Translation: Supreme Court v. HRCM

Case number: 2014/SC-SM/42
Defendant: Human Rights Commission of the Maldives
Type: Suomoto
Date trial began: 16 September 2014
Date trial ended: 16 June 2015
Bench: Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed, Abdulla Areef, Ali Hameed Mohamed, Adam Mohamed Abdulla, Dr Ahmed Abdulla Didi

Case summary:

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, in the Universal Periodic Review Report, April- May 2014 (session 22), under the subheading access to justice (page 4), unlawfully spread false information about the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction, the constitutional and legal procedures followed by the courts of the Maldivian judiciary in conducting trials and ensuring justice, and the procedures followed by the courts in releasing information. The commission has circulated this report in the Maldives and abroad. In the report, the commission described the Supreme Court’s mandate – acting in its role as the highest authority for the administration of justice in the Maldives and as per international best practices and the Maldivian Constitution—as controlling the courts of the Maldives. In doing so, the commission has deliberately attempted to undermine the independence of one of the three branches of the Maldivian state, i.e. the independent judiciary. The commission has also damaged the Maldives’ independence and sovereignty, and deliberately attempted to undermine the Constitution of the Maldives. This case was initiated by the Supreme Court to hold accountable the members of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives in a court of law, under powers vested in the Supreme Court as the highest administrator of justice in the Maldives, under Article 141 (b) of the Constitution, Article 9 (f) of the Judicature Act (Law no: 22/2010), and Article 86 of the Supreme Court regulations. The defendant in this case is the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives.

Points of note:

The Supreme Court –with reference to the facts, documents, evidence, testimony provided by the members of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives in court, the Constitution, the Judicature Act, other relevant laws, and norms accepted in democratic societies – notes the following:

a) First, the most fundamental principle of international law is the principle of non-intervention in the sovereignty and the domestic affairs of another state. This is also the foremost pillar of the Maldivian democratic system. The Maldives has the right, based on the principle of sovereign equality and sovereign immunity, to participate in the international community as an equal to other states. It is unlawful for any party or individual to commit acts against national security and interests, as per the Constitution of the Maldives. Further, similar to other states, it is only the executive function (Sultha – Siyasiyya) that can represent the Maldivian state. According to international law, the Maldivian state is mandated to fulfill the three conditions of statehood i.e. territory, the citizens and the executive function. There is no legal dispute over the fact that the executive function has the sovereign power to conduct its own affairs in accordance with constitutional principles designated by the state within the state’s sovereign jurisdiction. Further, Article 2 of the Constitution states that the Maldives is a sovereign, independent, democratic republic based on the principles of Islam, and is a unitary state. The three branches of the executive function are the legislative branch, the executive branch and the judicial branch. The powers of these three branches are clearly defined in Article 5,6 and 7 of the Constitution.

b) Second, given Article 115 (j) (k) of the Constitution states that it is the president who is authorized to determine, conduct and oversee the foreign policy of the country, to conduct political relations with foreign nations and international organizations, to enter into general treaties and agreements with foreign states and international organizations, which do not impose any obligations on citizens, and to enter into and ratify, with the approval of the People’s Majlis, treaties and agreements with foreign states and international organizations, which impose obligations on citizens,

and given that the legal procedures of the sovereign and legal system and international procedures state that acts such as dissemination of information and reports in the name of the state to foreign bodies, to meet international obligations, must be organized within the state,

It is clear that any act committed by any party or institution that contravenes these procedures is unlawful and violates the principle of supremacy of the Constitution laid out in Article 299 of the Constitution and the principle of rule of law.

c) Third, in the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), it is stated that human rights should be protected by the rule of law. Article 8 and 10 of the UDHR state that everyone has the right to an effective remedy by courts or national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted to them by the constitution or by law, and that everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charges against them. Hence, it is known that the final authority to apply legal principles lies with the courts.

