Interschool theatre festival demonstrates youth awareness of human rights issues

No additional reporting by missing journalist Ahmed Rilwan

The Interschool Human Rights Theatre Festival exhibits the high level of awareness amongst primary and secondary school pupils on different human rights issues.

The three day festival organised by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) ran from September 25-27 and saw creative and extensive theatre pieces from seven schools alongside six short but thought-provoking skits by a group of volunteers from the HRCM.

Of the seven schools participating, four schools were from the capital Malé and the remaining three schools from the atolls.

All seven theatre pieces by the schools – two of which were recordings from two schools from the atolls – showed creativity in presenting different human rights issues, with different schools opting for different forms of theatre.

The winning entry featured children from Jalaaluhdheen School – in Haa Dhaalu Kulhudhuhfushi – using a traditional and effective form of theatre in which all of the scenes were presented at the same time to show human rights violations towards migrant workers.

Well laid out scenes brought to life the many situations in which migrant worker rights are violated. Unsafe working conditions, disrespectful customers at a restaurant, and a classroom scenario where the students verbally abused the foreign teacher convinced the judges to select the Jalaaluhdheen piece as the outstanding entry.

Pieces from the other schools focused on disabled people’s rights, with the runner-up entry from the Galolhu Madharsaa exhibiting a well-coordinated piece with excellent visuals, audio, before concluding with a beautiful message.

Skits by the volunteers were based on elderly people’s rights, women’s rights, and children’s rights.

While speaking to Minivan News, HRCM Vice President Ahmed Tholal said that the aim of the festival was for the students to gain a deeper understanding of human rights by actively taking part in the theatre pieces.

“We want to encourage a more creative approach to human rights compared to learning about human rights only through reading or listening material”.

The winning piece suggested the festival had been a success, with excellent awareness shown by the students of the rights of migrant workers, who are believed to amount to more than a hundred and fifty thousand individuals. It also illustrated that violations do not only occur at labor level jobs but also in blue collar posts.

The festival is also noteworthy in its high level of participation of students with special education needs such as participation from Jamaaluhdheen’ class for hearing impaired children (CHIC) and Thulhaadhoo’s Special Educational Needs class, from Baa Atoll.

The children performed on the same platform, and were judged against the same criteria, as the other schools.

The festival which was the first of its kind organised by HRCM was funded by UNICEF with collaboration with Ministry of Education. Additional sponsorship was received from Bandos Island Resort and Muni home care.

Tholal also highlighted other awareness projects which are aimed at school children such as the creation of human rights clubs within the schools and the the recent human rights defender training held at Girifushi to enable youth to facilitate sessions in collaboration with these clubs.


Supreme Court case against HRCM undermining commission’s mandate, says MDP

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has voiced concern over the Supreme Court suo moto case against members of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) regarding a report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council last week.

In a press statement released today, the opposition party said that the members of the commission were summoned to the Supreme Court because of their criticism of the judiciary the submission to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

“The party believes that by initiating a suo moto, the Supreme Court is undermining the responsibilities vested by the Maldivian Constitution and international conventions on the independent commission,” read the MDP’s press statement.

Speaking to Minivan News today, parliamentary leader of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), Ahmed Nihan, said that it is not the place of any member of the government or an independent body to criticise the Supreme Court.

Nihan noted that the commission was fulfilling its mandate by publishing the report but also said  the Supreme Court was carrying out its own duties by upholding the constitution.

Members of the commission were summoned one by one to the Supreme Court yesterday (September 22) and informed of the suo moto initiated by the Supreme Court.

The HRCM report criticised the growing power of the court, suggesting that control of the judiciary by the Supreme Court was damaging the lower courts.

HRCM members said yesterday that they were faced with numerous charges although they had been advised by their lawyer not to give further details. The members are scheduled to be present at a hearing tomorrow morning (September 24).

Article 27 of the HRCM act grants immunity from prosecution in relation to acts carried out as part of the commission’s duty unless a formal inquiry proves that some components in the report are proven to be false.

Earlier this year, Supreme Court used the unprecedented suo moto proceeding, in which the court acts as its own plaintiff and judge, in the removal of Elections Commission (EC) President Fuwad Thowfeek and Vice President Ahmed Fayaz.

