US Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal has said that judicial independence and politically-motivated threats remain an issue in the Maldives, despite the young democracy’s accomplishments.
“The United States remains committed to supporting Maldives as it works to consolidate the independence of its core governing institutions and establish democratic norms that respond to the will of its people,” said Biswal.
The assistant secretary of state for south and central asian affairs released a statement following her visit to Malé, during which she met with President Abdulla Yameen, senior cabinet members and civil society groups.
Biswal’s visit came soon after the controversial removal of two Supreme Court judges earlier this week, with numerous MPs reporting personal threats and physical assault in the hours preceding the Majlis vote.
Commonwealth groups have since expressed concern that the sudden removal of former Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz and Justice Muthasim Adnan has “severely jeopardised” the independence of the Maldives judiciary and the rule of law.
The US has previously been critical of the Maldives judiciary, noting that it was “not independent and impartial and was subject to influence and corruption” in the State Department’s 2013 human rights report.
The report also described “charges of Supreme Court interference to subvert the presidential elections process,” as among the most significant human rights problems in the Maldives.
Biswal yesterday noted that the Maldives has proven itself to be an “able partner”, with “great potential to serve as a model of a democratic and tolerant Muslim society that can have enormous influence on countries around the world.”
“We look forward to continuing cooperative efforts to address the great challenges of our time –from mitigating the effects of global climate change, to combating piracy, to countering the rise of extremist ideologies,” read the statement yesterday.
An additional report on terrorism from the State Department in May this year reported the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) as saying that funds were being raised in the country to support terrorism abroad. The suggestions were subsequently denied by the MMA.
The Maldives’ leadership positions at the UN Human Rights Council and its recent appointment as chair of the Alliance of Small Island States was also noted in Biswal’s statement.
Trade and investment
The assistant secretary welcomed the broadening and deepening of trade with the US in the wake of the first bilateral trade talks in October – five years after the initial Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) was agreed.
Despite this delay, total trade between the two countries has more than doubled between 2009 and 2013, though US tourists visiting the Maldives represented less than 2 percent of the market share last year.
2013 saw US private equity firm Blackstone acquire both the Maldives’ major seaplane operators for an undisclosed sum, as well as the introduction of the US designed PISCES border control system.
The PISCES system was utilised in the controversial arrest of alleged Russian hacker Roman Seleznyov by US security personnel while in the Maldives in July. Seleznyov was subsequently transported to the US via Guam where he awaits trial.
US engagement with the Maldives has traditionally concerned foreign assistance to enhance maritime security, counter terrorism, and counter narcotics cooperation with Maldivian security forces.
Rumours of a Status of Forces Agreement – opening up the possibility of US forces being stationed in the Maldives – surfaced in 2013, before the newly elected President Yameen announced that any such deal would be likely to damage relations with neighbouring countries.
The US has also pledged to help the Maldives adapt to the negative effects of global climate change, pledging US$7.2 million (MVR111 million) for a adaptation projects last year.
Assistant Secretary of State Biswal reiterated the US’s commitment to enhancing the Maldives’ resiliency and crisis-response capabilities, praising the government and the public for their response to the recent Malé water crisis.
“The United States will continue to work with the government of Maldives on long-term water production and distribution assessments, and to develop rain-water catchment and desalinization projects to ensure supply of clean drinking water,” said Biswal.
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