With reference to the principle of the rule of law, and to Article 42 (a) of the Constitution of the Maldives that states that everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent court or tribunal established by law to determine one’s civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge, and with reference to the abovementioned clauses of the UDHR, and with reference to the supervisory role granted to the Supreme Court – in order to uphold the responsibility of protecting individual and communal rights and to strengthen and improve access to justice – by Article 141 (b) of the Maldives Constitution,

and while Article 143 (b) and (d), and Article 144 and Article 145, grant the Maldives Supreme Court, similar to the apex courts in other democratic societies, the power, in its supervisory authority to ensure basic rights, to issue habeas corpus, mandamus, certiorari, writ of prohibition, and quo warranto prerogative writs, and while the procedures to issue such rulings have been decided by the Maldives’ legal system and by the Supreme Court’s rulings,

the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives has prepared a report that provides false information about these legal procedures, without referring to official sources such as the Constitution, laws and regulations, and court rulings.

It is clear this information is baseless from the confession of the members of the Human Rights Commission in court. Even though members in court said they had provided information in such a manner because the Supreme Court had not responded to requests for information on these procedures, they were unable to prove to any extent that they had made a request for such information. While laws and regulations concerning the courts, and court rulings are made available to the public, there is no law that allows the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives to write a report containing false information regarding these provisions.

This act by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives contravenes Article 189 of the Constitution that states that the commission must be an independent and impartial commission that shall promote respect for human rights, impartially without favor and prejudice. It also contravenes the Human Rights Commission Act (Law no: 6/2006) that states the commission must promote human rights in line with the Constitution of the Maldives.

d) Fourth, the preparation of the above-mentioned report was unlawful as it contained information that is false, and information that misleads [the public] about the jurisdiction of the courts. Hence, the preparation and the dissemination of the report by the Human Rights Commission amounts to interference with the judiciary’ work and undue influence of the judiciary. It also contravenes Article 141 (c) and (d) of the Constitution and international norms, and clearly violates the independence granted to the judiciary by international laws. It is known from the commission members’ testimony in court that the information included in the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives’ report is false and based on unreliable sources. It is clearly known from the Constitution, laws and regulations regarding judicial procedures, and from court verdicts, that the Maldivian courts conduct trials, as in other democratic societies, according to legal procedures which are written to ensure fair trial. The Maldivians state is one that maintains respect for obligations under international covenants that it is party to, and on its own initiative, passes laws to protect human rights in line with international standards, and the Maldivian state abides by these laws. The Maldivian state has established the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives as a national body according to the Paris Principles. Given that the three branches of the Maldivian state protect and promote human rights, the members of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, have shown bias, undermined the commission’s credibility, been willfully negligent towards the progress the state has made and continues to make in [establishing] democracy and upholding the rule of law and human rights, and has been oblivious to those who commit terrorist acts against the people, state institutions and security forces, and acts that endanger peace and order, and undermine the state’s independence and sovereignty, and those who commit such acts. It is clear that the commission, by failing to rely on credible information and by preparing a false report and by disseminating this report, has acted unlawfully and encouraged acts that undermine the Maldives’ independence, sovereignty, constitutional system, and peace and order.

e) Fifth, state institutions must function according to societal truths and values, and with regard to the state’s capabilities and facilities that are available to it, and without spreading unlawful information that endangers the state, and without allowing room for unlawful acts, and by prioritizing prudent and peaceful solutions, and based on principles that bring out the best results. Although there are rights afforded to individuals, one of the most fundamental responsibilities of the national body on human rights (The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives) is to refrain from acts that undermine the nation and public interest. It is clear that the national body on human rights must function impartially and as a national institution according to the UN resolution passed in the 1993 Vienna Conference and according to the Paris Principles. The role of the national body on human rights, established within the state’s sovereign system, must be to promote human rights and to advise the government and other authorities on protecting human rights, and conducting awareness programs. Hence, such a national body must not overstep into the jurisdiction of any institution within the executive power or that of the security forces or the judiciary or the legislature. It is not legal to make a law in such a manner or interpret a law in such a manner. The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives is a body that listens to complaints by the citizens, and works to address such complaints, and interacts directly with the people. It is clear that for such an institution to act in ways that overlap with the mandate of other state institutions, in fact, undermines its own mandate.

f) Sixth, the national body on human rights must work within the sovereign legal system of the state, in the spirit of cooperation with the branches of the state and its institutions, without bias, to provide recommendations on matters concerning human rights and matters violating human rights, to review complaints of violations of human rights and to provide redress, to advise on bills protecting human rights and revisions for such laws, to assess the situation of human rights, to provide advice in such situations, and to conduct educational and awareness programs on human rights, or conduct such programs in association with other state offices, in order to promote and protect human rights.

