Minivan News presents the first in a series of in-depth interviews with the heads of the independent commissions in the Maldives.
The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) would seem a vital institution to a government that was elected on a platform of human rights and accountability. Founded by former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in 2003 it came to the fore following the death in custody of Evan Naseem.
More recently, HRCM has come under heavy criticism from parts of government for its unwillingness to investigate human rights abuses committed prior to 2000. President of HRCM Ahmed Saleem defends the commission, claiming it is misunderstood.
JJ Robinson: What do you see as the role of HRCM?
Ahmed Saleem: HRCM’s major role since 2003 has been teaching the population what human rights and democracy are all about. It’s extremely difficult – you know the pressure we have been under. We are a non-political body – we don’t take sides, and there is always friction with the government in power. That’s very natural. But while I don’t mind the opposition or members of parliament criticising HRCM, it becomes a problem when the sitting government criticises and slanders independent commissions. Independent commissions must be respected, because without these independent commissions, democracy cannot work. Our job is an extremely difficult one to do without taking sides, and I think we are doing our best.
JJ Robinson: What would be some specific incidents of criticism you consider to have been the most damaging?
Ahmed Saleem: It is not even in the interest of the government [to slander us]. HRCM doesn’t go on TV shows, and we don’t retaliate even if somebody attacks us – you’ve never seen us retaliate, because we want to respect even those who criticise us. When people like the press advisor to the president criticises the commission, that means the government doesn’t respect the commission and that’s a problem because this government came to being on platform human rights and democracy – the government can’t afford to criticise the commissions, least of all the human rights commission. There are times we criticise the government but that’s because we are obliged to do so by law.
The government should respect our criticism, find out what’s wrong and talk to us. We cannot demonstrate our independence if the government gives the impression it is trying to use HRCM to achieve its own objectives, like investigating abuses [under the former government]. For that we have suggested a way: a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
JJ Robinson: Groups such as the Torture Victims Association (TVA) and the Maldivian National Congress (MNC) have attacked the former president for human rights abuses committed during his administration. Do you think this is a productive way forward?
Ahmed Saleem: [TVA founders] Moosa Ali Manik is my brother in law and and Ahmed Naseem is a friend of mine, so I know very closely exactly what happened. These are people who have suffered grievously, and I can’t blame them. I am not at liberty to criticise anybody. It it is the system – the system is wrong.
We must look into these abuses, we must investigate and find out who is responsible and who is not responsible. They have genuine grievances and I think it would be wrong for anybody to say nothing happened during the last 30 years. Abuses have taken place, and we must find out who did it, why it happened, and also find out how this can be prevented in the future. That is why we have suggested a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
JJ: Do you think the TVA was attempting undermine HRCM through its promises to bring in international lawyers to document and review human rights abuses?
Ahmed Saleem: We definitely support them doing that, but I don’t think it’s so easy. It doesn’t happen that way. They are saying they will take statements and submit them to international courts – it’s not that easy; there are procedures and ways of doing these things.
If they can do it we would welcome it, but I have my doubts as to how successful they will be without the support of the opposition. That why I always talk about a national effort – even if this TVA claim they are not political, the people involved in it make it extremely political.
There are people like my brother-and-law who are not political, but I know for sure what he went through. He was hurt really badly, and until recently he did not want to even talk about it. Abuses have taken place in the past, but only they know what they went through – we will never understand it. As a human rights commission we will support any NGO working to promote the protection of human rights as long as there are no politics.
JJ: A lot of people currently in power have gone through some terrible things. Do you think that at any stage those experiences can compromise some body’s ability to work effectively in a government with an opposition?
Ahmed Saleem: Yes, I think so. And I think it is worth making an effort. After all we are one people, we are all Muslims here and almost everyone is related, it’s like one big family. The Maldives is just not like any other country that has many cultures and communities – everything here is homogeneous.
That’s why I’m saying we must put the country first, otherwise we may create problems that affect the country and our very existence. But if they feel like [investigating the past] we should do it in the right way. We will play a major role if this Truth and Reconciliation Commission happens, but it will have to be initiated by the government.
JJ Robinson: You yourself were appointed by the former government, and as a result some of these groups have attacked your willingness to investigate past abuses. Has this position you’re in made your work more challenging?
