Frustrated with the performance of government institutions, a new NGO founded by MDP members, the ‘Torture Victims Association’ (TVA) has vowed to gather cases and take them to international courts in the pursuit of justice, if necessary.
On Saturday night at the first of a series of rallies calling for justice for human rights abuses committed under the former government, TVA founding member and parliamentary group leader of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik said those who suffered grievously had waited “long enough”.
“But today I’m announcing, everyone stand up for your rights,” he said.
The rallies were attended by senior officials of the government as well as senior MDP members who spoke of their experiences in jail.
The first gathering on Saturday followed remarks by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom on a live radio show where he denied ordering the torture of political opponents.
“No Maldivian citizen was unjustly punished that I was aware of or on my orders,” he said.
At a press conference yesterday, Moosa said the objective of the new NGO was to seek redress for injustices.
“Our main purpose is to bring an end to the torture that has gone on in this country for most of its history,” he said.
Former governments established “a culture of torture” in order to remain in power and suppress dissent, he said.
Moosa said the society was distinct from MDP as it was “100 per cent” comprised of victims and appealed to the media not to “twist” the association to portray it as a political endeavor.
The association plans to contact and enlist the help of international human rights organizations and the UN Human Rights agencies.
A team comprising of “Maizan” Ali Manik, Ahmed Naseem, state minister for foreign affairs, Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad, tourism minister and Dr Ahmed Shaheed, foreign minister, were working towards this end, he said.
At the press conference, Naseem said the impetus for forming MDP came from the unjust practices of Gayoom’s government.
Naseem characterised the work of the society as a “national task”because victims of torture have been incapable of speaking about their
Torture was “institutionalised” by the former government, he said,and families were destroyed when dissidents were targeted.
“If you walk down the road and meet 100 people, 40 of them would have been tortured at some point,” he said.
Naseem said if Maldivian courts fail to provide redress for injustices, the association would take the cases to international courts.
“Maizan” Ali Manik said the association would gather information and records and find a way to make the history of torture in the Maldives available to the public.
Naseem also emphasised that the new NGO was not political.
“The idea is to make sure these things do not happen again in the Maldives,” he said. “It’s nothing to do with what the government is doing. Today, young people have no idea what stocks are. At the turn of the century it was commonplace to use these things in the Maldives – they don’t know about medieval torture devices that were banned in 14th century Europe being used very recently in the Maldives.”
Government institutions such as the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) had proven unsatisfactory and had made a lot of excuses, he said.
“I don’t know if it is a lack of passion, a lack of efficiency or a lack of will,” Naseem said. “Few such government institutions work very well in any country. A government offical will often just work for a salary; they may not have the same passion for their job as a private non government organisation.”
The NGO was “just one way” of addressing the situation, he said, noting that there were “various ways” including court settlements and the proposed Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
“But there are criminals here who need to be brought to justice,” he said. “People can’t move ahead without justice.”
It was “amazing”, he said, “how people who were tortured by the regime still support it. It’s like Stockholm Syndrome – it’s very difficult for many people to talk about how they were abused. Some are very ashamed. I myself find it hard to speak about what happened to me. Women were raped and will not talk about it public. But many people have said they will speak in recordings, or without their face revealed. Many want [the process] to remain confidential.”
Naseem insisted the investigations “will not turn into a witch hunt. We are just trying to gather information.”
The NGO would seek international assistance and funding, he said, as “we don’t know how to go about these things in the Maldives.”
Gayoom’s spokesman Mohamed Hussein ‘Mundhu’ Shareef denounced the TVA as “another voodoo NGO in the Maldives.”
“We’ve seen this before: Moosa gets on a platform to do what he does best – level accusations at Gayoom. His sell by date is up.”
Mundhu accused the MDP of orchestrating the new NGO.
“The MDP needs to boost motivation among hardcore supporters to bring them out of the yellow haruge, and the thing that unites the MDP is Gayoom,” he said. “If you go to the root you’ll find it’s at the second floor of the president’s office.”
If the government wanted to investigate corruption, Mundhu said, “there is a constitutionally empowered body. If the police are overstepping their boundaries, what is the point of funding a body like the police integrity commission if it’s not going to be used? And how can they appoint a state minister like Mohamed Aswan to investigate police reform and expect him to be impartial?”
The DRP “has never had a problem with the police”, Mundhu added. “We’re not the ones complaining and sending letters. When one of our activists was recently arrested for defacing municipality property, when he came out he told me that while the food was not very good, the police treated him very well.”
Mundhu appeared less opposed to the prospect of a TRC, “but I do not believe any mistreatment happened with the direct knowledge of the previous executive.”
Organisers of the TVA rally accused the DRP of attempting to disrupt the association’s event on Saturday night, an action Naseem condemned as “disgusting”.
Mundhu rejected the claim.
“We’re not MDP, we don’t attack and disrupt [rallies],” he said. “At the same time, why is the MDP holding its gathering right outside the DRP office every night – is it designed to stop us holding our own rallies?”
The DRP was also concerned about state broadcaster TVM’s coverage of the event, he added.
“When we saw the live TVM coverage we rang to ask why the giving away airtime, and they said it was a new formula and they would be happy to sell us an hour of airtime for Rf22,000. We don’t have the money for that, but it was nice to know.”