Both were charged with contempt of court and disobedience to order as a result of testimony given to the People’s Majlis’ independent commission’s oversight committee

Through a raft of regulations enacted in recent months, the Maldives Supreme Court has sought to consolidate control over administrative affairs of the judiciary.

Changes to contempt of court regulations made in June authorised courts to initiate legal proceedings and punish individuals for any expression, action, gesture, or piece of writing “inside or outside a courtroom” that could be considered contempt of court.

The court has come under criticism both home and abroad in recent months, with a sex-tape scandal and perceived interference in the 2013 presidential elections among the issues causing controversy.


HRCM responds to criticism from the education ministry over UN submission

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has responded to criticism from the Ministry of Education regarding the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council.

In a press statement released yesterday (September 21), HRCM denied the accusations made by the Education Ministry that the section on education had been based on an outdated 2008 UNESCO report, saying it had used a joint unpublished report by UNICEF and the Ministry of Gender and Family from 2009.

The Supreme Court has today initiated suo moto proceedings against HRCM members in relation to the document, while the President’s Office has this week suggested that some phrasing regarding the death penalty is misleading.

The HRCM said that the education ministry had been given the opportunity to comment on the draft of the UPR report but failed to make any recommendations.

“A draft of the report was sent to the high ranking officials of the education ministry on August 31 to comment on it. However, we did not receive any inquiries from the ministry on the validity of the data in the report nor did we receive any criticism of the report,” said HRCM.

The ministry has claimed, however, that the commission had chosen not to include information it sent in the report.

The UPR report states that, even though “corporal punishment is prohibited in schools, 8 percent of the students attending secondary schools have experienced violence perpetrated by teachers”.

The Ministry of Education argued that the statement was outdated and that no study had been done during the last six years to identify the changes in the education system.

In yesterday’s statement, the HRCM countered the argument by saying that the UPR is intended to evaluate the situation over the last four years and said that there are numerous studies which would validate the statement including the conclusions sent by international conventions.

The dispute over the report’s content comes at a time of an ongoing investigation by the education ministry and the Maldives Police Service into an alleged bullying case by a teacher at Imaaduhdheen School.

In the report, the HRCM also urged the government to pass the Education Act and to make concrete efforts to eradicate the disparities in the availability of educational services.


Asian Games 2014 kicks off with the biggest ever Maldivian team

The largest sporting event in Asia, the Incheon Asian Games 2014, has officially kicked off with 13,000 athletes from 45 Asian nationalities participating in 42 different sports.

The event officially started on the Friday (September 19) with a lively opening ceremony featuring a large fireworks display, 10,000 athletes from 45 nations and a performance by South Korean superstar PSY.

The Maldives team, with a contingent of more than 200 competing in six disciplines, is the biggest ever Maldivian group to represent the country at an international event.

The Maldivian flag bearer for the ceremony was Ismail Sajid, one of the key members of the volleyball team.

The six disciplines in which the Maldives team is competing are badminton, athletics, swimming, beach volleyball, football and – for the first time – a women’s handball team is representing the Maldives.

The Maldivian government reportedly gave the contingent a sum of MVR3.8 million (US$247,074). In addition they are believed to have received financial support from the organisers of the Asian games covering their transportation and accommodation cost.

Speaking to local media, vice president of the swimming association of Maldives Ismail Shareef, said that the Maldivian swimmers are not aiming for medals but to outdo the current national records for swimming – many of which fell during July’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

“It is extremely hard to earn a medal at the Asian games. We do not even have the proper facilities to train for such high caliber events,” said Shareef.

Not having the proper facilities and guidance to train for such events is a complaint heard often within the Maldivian sports community, which often has to train in under equipped facilities and sometimes unsafe training environments.

Earlier this year, badminton was stopped as the Malé Ekuveni Sports complex was closed after the building was deemed unsafe, leaving the national team with no venue to practice and the Badminton Association of Maldives having to cancel an international tournament.

The government has promised a sports complex as part of the Hulhumalé Youth City project and has also pledged to transform Ekuveni into a sports city.


