centre said its stall emphasised the economic value of coral reefs to the Maldives – which are essential for the sustainability of the fisheries and tourism industries – and explained the damage that humans could cause to the fragile ecosystems.

The centre offered drawings of fish and corals to children for colouring with environmental messages on the back.

“For example, don’t harm corals when you swim because it grows very slowly. And don’t throw plastic bags in the sea because it suffocates corals and turtles also die after eating it,” Shimal said.

Photo from Save the Beach
Photo from Save the Beach
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Unsurprising developments: Malé and the atolls

The UNDP last week confirmed what most in the Maldives are only too aware of, that the lives of those in the capital Malé bear increasingly little resemblance to those in the outer atolls.

The country’s second Human Development Index report revealed the Malé area to have achieved a ‘highly developed’ score, while the rest of the country lagged behind in the middling bracket.

“Where one is born within the Maldives determines many of the opportunities and choices available to a person,” concluded the report.

While the UNDP will meet with relevant stakeholders in the coming weeks in order to discuss the implementation of policies that might bridge this divide, the government pushed ahead with plans which many feel will only exacerbate the problem.

Recent developments promise only bridge the divide between the  the capital’s two largest islands, however, with the construction of the Malé-Hulhule bridge a prominent part of the government’s flagship plan to expand the reclaimed island into a ‘youth city’ of 50,000 people.

Meanwhile, responses to proposals for special economic zones in the country have ranged from skepticism to alarm as the country seeks to make itself attractive to foreign investors once again.

“What I see is that three quarters of the population would probably move to the capital and the rest of the country will be taken over by the corporations,” predicted Salma Fikry, a long-time campaigner for decentralisation.

“Everything is moving towards that direction and the Maldives will lose a lot of their culture – a lot of their lifestyle – these things that make us Maldivian,” she said.

“Unsurprising”

Both Fikry and the online social movement the Rajjethere Meehun Party (RMP) have described the UNDP’s findings as “unsurprising”.

Citing the failures of successive governments to foster sustained development in the atolls, Fikry noted that the lack of political will for such projects had deep historical roots.

“The whole point of decentralisation is scary for the Maldivian government because they like to keep people dependent, they like to think of themselves as doing people favours,” she said.

“It’s very deep-rooted – the government in Malé has feared that the southerners and the northerners might revolt against the government because this has happened in the past.”

The most notable instance of separatism in the country came in the late fifties as the country’s three southernmost atolls seceded from the nation to form the United Suvadive Republic, with a lack of central government assistance being cited as a major reason for the breakaway.

While the short-lived republic was forcefully brought back under the authority of Malé in 1963, the issues appear to remain, with both Fuvahmulah and Addu City councils complaining of a lack of government support in local development.

Fuvahmulah Island Council recently blamed the Ministry of Health for dangerously under-resourced health facilities – an accusation repeated in Kulhudhuffushi this week, and Addu City Council has recently resolved to develop its own guest house tourism industry.

The concentration of the country’s dominant tourism industry has remained in the central atolls despite the government’s initial tourism master plans envisioning an even spread after the initial clustering around the capital in 70s and 80s.

Last week’s UNDP report cited the presence, or the absence, of tourism as a major contributor to to human development levels in the country’s disparate regions.

Despite the development of numerous regional airports, just under 40 percent of the country’s tourism capacity is located in Malé’s Kaafu atoll, with a recent survey showing that 85 percent of the country’s 1 million plus annual visitors reach their destination in less than hour’s journey from the capital.

Addu atoll – the country’s second most populous urban area – currently hosts just 3.6 percent of the country’s bed capacity, while at the opposite end of the country, residents of the only atoll in the country without a resort – Haa Dhaal – recently launched an online campaign calling for equitable development.

Special Economic Zones

The Special Economic Zones bill – recently introduced to the People’s Majlis – has been touted as a way to incentivise foreign investments, reduce the country’s reliance on tourism, and bring rapid development to the Maldives.

