The ongoing trial of former President Mohamed Nasheed was again the subject of debate in London this week, as well as the current human rights situation in the country.
On Tuesday night, the Conservative Party’s Human Rights Commission convened to discuss the Maldives, inviting speakers from the government, the opposition, and civil society to participate in the event titled “Human rights and Democracy in the Maldives: Where do we go from here?”
The following day, a private members debate was secured by Karen Lumley MP in the House of Commons to discuss the role of the UK government and the Commonwealth in ensuring a fair trial for Nasheed, whose case was postponed on Sunday following a high court injunction.
Tuesday’s meeting was attended by former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Dr Farahanaz Faizal, former Foreign Minister and current UN Special Rapporteur Dr Ahmed Shaheed, barrister – and current member of Nasheed’s legal team – Sir Ivan Lawrence QC, as well as Amnesty International’s South Asia specialist Abbas Faiz.
Invitations were also extended to the Acting High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Ahmed Shiaan and Minister for Tourism Ahmed Adheeb.
However, after queries from panel members in attendance as to the whereabouts of the government’s representatives, the committee’s Chair Robert Buckland MP informed those present that, despite having initially accepted the invitation, the government representatives had withdrawn.
A Foreign Office spokesperson said that Adheeb had been unable to attend the meeting as it had clashed with a ministerial dinner. He had also been busy with duties related to the 2012 World Travel Market, which had been the primary purpose of his visit to London.
Where do we go from here?
Shaheed was the first to speak at the Conservative’s meeting, urging the government to uphold the commitments made via its international commitments as well as the pledges made this summer at the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC).
Farah was the next to speak, choosing to focus in particular on the issues of gender based violence and rising religious extremism in the country.
She argued that the treatment of female protesters in the aftermath of the February 7 transfer of power had highlighted this endemic abuse.
Farah deviated from her prepared testimony to mention the recent incident of the 11 year old girl who gave birth in Seenu atoll last week.
“The silence of the authorities is disturbing,” she added, before chastising President Mohamed Waheed Hassan for failing to speak out, despite his history of working with UNICEF.
Abbas Faiz spoke next, taking time – after distributing a copy of the recent Amnesty International publication, ‘The other side of paradise’ – to assert the independence of his organisation: “Some still believe we are not. We do not take sides.”
After the release of the report in the summer, Amnesty was accused by Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed of acting with bias towards anti government supporters.
Faiz pointed out that Amnesty also condemned any acts of violence by protesters and stated that it still considered the detention of Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January this year to have been “arbitrary”.
Sir Ivan Lawrence QC contended that the “arbitrary” arrest of Abdulla Mohamed was yet to be proven in a court of law.
The member of Nasheed’s current defense team recalled his previous work in the country in 2005, noting the proven gains to be made from garnering global attention on human rights abuses.
He did acknowledge the difficulty of this task, with far greater human rights atrocities occurring elsewhere in the world, and expressed his belief that the Commonwealth was best placed to help solve the country’s current problems.
When taking questions from the floor, Farah expressed her concern that international observers were often sheltered from the real Maldives when visiting the country, arguing that this must change if observers are to assist with free and fair elections.
Buckland, the Chair, concluded the meeting by saying that he would pass on the details of the forum to the Foreign Secretary William Hague as well as the Under Secretary Alistair Burt.
Private members’ debate
Burt was unable to attend the private member’s debate the following day, sending Mark Simmonds to represent the Foreign Office on his behalf.
Lumley described the 2008 election victory as a “political fairy tale”, but argued that Nasheed had been left with a “constitutional time bomb” regarding the unreformed judiciary, which the Commonwealth ought to have offered greater assistance with.
Robert Buckland, also present at this debate, remarked that the “current government is in a supremely ironic situation.”
“They criticised the former president for interfering in the judiciary and now it seems they are using judicial processes to frustrate a free and fair election,” he said.
“Is not the message we need to send to them that the guarantee of a true democracy is an independent judiciary, and that they had better make sure that is so,” he asked.
Both Karen Lumley and John Glen MP both stated their firm belief that the events of February 7 amounted to a coup.
On behalf of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), Simmonds said that he disagreed with the assertion that the Commonwealth had “taken its eye off the ball” in the Maldives.
“I do not think that is an entirely accurate reflection of matters,” he said.
He said that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) was concerned about the situation – noting that the recent meeting in New York went on for five hours, despite being scheduled for 45 minutes – and that it had pledged additional support for civil society and judicial reform.
Simmonds was keen to stress that, after the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI), “we fully accept the legitimacy of the current president and his government.”
He described the current legal proceeding as a “significant test” which was being “watched closely” by the international community before noting that the government had previously sought and received assurances from President Waheed that the trial would be free from political influence.
“At this stage of proceedings, we have no reason to believe that this will not be the case,” said Simmonds.
“I have no doubt that the Maldives government and judiciary will feel the eyes of the world on them, and that they realise that a fair and impartial trial is most evidently in the national interest,” he added.
The second hearing in Nasheed’s trial had been scheduled for last Sunday but was postponed pending a High Court ruling on the procedural points raised by his legal team.
A High Court decision had been expected on the day after the private members debate, but the Supreme Court was reported to have instructed the lower court to halt its hearings on Wednesday afternoon.