Ahmed Saleem: Yes it has. But we are going to stick to our policy. If you have seen our law, we can’t investigate any issue before 2000.
For instance there is this case some MDP people are trying to pursue through us which took place in 1994. This particular issue has been up taken by my wife’s own family, the person in question is my wife’s brother-in-law, but it happened in 1994. It was very cruel the way he was handled, and we talking about an 80 year-old man. Putting him in jail and harassing him was completely wrong. They brought this case to HRCM and we had to say, ‘no we can’t investigate that’. Because if we did investigate, we’d have to investigate each and every case or I would be open to accusations of favouring family members.
If we take a case like this it has to really do with the sovereignty of the country – we can’t handle so many cases otherwise. Right now we are investigating the political abuse case of someone who is very close to the MDP, the high commissioner to Malaysia. He says he was abused, and we looking into it because that case occurred after 2000.
JJ Robinson: The Maldives is a very small country and you have many links here yourself. How has being president of HRCM affected you? Have you been subject to threats or intimidation?
Ahmed Saleem: We don’t have threats like we used to have. I was personally attacked, my car was attacked, I was attacked by people on the street in those days, when the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) was in the opposition. The previous government attacked me and my family, and MDP was very supportive of us. But this the life of a Human Rights Commission. That is what it was all about. HRCM is misunderstood so I don’t take anything personally. I do understand when people criticise on street, but talk to them and most people don’t understand what we trying to do. Creating awareness of human rights is the main objective of HRCM.
JJ: What kind of public support do you think there is for HRCM?
Ahmed Saleem: We don’t see anybody working against us, and understanding of HRCM and its work has increased. In 2003 when we came into being everybody felt HRCM was only about caring for inmates in jails. We visit jails because there is nobody else to care for [the inmates], but that’s only a fraction of what we do.
People who’ve never been to jail don’t understand what happens in there. We work very closely with government because if the government fails, we fail. We ensure the government does its job and respect article 18 of the constitution, but some in senior levels criticise us and I feel that’s not right. We have enormous support from UN Ambassador for Human Rights, and with this in mind it is very damaging for the government to criticise the human rights commission. Because HRCM could fail.
JJ: Is there a risk of HRCM failing?
Ahmed Saleem: Yes there is a risk. If we keep being attacked by the government on a daily basis we have an obligation to let our friends in human rights circles know this is happening, and they would not be happy about this. They expect a government that came into being on a platform of human rights and democracy to work with HRCM and other independent commissions; they don’t expect the government to criticise the commission all the time.
JJ: Why is the government criticising the commission, then?
Ahmed Saleem: Let’s be very clear. I don’t think the government as such has any policy on it – it’s individuals [in the government]. Sometimes we find it difficult to be mature politicians instead of activists. I think this is something we have to learn quickly – there are those in high positions in the government who must change themselves into mature politicians, because the things they say can have enormous effect.
As far as the president is concerned we work very closely and I have enormous faith in him. For instance, he has told me personally to ‘never ever give up on torture.’ ‘If you do that, the government itself will torture people,’ he said. He has gone through it himself.
The president keeps saying ‘If we never let go of the past we’ll never have a future.’ But then he might say HRCM’s work will never be complete until it has investigated past abuses, and the next day he says something different. I don’t think he himself wants to dig into the past.
JJ: Who are these individuals in the government who have a problem with HRCM?
Ahmed Saleem: There are a few in the government. I don’t think some of them even believe in the policies President Nasheed has issued. He is milder, compared to some of these people.
I’m talking about only a few people here; these are the same people who criticise HRCM and other independent commissions. You’ve never heard the president criticise HRCM or any other commission. He is more democratic than most of these people and he knows value of commissions. I have great confidence in the president, but he has a very challenging job.
JJ: What are some of the areas in which HRCM hasn’t achieved what it set out to do?
Ahmed Saleem: One thing I would say is the culture of torture. I remember a few years back, on human rights day, I said there was a culture of torture in the Maldives. During the previous government someone came up and said ‘you’re wrong, you’re making a very big mistake – there is no culture of torture in the Maldives.’ I stick to my word and stand by what I said.
