‘Truth and Reconciliation’ Commission proposed for the Maldives

A South African-style Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has been put forward as a means of mending political and social divides in the Maldives, following President Mohamed Nasheed’s radio address last week calling for the investigation of past injustices.

“I am saying this as a person who has seen these things very closely. Many people have died. Many people were killed. The lives of many were ruined. Many people’s lives were destroyed to the point where they had no future,” Nasheed said, calling on the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) to look to the past and become “a commission that properly works for human rights in this country.”

In an interview today with Minivan News, President of HRCM Ahmed Saleem said while he agreed “that while the violations of the past need to be looked into, I also think that right now the country is divided and facing problems of politics and religion. I’m very concerned – we’re a small country of 300,000 people and we can’t afford to have such divisions,” he said.

An investigation spanning the time of the former government risked “setting a precedent for a witch-hunt whenever there is a change of government.”

“Personally, I don’t think the president wants to dig into the past,” Saleem said. “But he is under a lot of pressure from others in his government who suffered greatly under the former regime. He is a politician and he is doing what he has to do.”

An alternative to HRCM’s involvement, he suggested, was to create a separate commission “to look into the past with the intention to unify, rather than punish.”

Such a commission would not undermine HRCM “because our mandate states that we must send matters to the courts, and we [rarely] investigate anything that occurred before 2000. We try to mediate and find solutions.”

In contrast, the new commission would “allow those who were abused to ask for forgiveness, and those who were abused to forgive,” he said.

“It would need the approval of the People’s Majlis and the major political parties; such a set up would need the power to convict, the power to forgive, and also a lot of money, because the process would have to last at least two years.”

While the South African TRC had the power to convict following the abolition of apartheid, in practice many perpetrators of human rights abuses were given civil and criminal amnesty in exchange in return for truthful testimony. The project was widely considered successful and a key component of South Africa’s transition to a free democracy.

A similar commission in the Maldives would have to be agreed upon by major parties and protected from becoming a political weapon, Saleem suggested, questioning the wisdom of limiting the mandate of such a commission to 30 years.

“We need a strong opposition to keep the government accountable,” he said. “It’s very important for the president, the government and the Majilis to unite the country, and the opposition [DRP] will not agree to any investigation of less than 30 years.”

This would place Ibrahim Nasir’s government within the mandate of the TRC, including his brutal 1962 suppression of the United Suvadive Republic and destruction of Havaru Thinadhoo.

“The mandate must be to learn from past mistakes so as to avoid them in the future, and in the process unite the country and strengthen democracy,” Saleem proposed. “Democracy alone will not unite the country.”

Departure from promise

Shortly after his election, President Mohamed Nasheed famously asked Maldivians “to follow my example and leave Gayoom to grow old here”, a reconcillatory statement many interpreted as a mark of the new president’s forward-looking approach to governing the country. In this sense, Nasheed’s request last week that HRCM to investigate the previous government’s alleged human rights abuses appeared to reflect a change of heart.

“What he said was that he was not going to go after Gayoom,” speculated Shahindha Ismail, of the Police Integrity Commission and former head of the Maldivian Detainee Network.

“If we were to get technical, it could mean he was not going to file a case against him individually,” she said, suggesting Nasheed’s comment was not a reference to institutions with a mandate to investigate human rights abuses like HRCM.

“Now, I think [Nasheed] is plainly not happy with HCRM and the way they’ve been working.”

Shahindha said while she is not sure “we should go back to the time of the kings and dig up all these graves again”, she believes a TRC “would at least acknowledge what people have been through and at give others a chance to take responsbilitity for what they have done – a kind of self-remedy.”

In her experience working for the Police Integrity Commission, Shahindha observed that “many people report an incident in a fit of passion, but when it comes time to carry out the investigation they withdraw their complaints.”

“If I was going to explain [the concept of a TRC] I would describe it as ‘putting it all on the table so you can get on with your life,'” she said, suggesting that simply the process of being listened to might be curative.

But gaining political consensus for the idea would be a challenge, she thought, particuarly since “the DRP will jump to conclusions that this is about undermining their time in government.”