GMR surprised with decision to give airport development to Chinese firm

Indian infrastructure company GMR has told media of its surprise that the development of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) has been given to a Chinese firm.

“Sources in the GMR expressed surprise at the move by the Maldives government as it has entered in a new contract for construction work at airport without paying damages as suggested by the tribunal,” wrote the Economic Times today.

The preliminary contract agreement for the development of the airport was one of eight MoUs signed between the Chinese and Maldivian governments during the recent presidential visit by the Chinese President Xi Jinpeng.

The terms of the agreements have not yet been released to the media, though it was revealed that the new contract to develop the airport was given to Beijing Urban Construction Company Limited.

President Xi’s visit to the Maldives – part of his South Asia – tour was reported to have added to Indian concerns regarding Chinese ambitions in the region.

India’s GMR recently won the arbitration case filed against the Maldivian government claiming compensation for the premature termination of its airport development agreement made in 2012 during former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration.

The company’s significant development plans included the construction of a new terminal and investment plans in excess of US$500 million.

The two phase arbitration case will now focus on determining the compensation owed by the government, with GMR claiming US$1.4 billion, a figure which amounts to around half the Maldives’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Arbitration relations

Speaking about the arbitration case, Attorney General (AG) Mohamed Anil said that the compensation has been limited by a clause inserted during the original agreement, suggesting that the amount will not go up to the full amount being claimed.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb has since assured that the government has the capacity to pay the compensation.

“Our economy will grow with the special economic zone bill, and our government will become rich, we will overcome our budget deficit and god willing we will be able to pay any amount we have to,” he said shortly after the ruling in June.

GMR initiated the tribunal at a Singaporean Court after former President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s administration concluded that the GMR contract was void, giving the company seven days to leave the airport.

Speaking at a press conference, then AG Azima Shukoor stated that the decision to terminate the contract was reached after considering “technical, financial and economic” issues surrounding the agreement.

In response, GMR released a statement saying that the cabinet’s decision was “unilateral and completely irrational.”

The GMR case also appeared to prompt a cooling in diplomatic relations between India and the Maldives, with India tightening visa regulations for Maldivian travelers claiming that that decision had been made to draw attention to the treatment of expatriate workers within the Maldives.

While relations have improved during the presidency of Abdulla Yameen, Indian officials were reported to have expressed concern over President Xi’s visit this week – the first by a Chinese head of state to the Maldives.

“We’ve been off the ball a bit on the Maldives, and things are tricky again,” an official told the Telegraph. “The Chinese President’s visit to the Maldives is emblematic of that simmering unease.”

During his visit President Xi urged the Maldives to become part of his 21st century maritime silk road project, as well as signing an MoU for the promotion of a bridge between Malé and Hulhulé islands. Xi expressed his hope that the bridge would be named the ‘China-Maldives Friendship Bridge’


Hope for Women launch workshops for woman councilors and Island Women’s Development Committees.

Women’s rights advocacy group Hope for Women (HFW) has launched a new initiative focusing on woman councillors and members of Island Women’s Development Committees, (IWDC) aiming to “increase their involvement in decision and policy making processes.”

In a press statement on Sunday, (August 14) HFW stated it will “facilitate a three day training workshop in 11 targeted islands for representatives from the IWDCs and training in Malé for the 59 newly elected women councilors.”

“These workshops will focus on identifying challenges and solutions to improve the performance of IWDCs in assisting island councilors to develop and implement an effective strategic action plan.”

IWDCs are a subcommittee of the island council and are responsible for fund raising and activities to empower women. Only women are eligible to vote for IWDC members.

The majority of local councilors are men, with women having relatively few decision making powers at island level. The People’s Majlis in 2010 rejected a provision to include a quota for women in local councils.

Earlier this year, the government proposed abolishing the committees as part of a streamlining of local governance.

A recent publication by European Union Election Observation Mission for the Majlis elections in March noted that “women have traditionally been relegated to the private rather than the public sphere of life.”

HFW, one of the few NGOs working solely on the rights of women, conducts various programmes aimed at empowering women and supporting victims of gender discrimination. It recently launched an initiative to provide legal counseling on family law and prevention of domestic violence law.