You can still see it happening. But unlike before the police have changed; police tactics have changed, and they want accountability. We are working with police and the police integrity commission, and the police are giving us all the evidence we need because they feel we should be investigating [complaints].
But I can be 100% sure that the new government has no policy of torture. It’s been the system – it’s the system that’s been wrong, whether it was President Nasir, President Gayoom… under that system anybody could do anything and get away with it.
That’s not the case now, and that is why [the previous government] was a dictatorship – there was no separation of powers, there was no justice. But right now the nature of politics in this country is so divisive it is threatening the existence of this country. I think at some stage the opposition must acknowledge that violence took place in the past.
JJ: Let’s look at some specific issues around human rights in the Maldives. How important is gender equality to the country’s future?
Ahmed Saleem: I think it’s extremely important. I don’t think you’ll find any other Muslim country that has so little discrimination against women; even in the government there are more women than men. At the top levels there are fewer women because they started late – this used to be a very male dominated society.
We have extremely well-educated young ladies these days and I think we should be bringing more of them into the government. Women in Maldives had voting rights long before many other countries, and the only hitch we had as far as human rights were concerned was that women were barred from running for president – that’s gone from new constitution.
I don’t think any there’s effort being made against women being active in society except by conservatives – extremists I would say, who are a threat to the very existence of this country.
JJ: How has religious extremism affected the country? And how has this changed under the new administration?
Ahmed Saleem: I think there is more extremism [in the Maldives] now than then. I also think that unless we can bring it under control we are going to be in danger. In our 2006 report we predicted that there would be serious problems in society not because of politics but because of extremism, and that’s become very true – we see it happening now. People are misusing freedom of speech and expression.
We have had moderate Islam [for a long time] and most of us belong to moderate Islam, but there are a few – I would saw half-baked – religious scholars who are advocating something totally different. I think the Islamic Ministry has to take huge responsibility for this.
JJ: Do you think the Islamic Ministry is fulfilling this responsibility?
Ahmed Saleem: I don’t think so. They should be doing much, much more.
JJ: Where are these scholars coming from? Why has this suddenly surfaced?
Ahmed Saleem: We never thought of religious extremism as a problem, so nobody really thought of doing anything about it. Now I think the present government recognises the danger, and are even trying to restrict people going to certain countries and certain colleges.
I think that’s very good. This state is a democracy and anybody can go anywhere, but when it threatens the whole of society and the country I think it’s time the government takes action. I heard the other day [the government] is trying to restrict people from travelling to certain madrassas in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan.
JJ: How much of this happening because people are seeking higher education opportunities that the Maldives cannot provide?
Ahmed Saleem: This happening because the people advocating this kind of extremism don’t understand what Islam is. Islam is a very simple religion. I don’t think Islam advocates any violence – it doesn’t do that. But some of these extremists think any non-Muslim should be killed, for instance, which is wrong. They go on jihad to various countries – Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is highly against the religion.
I don’t know if this is anything to do with our education system. I think our own system should work on this, and try to [cater to] those who want to learn religion. I think the Islamic and education ministries should really think about how best they can handle this situation [internally], rather than have large numbers of people going outside the country and returning with different beliefs and only half an education. It’s a very serious problem that must be addressed.
JJ: Do you think human rights can be guaranteed under the current constitution?
Ahmed Saleem: Yes, I think so. We have never had a Constitution like this – it’s very democratic, but it’s not perfect; no constitution is perfect. I think it was done in a hurry in a way, and there are lots of changes that must come with practice. Our own legislation needs change – the Maldives is one of the few countries that has signed almost all human rights instruments, and there are so many laws that must be incorporated into Maldivian law.
This ought to be done by the Majlis (parliament). At a time like this, during a process of transition, there is so much to be done, and yet the members of parliament are going on leave for two months. I think that is very irresponsible – now is the time to do this, before people get fed up with democracy, before they start thinking that the former dictatorship was better because there was no quarrelling; there was stability under dictatorship. I don’t know why the Majlis has to take two months leave, and cannot take leave like we do. They are elected by the people why not take leave like we do? There are so many laws pending and so much work to be done.
JJ: Do you think the members of parliament are as informed about human rights as they need to be?
