The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) yesterday released its report into human rights in the Maldives, titled “From Sunrise to Sunset: Maldives backtracking on democracy”.
In a statement accompanying the report’s release, the group stated that it had witnessed a deterioration in the freedom of assembly and the freedom of the press as well as the “influence of radical groups detrimental to women’s rights”.
“The appointment of close allies of the former dictator Gayoom the new administration these past months, is another worrying sign that questions the respect for democratic principles and the rule of law in the country,” read the statement.
FIDH arranged a fact finding mission to the Maldives at the end of July, meeting with politicians, activists, civil society members and journalists.
The Paris-based group’s President Souhayr Belhassen called on the government to respect democratic gains made in the country, particularly implementing the recommendations of the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) and strengthening independent institutions.
The CNI’s final report, whilst absolving the current government of any wrong-doing during February’s transfer of power, acknowledged that the police had been guilty of acts of brutality on February 8 which must be investigated.
The FIDH report describes how the past decade’s democratic reforms have stalled owing to political polarisation and institutional inertia.
“The 2008 constitution guarantees most of Maldives’ human rights obligations; however these have so far failed to be translated into domestic law,” it says.
It also suggests that the failure of the Nasheed administration to prosecute past human rights offenders has contributed to a “culture of impunity for perpetrators of past human rights violations.”
Civil society that was “flourishing and vocal during the democratic struggle became less visible during the presidency of Mohamed Nasheed”, says the report, arguing that it had become another casualty of the polarised environment.
The report detials the difficulties the country has had with separating the powers of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary which had previously been dominated by former President Gayoom.
“Tensions with the judiciary and the opposition-dominated parliament, led [Nasheed] to take unilateral decisions that exceeded his prerogatives, such as ordering the arrest of opposition leaders and a judge without following due process, or by declaring the Supreme Court defunct. Since Mohamed Waheed took over power, executive interference has continued,” read the report.
Regarding the state of the judiciary, FIDH argues that testimonies gathered from its members show that, “under the successive administrations, no political party has actually ever shown any willingness to establish an independent judiciary since each seems to benefit from the existing system.”
FIDH also notes that the government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan has been accused of a wide range of human right violations, including violent harassment of street protesters, torture and harassment of pro-opposition media as wells as legal and physical harassment of the opposition.
“Practices to silence political dissent that had disappeared in the course of Nasheed’s presidency, have once again become prevalent under Mohamed Waheed’s presidency,” said FIDH.
The report highlights what it sees as impartial investigations of crimes, citing in particular the attempted murder of blogger Ismail ‘Hilath’ Rasheed.
The issue of the use of religion for political gains is criticised in the report: “The exploitation of religion for political gains has posed a threat to the drafting of new legislations by potentially limiting existing human rights.”
FIDH also expressed its concerns that tentative gains in women’s rights, as typified by the recent domestic violence bill, could be reversed if government aligned religious groups push for full implementation of Sharia law.
The report also criticises the apparent enthusiasm amongst politicians for implementation of the death penalty, saying: “With the current state of the judiciary and the incapacity of the police to properly investigate crimes, analysts fear judicial errors would result in the death of innocent people.”
In its recommendations to the Maldives government, FIDH urges the Maldives to remove from the domestic legal framework provisions that restrict individual right based on “race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other statu” to conform with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Amongst its other recommendations, the report urges the government to strengthen independent institutions, to enact relevant legislation which will enable the country to fulfil its human rights obligations and to order a thorough investigation into the attack on ‘Hilath’ Rasheed.
“The situation remains at the time of release of this report relatively confused and uncertain,” concludes the report, “however, the coming weeks will be crucial to test the Government’s ability and willingness to prevent further acts of police brutality and, in general, a deterioration of the human rights situation.”
FIDH’s report follows the release of an Amnesty International report last week which highlighted a number of politically motivated attacks by police on February 8.
Following the government’s claims that Amnesty had produced a one-sided report without seeking comment from the government, an Amnesty spokesperson stressed that the organisation was without political affiliation and had not been the only group to highlight human rights violations in the Maldives this year.
“In compiling our report we talked at length with government and police officials in Malé and Addu during our visit to the country in late February and early March. On the occasions they responded we have included their comments in our documents,” said the spokesperson.