Verdict

Whereas the Article 141 (b) of the Maldives Constitution clearly states that the highest authority for the administration of justice is the Maldives Supreme Court,
Whereas [the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives] has described steps taken by the Supreme Court, in its role as the guardian of the Maldives Constitution and laws, to uphold the independence and impartiality of the judiciary, and to ensure justice without fear and prejudice, and according to the Islamic Shariah and laws, and to uphold the rule of law, as controlling the judiciary,

Whereas the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, in the subheading access to Justice in the report, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which was made public on September 16, 2014, has mislead [the public] on the jurisdiction of the highest authority in the administration of justice, the Supreme Court, and on the legal procedures used by the courts in conducting trials, and on the procedures used by courts in providing information

Whereas the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives has prepared the abovementioned report, shared this report with parties in the Maldives and abroad, and whereas this report contains false information regarding the procedures accepted and followed by the courts,

Given that Article 145 (c) of the Maldives Constitution states that the Supreme Court shall be the final authority on the interpretation of the Constitution, the law, or any other matter dealt with by a court of law, and

Given Article 20 of the Maldives Judicature Act (22/2010) clearly states that the government, the parliament and the state institutions must obey and abide by the Supreme Court’s rulings

It is ruled that the statement made by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives which describes the previous, current and future work of the Supreme Court, acting in its role as the highest authority in the administration of justice, and according to the Maldives Constitution, relevant laws and international best practices, as controlling the judiciary, and disseminating information that is false and undermines trust in the judiciary via the above mentioned report to parties in the Maldives and abroad, is an act that contravenes Article 141, Article 145 (c), Article 299 (a) of the Maldives Constitution, and Article 20 (a) and (b) of Law no 22/2010 (Judicature Act)

Hence, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives is ordered to respect the Maldives Constitution and not to repeat such an act deliberately.

Further, given that the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, established under Article 189 (a) of the Maldives Constitution, similar to other state institutions, has no obligations other than those mandated by the Islamic Sharia, the Maldives Constitution and laws, international covenants the Maldives is party to, and part of the international covenants the Maldives is party to,

And given that the Maldives is a sovereign, independent, democratic republic based on the principles of Islam, and is a unitary state,

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, in conducting activities to promote and protect human rights, is ordered to:

  1. Act within the ambit of the Maldives Constitution and laws to ensure the full protection of the interests of Maldivian state and its citizens
  2. Ensure the commission does not in any manner disrupt the Maldivian citizen’s unity and homogeny
  3. Ensure the commission does not undermine peace, security, order, and age-old norms of behavior
  4. Ensure the commission does not overlap with and take over the responsibilities and mandate of other state institutions
  5. Ensure such activities are permitted in Maldivian society by the Maldives Constitution and its laws
  6. Ensure such activities are in line with the Maldivian faith, accepted societal norms, and good behavior
  7. Ensure such activities are based on policies compiled in light of credible research in line with the Maldivian faith, accepted societal norms, good behavior, the Maldivian Constitution and laws, and in a manner that protects national security, peace and unity, and with the full cooperation of other institutions of the Maldivian state
  8. In the event the commission has to work with foreign bodies, the commission, as an organ of the sovereign and independent Maldivian state, must follow procedures established by the state and work with the mediation of the relevant state institution
  9. Uphold the lawful government, ensure respect for the rule of law, and ensure such activities increase the citizens’ obedience to the rule of law
  10. Ensure such activities are free from political bias, and without the intention of furthering the interests of a specific party or to defame a specific party
  11. Ensure such activities do not encourage political, social and religious extremism, and do not facilitate hardship for the Maldives, and do not tarnish the Maldivian nation’s good reputation.
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The Supreme Court’s ‘power grab’

The Supreme Court issued 11-point guideline dictating the human rights watchdog’s roles and responsibilities will force it to “work like a ministry or an extension of the government instead of an independent body,” a commission member who wished to remain anonymous has said.

The apex court yesterday declared a rights assessment submitted by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) as unlawful and barred the office from communicating with foreign organizations without government oversight.