Ahmed Saleem: Democracy cannot function without rights. So much is missing because they are not in session. Some people are saying there is more peace in the country because the Majlis is not in session. It is going to take maybe 20 years to create the kind of parliament we are trying to imagine.
JJ: How much success has the media had in the last year in becoming independent, and what do you think of its current condition?
Ahmed Saleem: The media has developed a lot. But with media independence also comes responsibility – we need responsible journalism these days. I find there aren’t too many people who can investigate a report or analyse a situation and suggest recommendations for the government and independent bodies. People just go and report anything they want, and in most cases they want sensationalism. And they don’t follow up their reports – just one report and that’s it. The media needs to mature.
JJ: Until recently media in Maldives existed on government subsidies for quite some time. Do you think it is possible to have a fully independent media that receives subsidies from the government?
Ahmed Saleem: In order for the media to develop I think the government must provide some kind of media subsidies until they mature. The media is the fourth pillar of democracy, and unless there is a genuine and productive media I don’t think we can work as a democracy.
JJ: Has one of the failings of journalism in the Maldives been its political attachments?
Ahmed Saleem: The only problem is unfortunately we are still learning what democracy and human rights are all about. That people are misusing both is a matter of great concern – there is a limit to criticising the government and making the government responsible. I don’t think anywhere else in the world people call for the ousting of the government at every meeting of the opposition – you just don’t do that. I wish there was some kind of law to prevent that from happening.
JJ: Would that conflict with freedom of speech?
Ahmed Saleem: I don’t know, but at this time we must do what is right for the country. I’m not saying if the time is right the opposition shouldn’t call for a no confidence vote, it is the opposition’s mandate to do that. But not at every rally; you don’t do that without a reason.
It is a difficult situation for the government in power – extremely difficult after so many years without democratic rule. People are misusing freedom of speech and freedom of expression to a great extent, and that is a concern.
22 thoughts on “Face of the Commissions: Ahmed Saleem, HRCM”
Get real. HRCM is now out dated. They dont have any scope of work in the country anymore. They have become invalid. We dont have the kind of problems now compared to the time when it was adopted. The citizens of this country will be honestly better off without having to pay as much as we do to a 5 member over paid commission. One reason to change this constitution.
Unfortunately HRCM is synonymous with convicts right commission, in the face of the public. The existing commission seems to be also of the thought that it should remain so. The furthest they have been to shed that image was to help Gayoom's son to win a court battle over the election, on the grounds of human rights!!!
I have heard the commission members are covered with over Rf30,000 premium package of 'health' insurance, which allows the members and their family to spend a holiday in Asia. What a beautiful way to exercise their rights. Shame.
I think Mr Saleem is very ignorant of Islam. He should read the Koran with translation and he should read Hadiths too. And from this interview I have a feeling that Mr Saleem is not very thorough in Human Rights as well. He has not given any statistical figures either which shows he really does not know much about the real human rights situations then and now. I think he should resign from his post and make way for an educated person to lead the HRCM.
Saleem is doing an absolutely wonderful job. However, I do not agree that in order for the HRCM to be neural and independent it hast to lay back and accept criticisms from government and opposition bodies. In our country, if you refuse to address an allegation, then it is tantamount to saying that it is true.
The Human Rights Commission needs to stand up for the rights of the people and to do so publicly. If that means publicly negating statements made by either the government or the opposition, they they should do that. They have to protect the integrity of their commission by addressing slander leveled against it.
This is a great interview that calls for both parliamentary and judicial reform (though Saleem is limited in implying this). The point is that we have a long ways to go after 30 years of tyrannical rule. A foundation for democracy is not something that readily exists in our country, but without independent institutions like the Anti-Corruption Commission and Human Rights Commission, we'll have no chance of saving the future of our country.
Saleem is Gayoom's lackey. This is a waste of time.
Dear Minivannews crew,
Why cant you leave Islam alone.And please do describe what is Extremists and moderate Muslims.You guys are trying something you cannot avoid.Have you see the number of people who came to listen to the sermons of the sheiks lately.
This is a clear proof that people don't wanna listen to the rubbish the HRCM,political parties or governments brag about.
As long as ALLAH(SWA) is with the believers you cannot touch a hair of us.
Humans rights are worried about two things mainly.Prisoners and what they called extremists.
