The UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) has recommended “radical changes” to Maldivian law to ensure compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). These changes include the abolition of the death penalty, compensation for “systematic and systemic torture,” withdrawal of reservations to the ICCPR’s Article 18 regarding freedom of religion and belief, and reforming the country’s judiciary.
Following a “Incendiary” session focused on the state of human rights in the Maldives on July 12 and 13, the committee published a preliminary statement calling on the Maldives to “be serious about bringing itself into compliance with all aspects” of the ICCPR as a “critical step” to respect and protect human rights of all the people in the Maldives.
The Human Rights Committee will make a final report at the end of its session on July 27.
The Maldivian delegation to the UNHRC was headed by Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel, a former Justice Minister during the 30 year rule of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and co-author of a pamphlet entitled ‘President Nasheed’s devious plot to destroy the Islamic faith of Maldivians’, published in January 2012.
Dr Jameel was accompanied by State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dunya Maumoon – Gayoom’s daughter – as well as the Maldives’ Permanent Representative in Geneva, Iruthisham Adam.
The UNHRC raised concern over the state’s reservation to Article 18 regarding freedom of religion and belief, claiming the reservation “implicates a host of intertwining social, political, and cultural issues” which will not be resolved until the state agrees to withdraw this reservation.
During the committee session, Dunya had said the Maldives did not plan to withdraw the reservation to Article 18 as the Maldives Constitution stipulated that rights and freedoms be interpreted according to Islamic Sharia.
However, the statement noted that allowing Islamic tenets of the Constitution to definitively supersede the human rights enshrined in the ICCPR “will mean a continued lack of protection for the human rights of the people of the Maldives.”
The Maldives delegation had stressed that the country was a homogeneous society and spoke one language and followed one religion, adding there was therefore no debate in Maldivian society regarding the removal of the provision relating to freedom of religion.
“This is not dogmatic government policy or preference, but rather a reflection of the deep societal belief that the Maldives always has been and always should be a 100 percent Muslim nation. Laws, like government, should be based on the will of the people,” Dunya said.
“Systematic and systemic torture”
Incidents of torture in the Maldives “appear systematic and systemic,” the UNHRC statement noted, and expressed “grave concern” about the low number of cases that have undergone investigation.
The committee has urged the Maldives to set up an independent Commission of Inquiry to conduct criminal investigations and ensure compensation for all victims of torture.
The panel also drew on a report submitted by anti-torture NGO REDRESS, containing testimonies of 28 victims of torture while in state custody.
“Forms of torture and ill-treatment included the use of suspension, lengthy use of stocks, being beaten with fists and bars, kicked, blindfolded, handcuffed, the dislocation of joints and breaking of bones, being forced to roll and squat on sharp coral, being drowned or forced into the sea, being put in a water tank, being burned, having bright lights shone in eyes, being left outside for days while tied or handcuffed to a tree, being covered in sugar water or leaves to attract ants and goats, and in one case being tied to a crocodile’s cage. Sexual assault and humiliation was also routinely used. Many testimonies suggest the only limit to the torture and ill-treatment imposed was the imagination of those whose control they were under,” a UNHRC panel member read at last week’s session.
“Surely this is something that refers to before 2008,” the panel member stated, “but the [present government] has a responsibility to pursue and investigate and bring to justice if these [allegations] are indeed correct. If there is an atmosphere of impunity regarding torture, I would offer that the present situation would not be treated differently by those who would want to violate the office they have, and abuse those under their care, or those going peacefully about their business.”
In response, Jameel said any citizen could bring their grievances before the judiciary and said any question of compensation could jeopardize the Maldives’ state budget.
The UNHRC has asked the Maldivian state to enact legislation to officially abolish the death penalty. “The state itself has admitted that capital punishment does not deter crime,” the statement noted.
Jameel himself has previously stated the government was prepared to implement the death penalty following the murder of lawyer Ahmed Najeeb. Attorney General Aishath Azima Shakoor and the Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz have publicly endorsed their support for implementing capital punishment to deter increasing crime rates.
However, Jameel told the UNHRC no official government discussion existed on the matter.
“This year alone we have had seven murders in a country of 350,000. The country is really struggling to address this surge of crime. It is in the light of these occurrences that this debate has occurred. There is no official government discussion, but there are scattered debates across every section of society,” Jameel said.
The committee is “deeply concerned about the state of the judiciary in the Maldives,” the statement noted.
“The state has admitted that this body’s independence is seriously compromised. The Committee has said the judiciary is desperately in need of more serious training, and higher standards of qualification,” the statement read.
The Supreme Court in particular needed “radical readjustment,” the committee said.
“As 6 of 7 Supreme Court judges are experts in Sharia law and nothing more, this court in particular is in need of radical readjustment. This must be done to guarantee just trials, and fair judgments for the people of Maldives.”
A panel member during the UNHRC session also noted the “troubling role of the judiciary at the center” of the controversial transfer of power on February 7.
“The judiciary – which is admittedly in serious need of training and qualifications – is yet seemingly playing a role leading to the falling of governments,” he observed.