“Big Challenge for Maldives Government is to Live Upto People’s Expectations of Democratic Reform” – Dutch Ambassador Susan Blankhart

Minivan Radio spends 15 Minutes with Her Excellency Susan Blankhart, the Dutch Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives

As Britain takes over the presidency of the European Union, Minivan News asks the outgoing Dutch Ambassador – who headed EU-Maldives negotiations over the last six months – about her assessment of the recent political events in the Maldives.

MR: In September 2004, following the August 12-13th crack-down by the Maldivian authorities, the European Parliament voted unanimously for European Union member states to impose sanctions on the Maldives. Would it be fair to say this represented the lowest point in Maldives-EU relations in recent years?

SB: Well, it depends how you look upon that. Maybe its not the lowest point in the Maldives-EU relations because the EU showed real engagement about what was happening in the Maldives so in that sense you could also say this was the starting point of an engagement and interest of the European Union in what is happening in the Maldives.

Of course, it was only a suggestion of the European Parliament for a number of measures to be taken but subsequently we saw more positive developments.

MR: On December 31st President Gayoom decided to drop the charges against those who were arrested in August. Did this decision move EU sanctions off the political agenda?

SB: Yes. We noted the dropping of the charges with a great sense of relief. But for the European Union wherever we are, in whichever country, human rights issues remain very much on the political agenda so we will closely monitor the developments to come in the next year.

MR: This year there have been a number of political reforms in the Maldives. How much further down the road to democracy is the EU looking for President Gayoom to travel?

SB: Well, we think that the coming year is a very crucial period. There are a lot of expectations with the people. People have a broad knowledge nowadays on democracy and democratic reforms, a large knowledge, in general, on human rights. The expectations are there and I think now for the government there is a big challenge to manage these expectations and to also live upto the expectations of the people in regards to the democratic reforms they are expecting now.

MR: What specific changes is the EU particularly interested to see in the Maldives?

SB: Well, we look at the general conventions that have been written and have been accepted by the Maldives. The general convention on human rights, political rights… transparency. So we hope that the Maldivian government can live upto all these different elements of the human rights conventions which are in existence.

MR: Is the EU concerned about the reports of a recent custodial death (Muaviath Mahmood) and allegations of police torture, for instance of Maaish Mohamed?

SB: Well, in general the European Union is very much monitoring any human rights abuses all over the world so also in this case we are looking at this issue.

MR: Have you always found the Maldivian government an easy partner to work with over the last six months?

SB: Well, over the last six months we experienced a very constructive dialogue with the government and we have felt a real sense of urgency with the government – a sense of willingness to come to democratic reforms. So in that sense it has been a good partner to work with because we are both I think having the same expectations towards democratic reform.

MR: Is EU policy vis à vis the Maldives likely to change significantly as Britain takes over the Presidency of the EU from the Netherlands?

SB: Britain will take over the local presidency of the European Union as of the 1st of July. The Maldives have been very much discussed within the European Union… [changes] are unlikely because we have always acted as a European Union. We didn’t act as the Netherlands government but as the European Union so we acted on a consensus approach.

Listen to Susan Blankhart’s Interview