When the president of HRCM mentioned that "People who’ve never been to jail don’t understand what happens in there" people don't go to prison for vacation they are taken there cause they either broke the law or committed big crimes. My wife's uncle came out from prison two days back.He had added weight and came out healthier than before.But his criminal attitude haven't changed.Its just two days and he is looking for the policemen who arrested him so he could beat him up.He had already gathered his usual gang to the area.This is what happens when you treat the inmates to five star level.
PLUS WHERE IS THE CONCUBINE YOU PROMISED TO BRING INTO TO THE LIGHT.
There are many people who had failed to get justice,there are so many lab ours ill treated and without their wages paid,there are still tsunami victims in temporary shelters , Maldivian pilots without jobs when there are heaps of foreign pilots working here,racism in resorts and still corruption is at large.
So Mr.Ahmed Saleem shut you hole and go play tennis.
Mr. Saleem is a loan star, thats why he was offered this post by Maumoon qayyoom. His main job was to save maumoon.
This is a great article...
Not only are we intolerant and closed minded we seem to not have read the above article properly. Saleem specifically states that the HRCM is concerned with more than just the status of Prisoners. And why do you think there are so many prisoners?!
1 - Because society drives people to crime. Because there is nothing for young people to do. No social life, no dating, no hanging out with friends. There simply is not enough to do in Maldives. Why do you think there are so many rapes in the country? Why is there so much sexual abuse? For ONE REASON: Conservatism. Conservative ideologies and conservative social patterns. If there was more liberalism, more freedom, and more things for young people to do - then there will be respect between genders as well as a more productive citizenry.
2 - The reason why Prisoners are important is because if they were actually doing a good job, if prisoners were treated as human beings and given more options, than we could progress as a society and they would move beyond criminal mentalities. How many drug addicts exist in Maldives? How many of them have turned to criminality because they have no choice? How many children are involved in a culture of gangs from the age of 13?! Society creates criminals, and its our job to to stop this progression. It is our job to protect children from becoming involved in these kinds of activities - and if they do get involved, then it is our duty to bring them back.
Do you honestly think conservatism and more restriction will be better for our society?! More control. More harassment.
No. Enough is enough. We are more than that now, and it is time we moved away from darkness and into the light. To treat each other with dignity and respect. It starts here. Now. With us.
Saleem just like Human Rights itself, is a two headed monster. Or as we Maldivians say an eel with heads on both ends.
Which human has the right? Its only the white and the west who should have rights.
What happened to Martin Luther King?
What happened to Iraq?
There can be hundred questions such as this asked! Which Human Right is going to give answer?
When the lion wants his share, he will have it is in his own right so; stop wasting time on jokes such as Human Right, this right and that right!
And this slow process of pressing in the idea of pluralism is a real joke!
JJ, in my belief, we Maldivians did not believe Islam by understanding it.
May people want to believe it or not!
It was a deal between a Muslim who was spreading the call of the Prophet Mohamed, and a ruthless dirty minded who was sacrificing a virgin each month.
But now, there are real Muslims who believe Islam and there is no way pluralism can come in unless the people want it. If it can go into a referendum, it will not pass: So ............!
But one thing is for sure. That is if we go plural, we really would know who Muslims and who hypocrites are!!!
Saleem is nothing more than a political hack.
He does not understand what human rights is about and has shown no passion in protecting these rights for average Maldivians either under the current or the previous government.
I am aware of a number of cases that have been reported to the commission. Have they succeeded in getting justice for one single person? No.
The Commission is toothless. It does not have the will to protect and promote human rights.
There are a lot of good staff at HRCM, but they are completely demoralized by the lack of interest shown by the commission members. Hopefully the membership will be changed when it comes up for review.
Dear saleem waheed,
Countries which have all the things you mentioned have not succeeded in keeping teenage gangsters out from the street,rapists haunting the neighborhood,drug addicts begging and stealing.
What have the social life you claim have done.Nothing.
I wonder if someone stab and kill your son or daughter you gonna sing the same song you are singing now.
