Parliament on Monday began preliminary debate on a resolution submitted by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mohamed Rasheed ‘Kubey’ to form an independent commission with foreign judges to investigate torture and custodial abuse during the 30-year rule of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
In a preliminary statement in July following an appraisal of the Maldives’ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) expressed “grave concern” about the lack of investigations and redress for cases of torture, which it noted was “systematic and systemic.”
The UN treaty body urged the Maldives to set up an independent Commission of Inquiry to conduct criminal investigations and ensure compensation for all victims of torture.
Article 7 of the ICCPR, which the Maldives acceded to in 2006, states, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
Introducing the resolution to parliament on Monday, MP Mohamed Rasheed said the purpose of the resolution was to facilitate investigations to identify perpetrators and ensure that they face justice.
During the ensuing debate, MDP MP Ali Waheed argued that the Maldives could not consolidate democracy and move forward without acknowledging or investigating the human rights abuses of the past.
MDP MP for Gaaf Dhaal Dhaandhoo, Mohamed Riyaz, accused the judiciary of blocking attempts by the former administration to investigate allegations of torture against former prison guards and senior officials of the former National Security Service (NSS).
In May 2011, the High Court overruled a warrant issued by the Maafushi magistrate court for the detention of former chief prison warden ‘Isthafa’ Ibrahim Mohamed Manik on allegations of overseeing torture of inmates.
MDP MP Ahmed Rasheed, representing Haa Alif Hoarafushi constituency, meanwhile claimed that every family in the country had at least one young male incarcerated for drug abuse and tortured. MDP MP for Shaviyani Komandoo, Hussain Waheed, concurred and suggested that most youth with criminal records “would have received unjust punishment at jail some years ago.”
“After being put in jail, they were treated as animals for the entertainment of the people in charge of the jail,” Waheed said, contending that torture exacerbated crime rates as victims “lost all inhibition” as a result of their experiences in prison.
Monday’s parliamentary debate was interrupted seven times due to loss of quorum.
Apart from Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ali Azim and Independent MP Ahmed Amir, all MPs who spoke during the debate were members of the former ruling party.
MPs of former President Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) did not participate in the debate.
The DRP MP for Mid-Henveiru said he did not support parliament forming inquiry commissions as such investigations fall under the mandate of institutions such as the police and independent commissions.
“Therefore, for this honourable Majlis to institute a committee or form a commission every time something like this happens I would say is an obstacle to doing things responsibly,” Azim said.
Azim went on to say that he does not support a commission to investigate “only physical torture” as other forms of torture, such as “psychological torture,” were prevalent during the three years of the MDP administration.
An example of “psychological torture” was pay cuts for civil servants introduced in October 2009 by the MDP government, Azim said.
Independent MP for Dhaal Kudahuvadhoo, Ahmed Amir, meanwhile praised former President Gayoom for ratifying the new democratic constitution and “granting” freedom of expression.
Amir claimed that efforts to investigate allegations of corruption or wrongdoing by Gayoom had “turned up nothing,” suggesting that those who accused the former President should “tire at some point and give up.”
“Imagination” the only limit
In May 2011, a torture investigation committee led by former Defence Minister Ameen Faisal was formed by Presidential decree to investigate torture allegations and obtain information concerning custodial abuse.
In June 2011, police began investigations of 51 cases forwarded by the new office.
The committee meanwhile released photos of men tied to coconut palms, caged, and bloodied. One of the photos, of a prisoner lying on a blood-soaked mattress, had a 2001 date stamp.
Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said at the time that some of the complaints concerned “inhumane activities” and violations of human rights within the prison system, while others related to people “who were imprisoned for a long time without trial, or were kept in custody despite a court order [to the contrary].”
Meanwhile, in considering the Maldives’ reporting on the ICCPR in July this year, the UNHRC drew on a report submitted by international 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 withfists 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.
“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.”