The UN country team in the Maldives has issued a statement calling for the abolition of both corporal punishment and the death penalty in the Maldives.
While the Maldives still issues death sentences, these have traditionally been commuted to life sentences by presidential decree since the execution of Hakim Didi in 1954, for the crime of practicing black magic.
Recent calls for presidential clemency to be blocked led former attorney general Azima Shukoor to draft a bill favouring the implementation of the penalty via lethal injection. It was met with opposition by several religious groups such as the NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf, which called for the draft to be amended in favour of beheadings or firing squads.
More recently, the state has called for a High Court verdict on whether the practice of presidential clemency can be annulled.
The Maldives continues to issue and implement flogging sentences for certain crimes, notably extra-marital sex. The vast majority of those sentenced are women.
An earlier call by UN High Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay in 2011 calling for a moratorium on flogging as a punishment for extramarital sex led to protesters gathering outside the UN building, carrying placards with angry slogans including “Islam is not a toy”, “Ban UN” and “Flog Pillay”.
Earlier this year, widespread global publicity of such a sentence handed to a 15 year-old rape victim led to two million people signing an Avaaz petition calling for an end to the practice of flogging in the Maldives.
In its statement, the UN team in the Maldives called for the Maldives to ensure its legislation and practices fulfilled the international human rights obligations to which it was signatory.
“The Maldives made a commitment following its Universal Periodic Review by the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2010 to maintain a moratorium on the death penalty, in line with its vote in favour of UN General Assembly Resolution 65/206,” the UN statement read.
“In view of the country’s more than 50-year moratorium, the United Nations calls upon the Maldives to take the opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to its international human rights obligations, and abolish the death penalty,” it added.
The UN noted that flogging as a punishment was prohibited under the Maldives’ international commitment “to prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment” – to which all three the Maldives has signed.
“The United Nations Country Team notes with particular concern the possibility in the Maldives of sentences of death, as well as corporal punishment to persons who committed crimes while below 18 years of age. These concerns have also been expressed to the Maldives by the United Nations Human Rights Committee in 2012, and the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2007,” the statement read.
“Article 6(5) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides, ‘Sentence of death shall not be imposed for crimes committed by persons below eighteen years of age’,” it noted, “while Article 37(a) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child provides, ‘No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age.’”
The UN noted that more than 150 countries have no either abolished the death penalty or ceased to practice it, “a global trend also seen among countries of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.”
“The United Nations Country Team stands ready to support the Maldives to ensure its legislation and practices fulfil its international human rights obligations,” it added.
Earlier in May the Juvenile Court issued the death sentence to two 18 year-olds found guilty of the February 18, 2012 murder of Abdul Muheeth of Galolhu Veyru House.
Three minors were charged in the case, and one was acquitted by the court. The two sentenced to death are both 18 years-old, although both were underage and minors at the time of the murder.
The sentencing led Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director Polly Truscott to warn that the Maldives was “entering new and dangerous territory – imposing death sentences for crimes allegedly committed by children is alarming.”
The death penalty is widely supported in the Maldives as either adherence to stricter interpretations of Islamic Sharia, or as a perceived method of reducing violent crime.
Public opposition to the death penalty tends to rest more on a widespread lack of trust in the capabilities of the judiciary to implement such punishments fairly, with 50 percent of the country’s 207 judges reported to have less than grade seven education, rather than objections on human rights grounds.
Current revision to the new penal code by the parliamentary committee responsible have been challenged on religious grounds by figures such as Sheikh Ilyas of the Adhaalath Party – presently in coalition with President Mohamed Waheed’s Gaumee Ithihaad Party (GIP).
The chair of the religious conservative AP’s scholars’ council and member of the Fiqh Academy was summoned to the committee last week after claiming that the draft legislation (in Dhivehi) did not include Shariah penalties for fornication, apostasy and violent robbery.
The initial draft of the penal code was prepared by legal expert Professor Paul H Robinson and the University of Pennsylvania Law School of the United States, upon the request of the Attorney General in January 2006. The project was supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
“If it is passed, there is no doubt that there will be no religion in this Muslim society that claims to be 100 percent Muslim. There will be no Islamic punishments,” Sheikh Ilyas stated in a sermon delivered at the Furqan mosque in Male’ on March 23.