The 11-point guideline also orders the HRCM to protect unity, peace and order, and uphold Maldivian norms, faith, etiquette and the rule of law.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), civil society organizations and lawyers have also said the guideline undermines the commission’s independence, and have said the Supreme Court has infringed on the parliament’s mandate by “writing laws” for the HRCM.

The MDP noted the ruling was issued under controversial suo-moto regulations that allow the Supreme Court to prosecute and pass judgment.

“While the guardian of independent institutions is the parliament, the Supreme Court created a guideline and gave the verdict on charges the court itself brought against the HRCM, we note with concern that this verdict allows an independent institution created by the constitution to lose its independence,” the MDP said in a statement today.

Charges of treason were first pressed in September 2014 after the HRCM publicized a report it had submitted to the UN human rights council for the Maldives’ Universal Periodic Review.

Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed said the report was biased, encouraged terrorists and undermined judicial independence in the Maldives.

MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy said: “This is very concerning; this whole case was based on threatening an independent institution with unconstitutional charges because the commission fulfilled its constitutional and international obligations.”

Only the parliament can formulate guidelines for the state’s offices, he said. The guideline will bar the HRCM from investigating human rights violations without state approval as it requires the commission to cooperate with government offices and orders the HRCM not to overstep its mandate or “disrupt” the work of government offices.

Mohamed Thoriq Hamid, the program manager of advocacy NGO Transparency Maldives, said the verdict is part of “a continuing trend” in which the Supreme Court is undermining the work of the state’s independent institutions.

In March last year, the apex court sacked the Election Commission’s president and vice-president when they criticised a 16-point electoral guideline issued by the Supreme Court after annulling the first round of presidential elections in September 2013.

In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that the Anti-Corruption Commission was not authorized to suspend contracts even if they suspected corruption. The ACC president Hassan Luthfee at the time said the ruling rendered the ACC powerless to stop corruption even if it was carried out on a large scale.

Shahindha Ismail. the executive director of Maldivian Democracy Network, said the Supreme Court is “imposing more serious problems” on HRCM rather than “allying with the commission to overcome existing challenges”.

“This verdict just destroys all the work done for the promotion of democratic principles and the protection of Human Rights all over the world,” she added.

A lawyer who wished to remain anonymous said the Supreme Court’s verdict was an “unconstitutional power grab.”

“What we see in other democratic countries is judicial activism, but this case shows that what is going on here is judicial extremism,” he said.

The guideline has sparked outrage on Twitter.

The former speaker of Majlis, MP Abdulla Shahid said: “Another sad and horrifyingly wicked day for democracy and Human Rights in the Maldives.”

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Comment: What went wrong on June 12?

When ex-president Mohamed Nasheed was arrested on February 22, we protested every night, for three months. We signed petitions. We took to the streets in the tens of thousands on February 27 and May 1. Our MPs disrupted parliament. Our former rivals, the Adhaalath Party and the Jumhooree Party, allied with us. The international community denounced President Abdulla Yameen’s increasingly authoritarian tactics to remain in power.

But on June 12, only some 2,000 people took to the streets for the planned sit-in. What went wrong?

The June 12 protest was aimless. In the weeks leading up to June 12, opposition leaders were preparing for talks with the government, not for a mass protest. The MDP had even come up with a draft position paper outlining a roadmap for political reconciliation. Opposition MPs had ended their parliamentary siege. Why stage a sit-in to reiterate the same demands? Why protest when we had forced President Yameen to capitulate and call for talks after the May Day protest?

On February 27, the Jumhooree Party let us down. But we scared the government by our numbers. On May 1, despite all the intimidation and threats by the government, we turned up again with twice the number of people. We did not manage to enter Malé’s Republic Square or topple President Yameen’s government as hoped. Instead, nearly 200 people were arrested. The police could not cope with the large number of detainees at Dhoonidhoo.

But a president who had refused to sit for talks before, relented.

True, President Yameen continues to rule out negotiations on Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim’s release. But the gesture for talks, regardless of how insincere it may be, is a win for us. The government’s lack of sincerity is not surprising. They were forced to call for talks.

