The Maldives has backed global resolutions outlining commitments on child protection, the environment, freedom of assembly and wider civil rights during the recently concluded 24th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
However, one local NGO focused on the rights of children has questioned the Maldives domestic commitments to pursue legal reforms in areas such as the use of flogging and the treatment of victims of sexual abuse, expressing fears child protection commitments undertaken by successive governments still remain “inadequate”.
The same group has called for the state and parliament to press ahead with ratifying an optional UN optional protocol signed by Maldivian authorities last year said to pave the way for reforms of the treatment of sexual abuse victims in the country. The optional protocol would allow for international intervention if all domestic legal avenues are exhausted, said the NGO.
The country’s treatment of victims of sexual offences has come under intense global scrutiny this year, with the High Court in August overturning a flogging sentence handed to a 15 year-old girl charged with ‘fornication’.
Campaigning for the case to be dropped received two million signatures globally as the minor – found guilty of having consensual sex – was later revealed to have been charged on the basis of information obtained during investigations that she had been sexually abused.
Upon concluding the latest UNHRC session, the Foreign Ministry said the country has co-sponsored 22 resolutions and supported other focuses on civil and human rights, as well as “freedom of peaceful assembly” during the session, where it has served as Vice President representing the Asian Region of the Council for 2013.
“The Maldives actively engaged on resolutions, on issues related to gender equality and children’s rights, environment and water rights, technical assistance to member countries, and social, political, economic and civil rights, human rights situations in countries,” the ministry’s statement read.
According to the Foreign Ministry, the country also spoke on issues affecting Palestine, criticising what it called the systematic and gross violations by Israel towards the country’s citizens.
While the country was selected as a Vice President of the UNHRC for this year, the international rights body last year recommended authorities in the country enact “radical changes” to Maldivian law to ensure compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The requested changes – made after former Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed and State Minister for Foreign Affairs Dunya Maumoon defended the country’s record at the UNHRC in July 2012 – relate to matters of freedom of religion and belief, and reforming the country’s judiciary.
Earlier this year, the present government committed itself to review local laws and enact potential reforms of the use of flogging, although no time-line for enacting such amendments has been confirmed beyond the commitment to hold talks.
Local NGO Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC) told Minivan News that it had been invited among a number of other organisations to submit input at the time to a specially-formed presidential committee to review legal amendments.
“However, ARC does not sit on the committee which comprises of government ministries,” stated the NGO. “Therefore, the role of the NGOs is quite limited in this process and we are also not kept in the loop on the developments.”
ARC added that with authorities yet to share their report, the status of which remains unknown, it was not possible to comment on possible outcome of proposed reform efforts.
Minivan News was awaiting a response from the government committee’s secretariat at time of press concerning the present status of the government’s reforms.
Earlier this year, ARC expressed concern that child protection measures currently in place in the country were “inadequate”, requiring provisions outlined in the Optional Protocol on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to be adopted into law. The Maldives ratified the CRC in 1991.
Once ratified, the CRC optional protocol is said to allow an individual, group or representative of a child victim of abuse to submit complaints to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child for legal assistance is domestic assistance is not forthcoming.
“The Optional Protocol should always be used as a last resort, and while the Maldives has signed it in early 2012, we believe it is extremely important to ratify this optional protocol at an early date, because one of its key goals is to encourage governments to create good options and solutions for children at the national level,” ARC told Minivan News this week.
“Most governments would prefer to not have a local issue go to an international committee for review, so we think it will undoubtedly encourage governments to create and improve existing services and support for children.”
The NGO claimed that after signing the convention on February 28, 2012, the Maldives was still yet to ratify it, with the government saying that a decision would be taken within the cabinet after a new president is signed in on November 11, 2013.
Gender Minister Dr Aamal Ali told Minivan News this week that she was “not able to [give] sufficient insight” into the status of the government’s reform efforts, adding that the optional protocol was set to be discussed in cabinet at a later date.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Maldives had ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) last year. The CRC has been ratified by the country in 1991. The error has now been corrected.