Proposals for nine economic zones throughout the atolls, which will include generous tax breaks and relaxed government oversight, have been greeted by many with caution.

Speaking after the launch of the UNDP report last week, Governor of the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) Dr Azeema Adam said that, with these incentives, the only benefits that the zones could bring would be local jobs.

“In the special economic zones, developers have the right to bring any amount of expatriate workers as well, so we might be able to generate jobs, but if those jobs go to expatriates we are not going to reap the benefit of such development activities,” said Dr Azeema.

Added to the absence of local expertise in relevant industries, the MMA governor said that serious questions should be asked about the benefit to local people – a point seconded by the RMP.

“On first read, it sounds like a monster in the making,” said the group. “The picture we get is is a scary one. Huge corporate agendas that could overtake all local ownership as well as national ownership of the Maldivian archipelago.”

Minivan News was unable to obtain comment from the Ministry of Economic Development or the Local Government Association at the time of publication.

Both the RMP and Fikry noted that, once an area is allocated as a special zone under the bill, all areas under the jurisdiction of local councils can be taken over.

“Is that really what we want in the long term – do we really want to be under a special zone superintendent by giving away our right to participation in our own development and governance?” asked Fikry.

Both suggested a better option for local development might be to allow for fiscal decentralisation as envisioned in the 2010 Decentralisation Act – whose provisions have yet to be fully enacted.

Failure to fully devolve the powers outlined in the landmark legislation has prompted Addu City mayor Mohamed Soabe to describe the legislation as “just for show”, while Malé City Deputy Mayor Shifa Mohamed has accused the current government of attempting to destroy decentralisation.

This week’s UNDP reports noted – when conducted on an optimal scale – decentralisation can have “positive effects” on human development.

However, with local councils rendered impotent by a dependence on central government finance and the relentless expansion of the capital, neither Fikry nor the RMP are anticipating any surprising developments soon.

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Settling disputes – The Weekly Review

June 14th – 20th

The government’s legal and political tussles grabbed headlines this week, with past, present, and future disputes all making the news.

This week’s biggest story came courtesy of spurned Indian infrastructure giant GMR, who revealed a Singapore arbitration court had deemed their terminated airport development deal “valid and binding”.

Being requested to pay US$4 million in procedural costs while the court determines the amount owed to GMR, the government interpreted the outcome as a success, predicting that the damages owed would be far less than the US$1.4 billion sought.

After the issue of a warrant to enforce the appearance of Home Minister Umar Naseer at his disobedience to order trial, the minister appeared at the Criminal Court of his own volition upon his return from his official trip to Europe.

Naseer promptly refused to cooperate with the trial until his procedural objection – already rejected by the judge – had been appealed.

The government’s disputes in the political arena also continued this week, with ejected coalition partner, the Jumhooree Party (JP), striking a conciliatory tone after the recent break-up.

The JP maintained that the coalition agreement had not been breached, while the party continued to haemorrhage members to its former ally the Progressive Party of Maldives – the economic development minister and two more MPs being the latest to switch allegiance.

The Progressive Coalition’s fast-growing majority in the Majlis resulted in what the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) interpreted as excessive representation in the Majlis’ standing committees, leading to the cancellation of sittings and threat of street action.

While taking pains to distance his party from such maneouvres, MDP leader Mohamed Nasheed suggested President Abdulla Yameen’s fate would likely be the same as his – predicting his eventual removal in a future coup.

Brigadier General Ahmed Nilam this week submitted a case to the Human Rights Commision, suggesting his suspension and subsequent dismissal were linked to the events of Nasheed’s chaotic departure from office in February 2012.

The second UNDP Human Development Index report raised questions as to how equitably economic growth was being distributed, with research revealing glaring disparities opening up between progress in the capital and the atolls.

Phase two of expansion of Malé’s suburbs continued regardless, with a US$50 million dredging contract awarded to a Belgian company for phase two of the Hulhumalé expansion project.