Our leaders were not prepared for June 12 or a prolonged sit-in. Their demands were not clear. There was no hype in the lead-up either. Bad weather in the first week of June, the Dhiraagu Road Race which was scheduled for the same day and the approaching month of Ramadan had cast doubt on whether the protest would even take place. The government, meanwhile, dismissed dozens of employees, and threatened many with charges that carry a prison term. But the poor turnout was because the protest was not organized well and its purpose was not clear.

We are still angry. We do not give up. We will turn up to protest again. But first, we must allow the government time to respond to our demands.

If they do not accept all-party talks and release all political prisoners, then we must prepare to shut Malé City down.

A march through the streets of Malé will not do. We must stand our ground, and we must fill the prisons. There is discontent among the security forces. But they will only splinter if we hold the streets for days.

June 12 was a minor setback, but one to learn lessons from. The international community is watching. US Senators John Mc Cain and Jack Reed’s letter calling for Nasheed’s release is not an isolated event. It shows international pressure is growing. The European Union parliament is with us. We must continue our protests. The Maldives is not Myanmar, Zimbabwe or Egypt. We cannot afford to isolate ourselves from the world when our economy depends on tourism.

Photo by Shaari

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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June 12: Back to the streets

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Photos by Shaari

Maldivians took to the streets for a third mass protest on June 12 calling for the release of “political prisoners.” Turnout was much lower than expected at just more than 2,000 people. Thousands staged a sit-in at Malé’s central junction, but police used pepper-spray to disperse the protesters at midnight. The police also confiscated sound systems and podiums used at the sit-in.

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What’s on sale? A night at Ungulhey

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Malé’s night market through photographer Munshid Mohamed’s lenses.

The biannual street market, dubbed ‘ungulhey bazaar,’ is known for large crowds and a variety of merchandise, including clothes, kitchen accessories and pets.

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What’s on sale? A night at Ungulhey

[bxslider id=”whats-on-sale-a-night-at-males-ungulhey-bazaar”]

Malé’s night market through photographer Munshid Mohamed’s lenses.

The biannual street market, dubbed ‘ungulhey bazaar,’ is known for large crowds and a variety of merchandise, including clothes, kitchen accessories and pets.

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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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In neglected Dhiggaru, people are content

Additional reporting by Ismail Humam Hamid

Abdul Sattar Hussain, an 80-year-old retired fisherman on Meemu Atoll Dhiggaru Island, has seen six presidencies in the Maldives. For him, the worst rule was that of the first president Mohamed Ameen Didi, and the best was that of the second president Ibrahim Nasir.

“Ameen made us all hungry,” he said, recalling the famine of World War Two. “We were hungry all the time. But Nasir, he is the best president this country ever saw. He got us out of eating cereal and millet.”

Lounging on a woven rope joali in the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives’ (PPM) haruge, Sattar took off his dark glasses, rubbed it with his checkered sarong and declared: “After Nasir saved us it hasn’t been all that bad. It’s not that bad now either.”

Sattar is content. He does not expect much from the central government.

The people of Dhiggaru are proud fisherpeople. Their wives dry tuna, and make rihaakuru, a tuna paste famous throughout the Maldives. Their young men take up fishing or go work at luxury resorts nearby. Most invest their earnings into building single-storied brick homes on family plots.

Life, on this small and quiet island, has remained unchanged for decades.

On Saturday, Dhiggaru was at the centre of Maldivian politics. A parliamentary by-election, triggered by the surprise imprisonment of MP Ahmed Nazim, took place.

The PPM candidate and son of a former president, Ahmed Faris Maumoon, won against the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) Ahmed Raazee with 59.4 percent of the vote.

For the besieged central government, the by-election victory was a demonstration of support in a politically charged time. The PPM’s coalition partners had allied with the MDP in March and had launched daily protests in Malé over the jailing of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed.

But here on Dhiggaru, the politics of Malé is far removed.

Successive governments have neglected Dhiggaru. The people lay the pipes for a rudimentary sewerage system by hand and built half of the sea wall encircling the island. The men prefer to work hard during the day and sleep with their wives at night. Political party rivalry exists, but is muted. The economy, unlike that of most small islands, is self-sufficient.

Political party membership is divided according to neighbourhoods. The north supports the MDP, while the south, where the majority live, support the PPM.

Sattar lives in the southern ward. “I go with whatever they pick. That’s not for me as an individual to decide,” he said.

