As we look back on this week’s celebration of Human Rights Day 2012, it is important to recall what, beyond the pageantry and back-slapping, this day really stands for.
During the 30-year long dictatorship of President Gayoom, those of us who longed for a fair, just and democratic Maldives would mark Human Rights Day by wearing secretly-printed t-shirts to mark the occasion – printed in stealth, worn in stealth. We took this risk (open advocacy of human rights and political reform was liable to end with a jail-term) because Human Rights Day was, we believed, important – a moment to remember that the outside world stood steadfastly behind our hopes for a better future.
It is therefore difficult, in 2012, not to feel a sense of disappointment – even shame – at what Human Rights Day has become, at least for Maldivians.
Human Rights Day 2012 goes under the banner of “inclusion and the right to participate in public life”.
Over recent days we have heard the UN Resident Coordinator encourage people to play an active role in public life and to hold public servants accountable (no word, however, about securing accountability for the systematic human rights violations that have occurred since February). We have heard the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives warn us that enjoying human rights should not be taken as an excuse to break the law (an unusual message for a national human rights institution to focus on – but not entirely a surprise). We have heard the Commonwealth Secretary-General remind the government (more in hope than expectation) that those responsible for gross human rights violations following February’s coup – mainly police officers guilty of beatings and torture – must be held accountable.
And yet, these platitudes come against a background wherein, in 2012, the majority of Maldivians who voted in 2008/9 have been disenfranchised; wherein those of us who want a new election in order to reassert our fundamental right to choose our government are being routinely beaten, arrested and tortured, wherein members of parliament who have sought to protest against the death of our democracy are being hounded, threatened and chastised as infidels; wherein the presidential candidate of the Maldives’ largest party is being manoeuvred into prison by the ancient regime; wherein the man who stands accused of torturing many over his 30 years of dictatorship announces he is likely to be a presidential candidate, again, and wherein our corrupt and immoral judiciary is openly attacking parliamentary prerogative and the constitutional separation of powers in order to protect those guilty of sexual harassment, and to protect the government from democratic scrutiny.
How is it possible that the UN, the HRCM, and our friends in the international community can let this year’s Human Rights Day pass without any mention of the dismantling of our democratic rights; without any suggestion that in 2012 we have lost, for the foreseeable future, our right to participate in public life and to determine, freely, our government; and without any meaningful call for those who have had their rights violated in 2012 to receive justice and redress?
For those of us who weep for the lost promise of our young democracy; for those of us who flinch at every new injustice heaped upon us; for those of us who wish our former friends in the international community would stand-up for the rights and principles that they purport to uphold; Human Rights Day 2012 will be remembered as nothing more than an empty shell.
Not even worthy of a hidden t-shirt.
Eva Abdulla is an MP in the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).
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