Despite expressing continued reservations about the Maldives’ public account imbalances, the World Bank this week anticipated continued development of the economy with 4.5 percent GDP growth predicted.

Meanwhile, Hope for Women this week predicted unwelcome growth in the workload of female civil servants during Ramadan after the alteration of working hours for the month of fasting.

The World Cup in Brazil – for which the government has already allowed extended trading hours – was suggested as a possible reason for the adjusted working times, though the President’s Office maintained that the change was intended to facilitate late night prayers.

This week also saw the Islamic Ministry hold a closed conference with scholars to discuss reports of Maldivian jihadis journeying to Syria, while Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon called on the Umma to assess the persistent association with terrorism and intolerance.

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Human Development Report highlights Maldives’ regional divide

The UNDP’s second Human Development Index (HDI) report for the Maldives urges stakeholders to address regional inequalities which remain a “major challenge” towards human development.

The first sub-regional HDI report of its kind, titled ‘Bridging the Divide: Addressing vulnerabilities, Reducing inequalities’ was officially launched today, analysing the disparities between the Malé region and the outer atolls.

“Where one is born within the Maldives determines many of the opportunities and choices available to a person,” reads the report.

“Remote islands with small populations have limited accessibility to services including schooling, healthcare, social services, job opportunities and face overall isolation.”

Since its first HDI report in 2001, the Maldives has graduated to middle income country status. Today’s report, however, noted that while the nation’s HDI score is 0.688 – placing it in UNDP’s medium development bracket – the regional analysis reveals stark inequalities.

While the atolls’ development was revealed to be 0.627 in 2012 – placing it in the mid-level HDI group, alongside countries such as South Africa and Indonesia – Malé’s HDI was 0.734, putting it in the high development bracket next to Azerbaijan and Mauritius.

Used as a measure to gauge people’s choices in life – accounting for access to education, nutrition, healthcare, security, political and cultural freedoms – Norway currently tops the Human Development Index (0.955), while Niger ranks last (0.304).

The global average HDI average is 0.694.

The Divide

‘Bridging the Divide’ notes that income and educational choices are the most notable of the inequalities faced by those born outside of the capital.

“A person living in Malé is likely to complete three years more of schooling than a person living in the atolls,” explained the report.

It was also noted that the average income for a person living in Malé – equivalent to US$4251.90 – is one and a half times that of a person living in the atolls.

The report noted that rapid internal migration to the capital Malé has itself become a cause of inequalities

“In-migration to  Malé has led to a sharp increase in living costs, poor housing conditions, overcrowding, pollution and a general sense of frustration and impatience in the public.”

After categorising the Maldives into seven regions, the report showed regions 2 and 6 – containing Noonu, Raa, Baa, and Lhaviyani atolls in the north, and Gaafu atoll in the south – to be under performing.

The best performing region contained the central Meemu, Faafu, and Dhaalu atolls – reflecting the concentration of the tourism industry in the Malé area.

The HDI report recommends enhancing the benefits of of tourism – which has taken the Maldives from one of the world’s poorest nations in the 1970s to having South Asia’a highest GDP per capita today – to the wider population.

It was noted that the rich-poor divide was being exacerbated as the tourism industry “operates as a powerful oligarchy and has given rise to an elite class that owns much of the country’s wealth”.

While acknowledging the recent growth of the guest house industry, the report argues that the bulk of the luxury resort industry provides little opportunity for local small and medium enterprises.

Vulnerabilities

Core physical vulnerabilities identified in the report included the Maldives’ small land mass, lack of natural resources, while economic weaknesses focused on the heavy reliance on tourism and a high external dependence on imports.

Such vulnerabilities reduce the ability of institutions to address inequalities, with the report suggesting that solution lies in “building resilience through improved spatial planning, increasing targeting and effectiveness of social protection measures, restoring fiscal and macro-economic stability and diversifying the growth base.”