That much proved accurate: when Minivan News raised the idea with Secretary General of the DRP Dr Mohamed Mausoom, he said he suspected the President would use the opportunity to continue “passing all the blame for failure to the former government.”

“There are better things the government should be doing. People elected the them to govern the country, and in a democracy [the MDP] should listen to the people and deliver. Give HRCM enough money to do their job,” he added.

However Shahindha speculated that a TRC “would also likely see senior MDP people appear on the table.”

“It doesn’t have to be a replica [of the South African TRC], but the general concept has been tried and proven. I do think it would be quite effective. However there is likely to be an initial negative reaction from the public. It was the same in South Africa, it took them a while to understand the concept.”

If former police commissioner Adam Zahir, “who is accused of more human rights violations than anyone else in the Maldives”, could sit in open cafes in Male, Shahindha said, “I’m very sure Gayoom could walk down the street without facing any problems. If people come out I don’t think there will be a lot of people running after them. Maldivians might not forgive and forget, but I do think they let go.”


16 thoughts on “‘Truth and Reconciliation’ Commission proposed for the Maldives”

  1. More empty hyperbole from Anni then... Still, it deflects from current criticism. Agree with Saleem. "He is a politician and he is doing what he has to do."

  2. shahinda do you really think your fit to your job? are you doing anything there? cause we the public haven't seen any concrete work from police commission, except for visiting these jails!! is that all, what's your mandate actually? first of all make that police force a trusted organization in maldives " change their concept of ithurah thahugeegu kuranee in order to hide the suspect" for Gods sake this just only one sqmile .. one thing the commission is lacking is police back ground, more like 5 poodles without the any knowledge of maldivian police force ! , you should understand that police and convicts or jailbirds are 2 different thing .. if you cannot make that organization competent enough please resign there are people who can do better .. thank you

  3. Those who have given interviews for this article sound so flimsy, incuding HRCM head Saleem and Police Integrity Commision Chief SHahinda. Setting the record straight about the tortures of the former regime is a must if we need to move beyond. Its not about taking revenge, but knowing what happend to whom and who did it.

    Saleem sounds like he is flinching from his responsibility. He can't expect to get the human rights situation in order by just having a few children's art exhibtions. This all proves that being buddies with former regimer seniors includign Fathulla Jamee and Gayoom himself has restricted Saleem's engagement in fulfilling his legal duties. I think he should resign now!

  4. I think a TRC is very necessary to unite the country. It is hilarious that Mr. Saleem thinks uniting the present day Maldivians do not involve fixing the past injustices. What does he think is the cause of the present day divide?

    Before you can even think about speaking for victims of Maumoon, you need to be 1) a victim yourself AND 2) not found rich and fame as a result of his downfall. These are the people whose futures were permanently robbed from them. These are the people whose families have been forever engulfed by the ruthlessness of the past 30 years. Mr. Saleem, try telling these victims that they need to unite in the present and not dig into the past.

  5. Can I also say that DRP needs to come out of the shall and start being decent about life. The previous government was not a DRP government. Mausoom can simply distance DRP (and himself) from the very obvious wrongs of the past. But I'm afraid he is simply digging a hole for himself by constantly and firmly associating the past injustices with the present day DRP. Except for the old man, and one or two others, most of the current frontline DRP will probably not have to stand before any TRC and appologise.

  6. We already know the truth. What we are looking for is justice. Every time this government doesn't perform this whole issue of 30 years just happen to come up.

    The state, government,parliament and the judiciary, need to spend time and money on fixing the justice system. Then and then only will the victims of this government, victims of the past government and victims of any future government can have peace.

    Its easier to complain about something that happened in the past. It's harder to take the necessary steps needed to prevent such things from happening in the present.

  7. why concentrate on just the past 30 years?

    what about the injustices during president Nasir's regime?
    What about the burning of thinadhoo?
    what about all the people who died during the conflict?
    what about the use of guns on the innocent people of thinadhoo? and the southern islands?

    What about the brutal beating of former President Mohamed Amin?

    and what about the present injustices? should we wait for another 30 years to investigate the present aswell?

    how about the beating of haveeru journalists?
    how about the knifing of students who protestedg against the demolition of the kulliya wall?
    how about thugs who beat up protests against the current government? is this organized? these should be investigated

    there is a long list of injustices that needs to be investigated right from today till the longest that is possible.