“I don’t know much about that”

Some 1,300 people are registered as Dhiggaru residents, but only 944 live on the island. The majority is middle-aged. Here, everyone knows everyone. Most are related to each other.

“We do not take political party rivalry personally,” Mariyam Hassan, 53, said. “What is the benefit of that? We talk to each other, help each other and try to live peacefully.”

Most people do not have much to say about democracy, the government’s performance, or the jailing of the MP who had represented them for 20 years.

“What is democracy? What is it like? I don’t know anything about it,” said Aishath Hassan, a dedicated 61-year-old PPM activist.

For the people of Dhiggaru, a parliamentarian is not a lawmaker, but an official elected to help the community in their time of need, mostly in paying medical bills.

Nazim is admired in Dhiggaru. Most, no matter which political party they support, have received his help. He was jailed for life on corruption charges, after he reportedly fell out of favour with President Abdulla Yameen and his tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb.

“When I was little he bought me my school books. He bought schoolbooks for my daughter. And recently, when one of my family members got sick Nazim sent him abroad for medical treatment with a family member,” Khalida Hussain, 42, said.

In his 20-year tenure, Nazim built a computer lab at the island school and is credited with the construction of the island health post, although the funds came from the state budget. Most voters said they want a man like Nazim to represent them in the Majlis.

“We are hoping to elect a man as loyal to us as Nazim,” Afeefa Abdulla, 53, said.

“Nazim is a very kind, loyal man. He brought many developments to Dhiggaru. If you go to him ask for help he would never turn you down,” Usman Mohamed, 64, said.

When asked about Nazim’s imprisonment, many said: “I have nothing to say about that.”

A 28-year-old MDP supporter, Dawood Abdul Gadhir said: “If anyone commits a crime he has to pay for it. But I have no information about it.”

Content

Dhiggaru islanders do not have much, but they seem content.

Mohamed Munavvar is only 20 years old. By dawn he is out at sea. But on Friday, he was home because of bad weather. “It’s just fishing. It’s not hard if you love what you do,” he said.

A fisherman makes an average of MVR10,000 (US$648) per month. The fisheries sector is small and dependent on skipjack tuna.

“People ask us why we don’t build bigger fishing boats to catch yellow fin tuna, which is more lucrative. But then, we would have to travel longer distances and we will be out for at sea for weeks. We would rather spend all the money we get on this island and come back to our wives at night,” Mohamed “Gadha” Hussain, 38, said.

Some young men, however, expressed discontent with the lack of employment opportunities.

“There are no jobs here. You either go fishing or end up in a resort. I just finished my A ‘levels. I will have to go and work in a resort probably,” Ibrahim “Dida” Humaid said. “The other option is going to Malé City for work. A lot of young people are there already.”

Dhiggaru islanders have one wish – for the government to reclaim land from the lagoon and increase the land area of the now-13 hectare island.

“We want to own land. We want more people here. Every government has promised that, but its all lies,” Munavvar, the 20-year-old fisherman said.

During president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s time, a small sliver of land was reclaimed at the harbour. During Nasheed’s time, another area was reclaimed to the south of the island.

In the weeks leading up to the by-election, the government promised several development projects. An x-ray machine and air-conditioning units were delivered. A contract was signed for harbour renovation. President Yameen promised a new power generator, a new sewerage system, and said PPM constituencies will be prioritised for development in 2016.

Meanwhile, Faris has promised that the government will develop five resorts close to Dhiggaru.

Excavators and heavy machinery were brought on to Dhiggaru. But work has not begun yet.

With Faris’ win, some hope the island will be reclaimed, but many opposition supporters said they do not expect much progress.

“These machines are not going to be here for that long. Whatever the results of the elections may be, these are going to go from here,” Dawood Hassan, 28, said. “We haven’t seen any development in Dhiggaru for ages. But now that its election time, we are hearing many stories and plans for development. I think there is something awfully wrong in this.”

“Yameen recently said he is hoping the work will be done by next year. So we don’t know anymore. It progressing slowly,” Ahmed Nishan, an MDP council member of Dhiggaru island council said.

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Comment: Living with Water

This article is by Ms. Shoko Noda, the UN Resident Coordinator, UNDP Resident Representative and UNFPA Representative in Maldives.