It was acknowledged that considerable improvements in poverty levels, life expectancy, and access to education had been assisted by “fiscal prudence” between the mid 90s to the mid 2000s which must return in order to continue the country’s HDI progress.

The effective targetting of vulnerable groups – those facing more than one impediment – is needed in order to design policies and programmes to address their development needs. The removal of blanket subsidies was one example of such a policy change.

The development of a hub and periphery model in the atolls – improving local services and relieving the pressure on the capital – was mooted alongside the completion of governmental decentralisation.

Finally, it was suggested that long-term thinking among political leaders – beyond a five-year election cycle – is key if human development is to be enhanced in the island nation.

“Political parties and political leaders need to start thinking beyond the ballot,” read the report. “With democratic transition, the country’s long-term development planning process has been side-lined.”

While noting that human developed requires a strong democracy, the report concluded by suggesting a reappraisal of the state’s “extraordinarily high costs”.

“For a small country like the Maldives, with mounting pressures, fiscal crisis and high debt distress, it is time that political parties, institutions, civil society and the public engage in debate; and agree to right-size the governance system, to make it more sustainable and to maximize the democratic dividend and enhance the freedoms and choices for the people.”

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Orientation for new MPs session held today

An orientation session to familiarise the new intake of MPs set to be sworn in later this week was held at Traders hotel today.

Organised by the Majlis Secretariat and the UNDP, the event is to introduce newly elected MPs to the parliament’s work and procedures, reported Haveeru.

Only a third of those who won seats for the 18th Majlis are incumbents.

The Progressive Coalition – made up of the Progressive Party of Maldives, Jumhooree Party, and the Maldives Development Alliance – secured 53 out of 85 seats in the March 22 parliamentary polls.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) won 26 seats while independent candidates won five seats and the religious conservative Adhaalath Party won one seat.

Three independent candidates along with MDP MP-elect for the Thimarafushi constituency, Mohamed Musthafa, have since signed for the PPM, bringing the ruling party’s numbers up to 37 and securing a two-thirds majority for the coalition.

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Retired South African judge to host public lecture on elections

The UNDP will host a public lecture – ‘Elections: Beauty or Beast?’ – by prominent retired South African Judge, Johann Kriegler, on Thursday September 26 at 4:00pm in the SHE Building (3rd floor) in Male’.

Judge Kriegler headed the South African Independent Electoral Commission and chaired the first permanent Elections Agency in South Africa for a number of years.

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Comment: The private eye?

This is the second of a series of articles as I attempt to unpack the Naaz Report, Access to Justice in the Maldives: Through the Eyes of a Colourless Lens published in May 2013.

Part one of Velezinee’s critique of the Access to Justice report is available here.

1. Naaz was a warden of Vice President Waheed Deen who taught and groomed her. He sponsored her study in Australia where she read Law, and lived and worked in Australia before returning home in late 2009.

2. I was first introduced to Naaz in 2009 by a mutual friend, a judge, who was a school friend of Naaz, and my closest friend at the time. As I understood, Naaz had been away for a long period, returned to the Maldives for a “break year,” and was excited by the changes she was seeing in the Maldives. She wanted to contribute to the nation with her knowledge and experience, and at the same time build her CV. Maldives lacks people of the knowledge, experience, exposure and grooming Naaz has, and she could help fill the gap. Naaz was living in Bandos Island Resort, courtesy of VP Deen, and was exploring opportunities. It was an exciting time.

3. She met with the then Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed by appointment to introduce herself, and express her interest, and met others whom she knew from earlier, looking for a way to contribute.  I was aware of the issues in child protection and the lack of expertise in law or human rights in the then Department of Gender and Family Protection (DGFPS) and thought Naaz could contribute much to strengthening the child protection system, and encouraged her to take up the challenge.

