“Sword of Damocles” hangs above Nasheed: European parliamentary delegation

The European Parliament’s Delegation for relations with South Asia has expressed “deep concern” at the deterioration of the situation in the Maldives.

“The European Union had deployed a team of experts to observe the first democratic Presidential elections held in the country in 2008; a sword of Damocles now hangs above the winner of these elections, with his arrest warrant already issued on unspecified grounds,” said a statement from delegation chair Jean Lambert.

“We understand a number of MPs and local councillors have also been detained or are in hospital following continued police violence,” Lambert added, further noting that several EU countries have issued travel advisories for the Maldives as “public resentment and violence are now spreading well beyond the capital.”

Urging Maldivian security forces to act according to their position and the law, the Lambert regretted that “credible signs [of establishing a National Unity Government] have yet to be witnessed.”

The situation in the Maldives has also turned up in the Australian parliament, in reference to Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s own assumption of power from Kevin Rudd. Gillard’s office had prepared an acceptance speech two weeks before Rudd was deposed as leader of the party.

“While the new leader of the Maldives says he did not bring about the coup, reports have surfaced that he was involved in coup preparations that began weeks earlier,” said opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop.

“Does the foreign minister agree that the new leader should tell the full truth about his involvement in the coup?”
Rudd, who is now foreign minister and participated in the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAGS)’s urgent teleconference on the Maldives’ situation, reminded parliamentarians that “much is at stake” in the Maldives.

“Those opposite seem to think that this is a trivial matter, when hundreds of people are being beaten in the streets,” the foreign minister said.

“Those opposite trivialise the fact that hundreds of people have been arrested, that hundreds of people have been subjected to violence in the streets of the capital city of Male and on top of that, that we are likely to have seen the forced removal – under threat of armed violence with guns – of a democratically elected head of state.”

Rudd said he had spoken to the former president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, three nights ago and had been involved in moves to send a Commonwealth mission to Male to establish whether the coup occurred through violent means.

“If so, the necessary course of action would be suspension from the Commonwealth. We take these matters seriously,” Rudd said. “As foreign minister of Australia I do not regard them as trivial.”

In recent days the UK and Germany have also indicated that an independent investigation into the nature of the power transfer would be necessary to “consolidate [the new government’s] legitimacy.”

The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs has said it remains “too early” to judge what conclusions its Heads of Missions (HoMs) will draw from their visit to the politically turbulent Maldives.

Amidst calls from member states like the UK and Germany to hold an “independent inquiry” into the circumstances that saw President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik come to power last week in an alleged “coup d’etat”, the EU said it has not reached a decision on the current government’s legitimacy.

“The EU has not taken a definitive position on the events leading to the transfer of power, so we would wait for the conclusions of the investigation,” said a spokesperson for the Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton.

“In the meantime, we look forward to the establishment of a unity government, to dialogue among all political forces and for all parties to refrain from violence.”

In an interview with AFP news agency President Waheed gave assurances that he would welcome the visit of a nine-member Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) to ascertain details of the transfer of power in the country.

Several international human rights groups have nonetheless questioned the legitimacy of President Waheed’s government, which has faced widespread civil unrest and allegations of supporting violent crackdowns on members and supporters of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) by security forces tasked with securing the public.

Yet in an interview with The Australian newspaper this week, President Waheed called for Australia to support the legitimacy of his government amidst “untrue” claims he had come to power in a “coup”. He also pledged to push ahead with attempts at further democratic reform.

EU fact finding

According to the spokesperson for High Representative Ashton, last weekend’s visit of the HoMs was planned before the presidential turnover.

“However, in the current circumstances, the main focus of the mission is to assess the situation and meet with all major political parties, civil society and key institutions,” they stated. “It is yet too early to judge what the final findings of this HoMs fact-finding mission will be.”

When asked about allegations and reports emerging from across the country about violent crackdowns by some security forces and figures posing as police in areas like Addu Atoll, the EU said it would again be awaiting findings from the Maldives’ Human Rights Commission before making any statements.

“We welcome the role of the Human Rights Commission and other mandated bodies to investigate any possible wrongdoings by the government institutions,” added the bloc spokesperson.

Amongst criticism from a number of human rights organisations regarding the nature of the change in power, the UK Conservative Party’s Human Rights Commission insists that establishing the legitimacy of the Maldives new government is not just relevant, but crucial to any resolution of the current unrest.

Commission Deputy Chair Ben Rogers said that any government hoping to be recognised as legitimate ultimately requires a people’s mandate.

“I believe Dr Waheed should hand over power to the Speaker and an interim government, and then fresh elections, with international monitors, should be held in three months,” he said. “In the meantime he should guarantee Mohamed Nasheed’s security and liberty, and the safety and freedom of other MDP members.”

US talks, IPU walks

Foreign diplomats have so far backed the plans forwarded by Waheed, who claims he is trying to form a national unity government ahead of the 2013 presidential elections.

On a visit to Male’ over the weekend, United States’ Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake encouraged the coalition of “former opposition” political parties affiliated with the new government to “work with all parties to reform and improve the capacity of the judiciary, the police and the election commission to maintain a democratic transition.

Nasheed’s supporters have rejected Waheed’s government as a legitimate ruling body and have refused to participate in its administration.

Challenged by a foreign journalist over the legality of the transition, Blake stated that America’s commitment was to the new government of the Maldives.

“The United states remains committed to working with all Maldivian people to ensure a democratic and prosperous future for this important friend of the United States,” Blake said.

However, he added that there were “some questions regarding the transfer of power” and suggested that an independent Maldivian commission be formed to investigate the issue, before arriving at conclusions.

In a more aggressive move, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), a close affiliate of the United Nations, is sending an urgent mission to the Maldives to address concerns over the reported beating and detention of lawmakers.

“I am very worried about recent news alleging harassment and beatings of members of parliament and the continued detention of one of them,” said IPU President Abdulwahad Radi in a statement yesterday.

MDP Parliamentary Group yesterday released a statement categorically describing the beatings and in some cases detention of 10 MPs by security forces on capital Male’. Accompanying photos lend credibility to the claims.

Urging authorities to exercise “restraint”, Radi advised that “inclusive political dialogue” was the only solution to the current crisis. “It is essential that an atmosphere of non-violence, restraint and stability be established,” he said.

Radi further requested Maldivian officials to respect their parliament’s mandate while assuring that the IPU mission would meet with “all political actors concerned” with the country’s crisis.

The IPU, a conglomeration of 159 member countries founded in 1899, connects elected representatives from different nations and regions.