I never said conservatism and more restriction will be better for our society.I just mentioned that all the western proclaimed philosophies will not help our society.BUT ISLAM IS THE CURE FOR THE WHOLE MANKIND.PLEASE PROVE ME IF IAM WRONG.
saleem is definitely not fit for the job...1st he should understand the economic crisis and what the government is trying to do...its also human rights . why did they oppose in cutting their salaraies with so many excuses. truth is everyone is greedy.
It seems Salim waheed is jocking. He will never be able to prove you wrong with logic and reasoning with statistic.
I cant agree with Salim's view, he is saying that "If there was more liberalism, more freedom, and more things for young people to do – then there will be respect between genders as well as a more productive citizenry".
so Salim can you justify to me your statement as far as America is concerned? i think you will also believe that America has given its citizens the freedom and the rights that you proclaims and it is the society that you want if i am not wrong. America, it is one the country which has the most educated citizens in the whole world.
then lets look at their crime rates. it is the country which has the highest number of rapes, so where is the respect towards woman, is that the way that you should be respecting women being most educated people?
"How many drug addicts exist in Maldives? How many of them have turned to criminality because they have no choice? How many children are involved in a culture of gangs from the age of 13?!"
These problems you have mentioned is arising on daily basis because of ignorance. ignorance about Islam. Islam says don't take drugs. but we do.
so Islam is the solution. lets look at the difference between the western Human rights and Islamic Human rights. The main difference i have seen is that in-case of giving punishment to the criminals, Islam STRESSES OR GIVE IMPORTANCE TO PROTECT THE RIGHTS OF THE SOCIETY RATHER THAN ONE INDIVIDUAL. Thats why it prescribe severe punishment in-cases like theft. Now look at the statistic of Saudi, shops are left opened sometimes without a person but no one try to robe. i am not saying that every thing is right in Saudi. but they got the result from the part, which they applied from Shari-ah.
Mr. Saleem, you must be joking talking about your brother in laws.There are more brothers and sisters of many Maldivians need justice before and after 2000. He must present a bill to parliament to amend the laws so that we have justice. You are a puppet of Gayoom.
The expressions in his photos tells everything that needs to be know about the man. Nothing but hollow arrogance..
A job-title is all that takes to purchase him.
Mr. Saleem is not a political hack. His probably the only sane minded public figure in the country. He is not a two headed monster. He says what he believe is right and stick to it. He does not have to shut his hole and go play tennis. If it wasnt for him, the HRCM would not even be close to what it is today. He is not a loan star. If im not mistaken he has either fully repayed his loan, if not, have been repaying it. He is not ignorant of Islam. He respects Islam and the sensitivity of the Maldivians. All you haters, just stop and take a look at yourself. You think you are so smart going around with your bold words. Remember, bold words do not have any meaning when theres no truth to it.
How could someone respect Islam if he don't know the fundamentals of Islam!!!
I am sure Mr.Ahmed Saleem wants the best for our people and that he must be a very good person. But I cannot agree when he says that the Islam we practiced in the past was better than the Islam we practice now. I think that the Islamic Ministry is doing a great job in spreading Religious awareness across the country and people are more aware of the real Islam now than before. We just have to avoid violence which is not encouraged in Islam which stands for peace.
Yes... Islam stands for peace and "suicide bombings, Oppressing women, opposing development, teaching to hate other faiths, etc etc... This is what the preachers and preaching... to hate all others...
And one more thing.. HRCM should be headed by someone who has "Human Rights" in the blood. Not someone who is so arrogant that he does not even notice a Human Being in front of him.
Saleem should not be re-elected and he should not be given any other post in this government. He should see that maldivian people hate those who are arrogant.
"Ahmed Saleem: HRCM’s major role since 2003 has been teaching the population what human rights and democracy are all about."
Mr. Saleem and his Super Star Human Rights Team have done a great job of teaching the population what human rights and democracy are all about-
With all the modern communication tools at his disposal, 99% of the people are ignorant of human rights and believe the Declaration of Human Rights is a Jewish conspiracy to destroy Islam.
(remember its only a population of 300,000. Take away the young and the old and that leaves us the amount of people HRCM needed to educate)
Saleem and the rest of the HRCM are posers and impostors and this is more ballooney from Saleem. We will get more ballooney until we make them step aside and replace them with more knowledgeable and dedicated people.
And don't expect them to move aside if there is money and prestige involved. They have to be pushed out.
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