4. In the end, Naaz joined the UNDP office in Male as a Project Director to lead the Access to Justice project, an ongoing UN program with the government.  With the UNDP, Naaz had privileged access to all institutions that few others had.

5. The author’s introduction in the publication, Access to Justice in the Maldives: Through the Eyes of a Colourless Lens (May, 2013) reads somewhat different.

6. In it she informs the reader she was the “Protecting Human Rights and Access to Justice Project” Program Specialist as well as the Project Manager with UNDP Maldives”, and that she is “a practicing lawyer in Australia” who has been “in the legal field for over 12 years”. All facts.

The “framing”, however, is misleading. It gives the reader the impression that the author is an Australian lawyer practicing in Australia, who happened to be in the Maldives working with the UN between 2010-12. A Maldivian would have “interests”, but what interests, as such, would an Australian have in rewriting a narrative? The framing, thus, gives a false impression of author as standing outside.

7. Second, the tag “Lead Researcher and Author: Naaz Aminath (LLB, GDLP, LLM)” implies the report is the work of a team. This too is misleading. There is no research team mentioned elsewhere in the report or credits, nor is there a reference list or bibliography included in the report.

8. Copy editing is credited to Maaeesha Saeed and Aishath Rizna, who was the Registrar at the Interim Supreme Court during the transition period, and is currently working for the Department of Judicial Administration.

10. Could the author be deliberately misleading the reader? Are these all innocent omissions and/or typos? Maybe. Or maybe not. What is the purpose of the Naaz Report?  What influence could it have on the political processes in the Maldives today? Everything, depending on the winners in the presidential elections scheduled for September 7, 2013.

11. Naaz’s long standing patron, Waheed Deen, a businessman, resort owner, and society-man of wide social contacts known for his philanthropy and gift-giving, is the current Vice President, handpicked by Dr Waheed following the February 7, 2012 coup d’état. And the fact is, with all the plotting and re-plotting, it was “on a judges’ back” that Dr Waheed rose to office.

What went on in the JSC during 2009 and 2010 is clearly linked to events of January and February 2012, as I tried explaining to the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) in my testimony.

So, what does Naaz say?

1. On “access to justice”, Naaz argues that the urban-rural disparity, the “deficiency in development and lack of access to justice creates inequality and injustice while giving an advantage to politicians to ‘buy’ their ideas rather than sell it.”  Access to Justice as a fundamental right, and the broader definitions of it, and the constitutional guarantees and requirements are not recognised.

2. There is no mention of the crucial role of an independent judiciary in democratic government, or necessity of independent judges and public trust in the justice system to protect human rights and provide access to justice.

3. The fact that a UNDP Study (2000) of governance found the judiciary to be “the weakest link” in transitional constitutional democracies; and that Article 285 of the Maldives’ Constitution provided exactly for this challenge, is not recognized by Naaz.

This, despite her position as the Project Director of the Access to Justice project with the UNDP in Male’ during the Maldives’ transition from a constitutional autocracy to a constitutional democracy.

4. The Maldives, I maintain, lost an independent judiciary and the independence of judges through the high treason of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), on which I sat a member under oath.

The JSC nullified Article 285 unconstitutionally in an elaborate game of lies, deception and drama. The state refused to officially acknowledge the dispute in the JSC, or the alleged treason and constitution breach, with the Majlis majority unashamedly covering up the hijack of the judiciary in what I have since called the Silent Coup.

5. Post coup, the JSC has become exposed as it never was in 2010. The frequent public appearances of the JSC, especially the Chair, Supreme Court justice Adam Mohamed Abdulla, has revealed more about the Commission than any other intervention could.

Concurrently, renewed interest in transitional matters, and inquiries into the JSC and its functioning by independent experts have exposed the secrets of JSC: the JSC does not act to uphold the Constitution, is highly politicised, and misconstrues constitutional concepts and law for its own ends and the benefit of judges. In short, the JSC acts against the Constitution and the State.