Today, 5th June is World Environment Day, a day celebrated every year around the world to encourage awareness and action for the environment. This year’s theme, “Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care”, highlights the global citizen’s responsibility towards sustainable living as a way of securing our future; one that is extremely vulnerable for the Maldives, a country often considered Ground Zero for Climate Change, due to the challenges surrounding the element of water alone.

I had only been in the Maldives for 2 months at the time when the “Malé Water Crisis” occurred in mid-December last year. An electric fire at the only water treatment plant in Malé caused an almost complete disruption to the water supply in the capital for about four days. The 133,000 residents of Malé had their first experience of what it means to be taken away the access to one of the basic necessities of life, even if for only a few hours per day. In Malé there was a feeling of panic and worry as people feared violent outbreaks if water became too scarce. Mockingly came the rain, which many believed was a blessing, but this was soon replaced with frustration as the people were ill-prepared to collect the rain water.

The experience was truly an eye-opener for myself as a newcomer to the Maldives. It highlighted how vulnerable the country is to any type of man-made or natural disasters. In stark contrast to my last post in Nepal, a mountainous land-locked country, I had a lot to learn about the true challenges facing this small island nation.

Indeed, the Maldives is increasingly becoming vulnerable to climate change and water-related disasters. More intense weather, in the form of high winds and rough seas, are increasingly causing damage and flooding throughout the country. The situation is worsened by the effects of erosion, which is reported by majority of inhabited islands. Where erosion has occurred the impact of seasonal flooding, caused by high tide, is increased dramatically. Furthermore, population pressures, coupled with the small nature of islands, mean that today many people live within 100m of the shoreline. The result is that the impact of disasters on the people of Maldives is manifold.

On the other hand, during the north-east monsoon when the dry season begins, the now familiar problem of water shortages sets in. The fragile freshwater lens in most of the islands has been contaminated either due to weak sewerage systems or salt water intrusion. The current methods of collecting rainwater in household tanks are often insufficient due to growing populations making all communities highly dependent on bottled water. In many remote islands, water-shortages are an annual occurrence.

The National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC) reports that in the past 4 years, on average 68 islands each year have requested emergency water and water has been supplied at a cost of over USD 1 million. Even though the whole nation is surrounded by water, the crisis made everyone pause for a moment to reflect on the challenges that this deceptively abundant yet precious resource can cause. The country’s vulnerability to climate change hits home where the dual challenges of flooding and prolonged dry season compound each other, a reality which exists for most islands in the Maldives.

Much is already being done for these islands to increase their resilience to natural disasters and the longer term impacts of climate change. Coastal protection in the form of seawalls, groynes, sandbags and other measures to combat erosion have almost become the norm for all islands. The country’s capacity to manage disaster risks is increasing as NDMC’s capacity grows. Community-based Disaster Risk Management Plans are a start in this regard together with the establishment of island-level Disaster Management Units and the vital Disaster Management Bill with our support.

Innovative approaches and localised solutions are also being explored through partnership between the Government and UNDP. For example, in Gaafu Dhaalu Thinadhoo a combination of hard and soft engineering measures are being used for coastal modification to address the island’s prevalent coastal problems. Similarly, longer term solutions on flood management are being demonstrated in Haa Dhaalu Kulhudhuffushi. Excess rainwater will be channelled to recharge groundwater as well as a method to combat flooding that is becoming common in many islands.

To bring an end to the problems of water shortages, Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) systems are being considered the most appropriate solution for the islands in the Maldives. It combines rainwater harvesting, desalination and groundwater recharge as a tripartite solution. Currently piloted in three islands in the Maldives through partnership with the Government, UNDP and UNOPS with the support of the Adaptation Fund, these solutions are already being replicated in several other islands.

In the future, these solutions can be further improved. The power hungry desalination process can use solar energy. Excess water from household roofs can be piped into the system. In combination with sewerage solutions, ground water recharge can improve the quality of the fresh water lens.

The water related challenges predicted worldwide are a reality for the Maldives already. The good news is, we have started employing innovative solutions that fit our current and future needs. The protection and sustainable use of the most important natural resource for life should be a priority for us all. On this World Environment Day UNDP renews its commitment to work hand in hand with the government and communities for sustainable use and management of water resources.

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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