The Maldives should take steps to address the rights of migrant workers and improve on issues relating to women’s rights, matters among 130 recommendations for the Maldives made by other UN member states at the Universal Periodic Review (URP) held in Geneva on November 3.
The Universal Periodic Review is a state-driven process that reviews the human rights records of all 192 UN member states every four years, based on submissions by the government, the UN and stakeholders (including NGOs and a country’s Human Rights Commission).
Eleven states recommended that the Maldives seek to improve its treatment of migrant workers, while seven states, including Algeria, Mexico, Palestine, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Philippines and Ecuador recommended that the Maldives ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Worker and Members of their Families (ICPMW).
The Maldives was this year placed on the US State Department’s human trafficking watch-list, with exploitation of foreign workers rivaling fishing as the second most profitable sector of the Maldivian economy after tourism, according to conservative estimates of the number of Bangladeshi workers showing up at their commission in Male’ after being abandoned at the airport by unscrupulous employment agents.
Furthermore, according to information from the Maldivian Democracy Network, 23 member states recommended the Maldives take steps to combat violence against women, and remove its reservations to the Convention of the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), as well as combat traditionla stereotyping of women through education and legislation.
Child rights were also discussed, and 14 states recommend that the Maldives improve legislation to ensure the rights of children born out of wedlock, withdraw reservations to the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC), prevent underage marriages and the practice of having concubines, and expedite the passage of the Juvenile Justice Act.
At the Working Group Session 49 states offered suggestions, including strengthening the independence of the Human Rights Commission (HRCM), criminalising human trafficking, strengthening the judiciary, developing a professional code of conduct for judges and providing training in human rights, increasing efforts to end discrimination against people with disabilities, and ensure that the new Penal Code was consistent with human rights.
UN member states noted particular progress in the Maldives in areas such as freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly, the right to vote and to choose one’s leaders, and torture prevention.
However areas of particular concern were identified as women’s rights, children’s rights, freedom of religion, penal reform, judicial reform, and the practice of public flogging.
Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed, who presented the government’s UPR report, said he “had come to Geneva to listen and discuss, rather than to defend”, and was keen to take the recommendations of the international community back to the Maldives.
Dr Shaheed identifed the 10 greatest human rights challenges facing the Maldives as dealing with past human rights abuses while not putting the future at risk, democratic consolidation, strengthening the rule of law and fighting corruption, improving law and order and strengthening the capacity of the judiciary, promoting gender equality, responding to extremist religious views, and dealing with drug abuse and related criminality.
Overall, member states noted that the Maldives had made “remarkable progress”, and commended the enthusiasm with which the Maldives had compiled its submission, noting that the country remained one of the success stories of the international human rights system.
Dr Shaheed said the government would hold consultations on his return to the Maldives, and suggested a dedicated UPR debate be held in parliament as well as a cabinet session and public hearing.
“A few years ago it would have been inconceivable that a liberal democratic Maldives, with a Constitution guaranteeing the full enjoyment of human rights, would have been represented here on this podium. That we are here is down, without any doubt, to the bravery, vision, belief and determination of the Maldivian people. Whatever happens in the future, it is my firm view that what they have achieved over the past few years is truly remarkable,” Dr Shaheed said.
Read the Maldives’ UPR submissions (English):