6. The latest report on the Maldives’ judiciary and access to justice by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Lawyers and Judges, Gabriella Knaul, provides a substantive summary of the challenges Maldives faces, and highlights where a UN-led Access to Justice program must focus.

7. On the ground in 2010, Naaz was a sympathetic ear to my complaints against the JSC, and my grievances against the Parliament for their failure to hold the JSC accountable, and to ensure Article 285 was fulfilled meaningfully. I was advocating for substantive and meaningful action on Article 285 aimed at judicial reform as envisaged by the Constitution, and Naaz agreed with my interpretation and opinion.

8. Naaz always left with me a standing offer of assistance, which was much appreciated, as I do not have a background in law. In retrospect, that assistance never materialised, as Naaz was occupied when and where I did request help. My requests mainly were for assistance in reading through some of my drafts, and in translating to English and/or preparing briefs in English to share some information of the ongoing dispute, and the dozens of pages I was putting out in Dhivehi at the time.

9. With all attempts to get an inquiry into Article 285 and the JSCs’ constitution breach blocked, the judges took their infamous “symbolic” oath, en masse, on August 4, 2010. No one, neither the state institutions nor the media, questioned the oath or its legitimacy despite what was witnessed live and the questions it raised. It was the public left with unanswered questions.

10. The UN was satisfied. Naaz was on the ground, and was active in the efforts that followed to legitimise the judiciary, appointed unconstitutionally and without due process,  by the will of the majority. No one mentioned rule of law. Not until 2012.

Aishath Velezinee (@Velezinee on twitter) is an independent democracy activist and writer. She was the Editor of Adduvas Weekly 2005-07 and served on the Maldives’ Judicial Service Commission (2009-11). She claims the Commission she sat on breached constitution in transition; and advocates for redress of Article 285, and a full overhaul of the judiciary as a necessary step for democracy consolidation.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to editorial@minivannewsarchive.com

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Comment: In black and white

This is the first of a series of articles as I attempt to unpack the Naaz Report, ‘Access to Justice in the Maldives: Through the Eyes of a Colourless Lens’ published in May 2013 and available here.

The eyes behind the colourless lens

1. Aminath Naaz, the eyes behind the colourless lens who authored the publication, Access to Justice in the Maldives: Through the Eyes of a Colourless Lens (published May, 2013) is one of the few legal experts without a direct conflict of interest who had access to the Maldives’ Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and the Maldives’ Courts at all levels.

She also had direct contact with the Supreme Court judges both during the interim period and after, as well as access to all other State institutions, UN agencies, international organisations and NGOs in the period when the Maldives was to build the constitutional democratic state. Or at least the backbone of a democratic government: an independent judiciary.

2. Naaz was also the only Maldivian outside of the closed JSC and the Department of Judicial Administration (DJA), who had access to the Judicial Service Commission and the records therein.

3. Naaz, who as Project Director of the UN Maldives led the “Protecting Human Rights and Access to Justice Project,” was in an influential position of unique power and authority, as well as a position of immense responsibility given that this was at a historic moment in the Maldives when the State was in transition.

The Maldives was at the time in transition from a long established constitutional autocracy with all powers vested in the Head of State, to a multi-party constitutional democracy with separation of powers and the introduction of independent offices and bodies for check and balance.

4. At this exciting and critical juncture in Maldives’ history, a time of constitution building, of state building, when for the first time ever the Maldives was set to introduce and build democratic state apparatus, orientate duty bearers to the newly introduced standards and practices alien to the existing culture, Naaz was an expert in a position to explain concepts and guide events – as Naaz herself has observed.

5. Naaz was situated “inside,” with the necessary knowledge of democratic concepts, standards and best practices as well as the law – a Maldivian with a law degree from Australia who had studied, worked and lived in Australia, a democratic nation. She had the knowledge to fill the gap or limitation she herself observed in the Maldives, from the general public to policymakers to technical experts in government and state bodies who are ignorant of the “new concepts that have been so rapidly introduced to the country” (Naaz, 2013: 5).