  8. Harass, I agree with you. They do all sound flimsy, and even apologetic towards having to tell the "truth". No one seems to want to take the responsibility of reconciliation either. The comment about President Nasheed's supposed "reconcillatory statement" being a "forward looking approach to governing the country" again makes it sound like Justice and the truth is not important. If his statement was so well applauded why did he have to make a truth & reconciliation commission? If it is democracy we want, how do these people propose it can be had without the truth being told or justice being served.(in a manner that respects the dignity of the victims)

    Shahindha makes the issue of "truth & reconciliation" sound like an empty gesture that has to be made to appease those who were wronged...not to really find the truth or give them the justice they deserve.

    Shahindha's comment, that she is not sure if "we should go back to the time of the kings and dig up all these graves again” clearly shows her interpretation of justice, and the rights of a people to know the truth about their history, or an individuals right to get justice. As a member of the Police Integrity Committee, her statement is unacceptable!

    Saleem on the other hand, seems to realize that this commission is just a farce, to appease those who seek justice.

    Having read this article, it is evident to me that this commission...is just propaganda, and it has nothing to do with truly finding the truth, or making people understand what all happened in our past. Or punishing those who committed crimes against humanity.

    The purpose of a truth and reconciliation commission, is not to act as therapists for the victims. The state cannot assume that those who were wronged will just be "ok" with talking about what happened to them, and have some uninterested people listening to them..and then all will be well and forgotten and "forgiven". This assumption belittles their pain, and suffering. And this attitude regarding the commission puts doubts on the credibility of a Truth & Reconciliation Commission.

    Even if it takes a long time, the truth of our past (and not just the past 30 years) has to be unraveled, and available for the general public to make sense of the madness.

  9. I would love to know who gave the orders to keep me in stocks, chains and handcuffs
    for 6 months in a mosiquitoe filled room at a corner in Gamaadhoo.

    Would love to see the faces of people who ordered me to go to the toilet while still in stocks and clean myself day in day out for 6 months.

    Would like to have an answer as to why I was only allowed to have a bath once a month?

    Surely they can't be human?

  10. The rights of the people that has violated over the past is a significant issue that needs to be ivestigated. However, we need to understand the fact that the importance of these matters vary from time to time. We also need to accept the fact that certain things has to be ignored for the sake of our nations peace and harmony.

    Investigating all this accusations at the present political pandemonium, I beleive, is not a must and would not served as a 'panacea' to solve all our political divisions and enmities.

    Maldives comprise of a small population and the fact is that the peoples opinions and judgement are based on few top politicians such as the incumbent president Nasheed, Maumoon, Gasim etc. If these people could reach to a common understanding, all the allegations will culminate in changing peoples view and perception.

  11. What about the riyasee commission? What about the corrucption? Why are we not sure about we are doing like blaming eachother. We are in so much desperation of revenge that we have been seen from centuries. We should be more concern of stabilizing the economy and society. Let the people decide.

    The truth is we are too ignorant to realize the propaganda which is used to prevent the lies and promises.

  12. If people would and could let go and move on, that would be the easiest for a new government to govern in a forward looking manner. And theoretically probably the best way forward for all - let go and let God, as they say. Yet, being human, we know that theory does not always suffice. One in a large number of people may have the determination and the support structure in their life to be able to let go of, if not forgive and forget, the atrocities that they faced in incarceration or under harsh actions of various regimes - be it under Gayoom or Nasir or even before that. For the majority, it cannot be easy, especially as many of them wonder what they did to deserve the harsh treatment. How it was that one human being could inflict such abominable inhumanity on another. This does not stop with that person but affects their families and future generations and society in general too. What really is justice in situations like this? I agree with Jenny that the truth must be unraveled and a spade must be called a spade if we are to attempt to avoid similar situations in future - yet I would like to see it happen in a way that enable us all to somehow move on - so that younger and forthcoming generations do not bear a negative ramification of such a process, creating more generations of bitterness either in families of the 'persecutor' or the 'persecuted'. This becomes more difficult in such a small, relatively close-knit society like ours, especially if current political parties see it as being targeted towards them, and younger generations within them rise to the defence of things they really had nothing to do with, maybe do not really even know the extent of, and most likely would not have done even if they had the opportunity to. Would a truth and reconciliation commission help to break this long chain of bitterness, anger and suffering? Only those who have been through it would be able to answer. What would be the mandate of such a commission, if so?