6. Naaz introduces herself as “a practicing lawyer in Australia [who] has been in the legal field for over 12 years”; she is privileged in having had opportunity to study, work and live in a democratic nation, and be exposed to the governance practices and standards upheld in a democratic state over a long term period where, it may easily be assumed, one would assimilate and internalise the culture, together with the adoption of language and accent.

7. I, myself a member of the Maldives’ Judicial Service Commission at the time, kept trust in Naaz, and where doubts crept, I shrugged them off – a sensitive subject due to the politics of Article 285 – convincing myself Naaz understood the real issues: the treachery that had taken place in the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and loss of an independent judiciary, its consequences for the State and the  risk to democratic government.

I kept hope Naaz would intervene – at the right time, right place, in the right way – to ensure the Maldives upheld its constitution and international obligations. After all, she was an expert in a position of influence, and I lost no opportunity to keep her fully informed of all I was observing as a sitting member of JSC (2009-11), and my actions therein. Naaz herself talked to me a number of times, frustrated by the JSC, and the ignorance that existed.

8. Thus, I have been waiting since 2010 for Naaz to speak on the substantive and meaningful issues around access to justice in the Maldives and an independent judiciary, a constitutional right of the people from a legal, human rights perspective. Such debate, and discussion, has been almost nonexistent in the politics of democratic transition in the Maldives.

9. Following the events of 2010 and constitutional breach by the Judicial Service Commission on which I was a sitting member at the time, in December 2010 I published a ‘working paper,’ Democracy Derailed: The unconstitutional Annulment of Article 285 and its Consequences for Democratic Government in the Maldives. It dealt with the issues in the Maldives’ democratic transition, and what I believed was a constitutional crisis we had found ourselves in due to abuse of powers and breach of trust by the JSC, the parliament and other duty bearers who failed to hold the JSC accountable despite repeated appeals, and the loss of an independent judiciary to treason by a few powerful actors within the state.

In December 2009, I published my observations and analysis of the existing situation, dangers and risks to constitutional government. This was of course shared with Naaz who was leading the UN Access to Justice Project.

10. Naaz was silent. Nor did the UN express concern at the failure of the state to meaningfully execute Article 285, or the events that followed. I have written in detail of what I witnessed in my book The Silent Coup; In Defeat They Reached for The Gun of what I witnessed – the conspiracy in which the Maldives’ judiciary was hijacked in transition using the JSC as a tool.

11. UN agencies were the only international presence on the ground in the Maldives in 2010, apart from handful embassies, and as such, I had appealed through Naaz to the then UN Resident Coordinator Mr Andrew Cox, to help in “saving Article 285″.

12. Mr Andrew Cox had found my “madness” discomfiting, my appearance unappealing, and my language incomprehensible, and it was to Naaz I turned as one with the presence and language to advocate the cause I fought. He was always civil to me, but never acted, and I was never sure he comprehended what I spoke of.

Much later, I learnt Cox had gone to the extent of warning the International Committee of Jurists (ICJ) of my mental status. ICJ was the only organisation to take the issue seriously and send a fact finding mission to the Maldives following the Article 285 controversy.

13. Hence, Naaz was the intermediary [with the UN]. I relied on Naaz to push the constitutional case for the meaningful execution of Article 285 and the establishment of an independent judiciary, as well as for assistance to alert the international community, specifically the UN Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers, and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) on what was happening in JSC, and Majlis cover up. After all, Naaz fully understood my “madness” and the state of affairs within JSC and in the judiciary as a whole.

14. All attempts at an inquiry blocked, the judges took oath en masse in a controversial ceremony on August 4, 2010. Naaz was on the ground and was active meeting the JSC during the time. Immediately after the events of August 4, 2010 Naaz was seen in media photos meeting the Speaker Abdulla Shahid. It was usual for the Speaker, President and Chief Justice to meet UN project directors and give the photos to the media. The discussions, it was reported, were on access to justice, strengthening the judiciary and developing the judges.

15. Article 285 was never executed, and the allegations never investigated. Nor were the controversial events of August 4, 2010 ever raised to a proper platform and investigated despite repeated challenges in the media by politicians who defended the JSC without inquiry.

16. Naaz, as Project Director, poured in UN funds to strengthen and legitimise the judges who sat in question. The issues of constitutional supremacy, rule of law and due procedure were never raised by Naaz, or the UN, with relation to Article 285. Nor did Naaz recognise the centrality of Article 285 to democratic government, and the protection of fundamental constitutional rights.

17. President Mohamed Nasheed who took oath of office on November 11, 2008, following the first ever democratic elections held in the Maldives’ history, stunned the country when he “resigned” on February 7, 2012 in a live televised statement. He was flanked by ex-military and ex-police seniors, the current Minister of Defence and National Security Mohamed Nazim, and the current Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz who had no official portfolio on February 7, 2012 to explain their presence at the scene that day.

The televised resignation had followed weeks of violence, which, in the light of evidence that has emerged since, could have been planned and staged by police and military leaders together with the politically motivated Sheikhs, backed publicly by opposition leaders. On that day, February 7, 2012 Naaz was a UN Project Director of the “Protecting Human Rights and Access to Justice Project.

18. The controversial transfer of power was a coup d’état that remains unproven, among other reasons, I believe, for the lack of an independent judiciary. It is surprising Naaz has found this irrelevant to her report. I, however, find it central to the subject and stated purpose of her publication and would like to highlight it as a major event that will in my opinion, continue with grave consequences to the future of the Maldives.

19. In the days immediately after the events of February 7, 2012 a photo went viral on social media – #mvcoup – show a smiling Naaz in Republic Square, shortly after the forced resignation of President Nasheed, holding a national flag in her hand:

20. In a comment on twitter after the publication of the Naaz report, Ibrahim Ihsaan (@iiihsan), a Maldivian law student who claims to know Naaz from “working on drafting legal aid scheme for UNDP in  those days,” says he  met Naaz in Republic Square that day, and had asked her, “What is the UN doing?”

Her response, in Dhivehi, was “Vaanvee goiy mi vee”: “It’s happened as it should”, and then she added, “because Anni [President Nasheed] did not release Ablo Qaazee.’”

21. Naaz had expressed the same sentiment on her Facebook status of February 7, 2012 declaring it to be “The happiest day of my life,” in a post she later deleted.

22. She subsequently left the UN post. Shortly afterwards she reappeared in the President’s Office working as some sort of presidential aide for President Mohamed Waheed, who took Office as President on February 7, 2012. Dr Waheed had selected Waheed Deen, a businessman, resort owner, and society-man of wide social contacts known for his philanthropy, as Vice President.

Aishath Velezinee (@Velezinee on twitter) is an independent democracy activist and writer. She was the Editor of Adduvas Weekly 2005-07 and served on the Maldives’ Judicial Service Commission (2009-11). She claims the Commission she sat on breached constitution in transition; and advocates for redress of Article 285, and a full overhaul of the judiciary as a necessary step for democracy consolidation.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to editorial@minivannewsarchive.com

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New UN Resident Coordinator to Maldives commences tour of duty

The new UN Resident Coordinator and Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the Republic of Maldives, Tony E. Lisle, has today officially begun his tour of duty in the country.

Lisle’s main task will be to oversee national development programs by collaborating with the various UN agencies operating in the country, a spokesperson for the organisation told Minivan News today.

The new resident coordinator, who has been serving within the UN since 1996, previously held the position of Country Director for UNAIDS in Vietnam.

Lisle’s mandate as resident coordinator is expected to last for between four to five years, according to the organisation.

Lisle replaces former UN Resident Coordinator Andrew Cox, who completed his tour of duty back in January of this year.

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