  13. Truth and reconciliation commission’s (TRC) as name implies fulfils several objectives and outcomes according to my research and studies. The international community does not give impunity to crimes like genocide, mass killings and other serious crimes committed against humanity. The commission will need to define what the crimes that is unacceptable. These unacceptable crimes can be approved and included in the mandate of the Commission. As a few readers have pointed out, such a commission would allow recognition of justice, the purpose of this to give remedy to victims, create an environment where perpetrator is repented for lesser crimes. The serious crimes will be in a setting of trials with the authoritative power give to this body by the Government and Parliament. HRCM is correct that they do not have trail setting mandate and they can never fulfill such a role. But they are wrong to predict unexpected outcomes of such a Commission without proper studies. Other outcomes of the TRC can be a healing process for the victims even if they cannot forget the crimes committed against them. How they victims forget the torture in jails, how can they forget a family member who has been killed in jail, how a victim can forget the intimidation of Government police forces and so on? But TRC allows the opportunities of perpetrators of lesser crimes, their formal statements read out openly of their crimes committed against victims, victims will free strong if they are in such a setting, they will be able to recover psychologically and forge ahead with life. Even if they cannot forget past, such experiences in other countries have been helpful to victims and seen as positive. The perpetrators of serious crimes will be put on trial and this has been a way to remedy the victims. Additional another way has been to found to assist the victims to help to heal their psychological torture and help them to survive. The other point raised by readers, the TRC will help to establish truth of events, set records straight and let the communities get on with their life. Also the findings will prevent future Governments same type of crimes. However, to establish such a TRC, Maldives needs to accept that the States in the past has been responsible for crimes committed. In the democratizing process of Maldives, TRC is required as a path to healing for everybody. The perpetrators should accept their part and if anybody is innocent, then TRC will help to establish the truth so I don’t see any divide. TRC should not be politicized and used for political purposes. TRC should be neutral, impartial and an independent autonomy, maybe with an international aspect, represented by UN International judges and local judges situated in Maldives jurisdiction.

  14. I apologise as there are few words missing in my writing but it seems here we dont have function edit once you have submitted your thoughts. hmmmm!

  15. What I don't get about this whole issue is the chit chat back and forth between the government and the HRC or for that matter the PIC.

    From a purely humanitarian point of view, I think it falls upon 'those in power', be it the HR Commissioner or the President, or even the Majlis, to look into such complaints (if the President's Office is receiving so many letters from the public, I'm sure the HRC would be too!).

    We have just embraced a democratic form of government for the first time in the history of Maldives, and it therefore follows logically that we have to stop human rights abuses from occurring anymore in our country. One thing we also have to realize is that if we had not embraced democracy, we would not be hearing about these cases even today!

    I don't think we should be looking at this as a 'witch hunt' or a means to achieve popular support. Neither should we be trying to come up with excuses for not looking into what had happened before. Looking into these problems should be seen purely from the point of view of establishing mechanisms that make it impossible for such occurrences in future.

    I think the fundamental question that we have to keep in mind here is: "Is democracy a process for selecting rulers or a set of institutions designed to achieve popular control over rulers?"

  16. It is a beautiful concept IF the previous regime would or could apologize...

    This is the problem... I know One particularly notorious character of the previous regime who would never admit he had made a mistake, and if he did he blames it on others - savagely, cruelly...If he is representatve of the rest in the regime, then, it could never work... If someone is not willing to be sorry for their bad sins, they cannot escape retribution. For me, forgiveness should be made available to all who are GENUINELY sorry, and only God can judge that so maybe that forgiveness has to be in the after life???? However, it is true that whilst anger is necessary, it must not lead to bitterness and sickness. Somehow there is a fine line between anger and bitterness....Rightful anger seeks justice for sake of humanity, bitterness seeks revenge for personal pleasure....


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