UK Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Alistair Burt is expected to “pressure” the Maldives government to tackle alleged abuses conducted by police during a visit to the country next month.
The UK-based Guardian newspaper reported today that Burt would be asking the government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan about efforts being undertaken to tackle “serious and persistent abuses” alleged to have been carried out by police – claims backed in reports on the country by a number of international NGOs.
These alleged abuses are reported to include: “attacks on opposition MPs, torture and mass detentions of democracy activists,” according to the paper.
President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad and Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed were not responding to calls from Minivan News at the time of press concerning the upcoming UK FCO visit.
However, the government and police authorities in the Maldives have previously questioned findings by a number of international NGOs, accusing their individual authors of acting with bias in favour of former President Nasheed and the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).
Reports of Burt’s visit follow The Guardian reporting earlier this week that senior UK government figures were set to be questioned by politicians over the role of a Scottish police college in training Maldivian officers accused of perpetrating human rights abuses.
Police authorities in the Maldives contacted by Minivan News yesterday played down the abuse allegations raised by a number of NGOs such as Amnesty International, questioning possible bias in the data gathered in their reports.
Just last month, the circumstances behind the arrests of then Jumhoree Party (JP) MP Abdulla Jabir and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor for their alleged possession of alcohol had been labelled “very worrying” by delegates from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).
The comments were made following a a three-day mission to the Maldives over alleged human rights abuses.
Philippine Senator Francis Pangilinan from IPU’s Committee on Human Rights of Parliamentarians said at the time that circumstances surrounding the arrests of Jabir – now an MDP MP – and Ghafoor were concerning and that the delegation found it “difficult” to believe it was not politically-motivated.
Both Jabir and Ghafoor – along with eight others – were arrested on the island of Hodaidhoo in Haa Dhaal Atoll for the alleged possession of alcohol and drugs.
The arrests were made days prior to a vote on whether or not a no confidence motion against President Mohamed Waheed could be voted with a secret ballot.
Transfer of power
Since February’s controversial transfer of power that saw former President Mohamed Nasheed resigning from office follow a mutiny by sections of the country’s police and military – a decision he claimed was made under duress – several NGOs have published reports addressing concerns about police conduct in the Maldives.
Minivan News observed violent clashes between police officers and anti-government protesters directly following the change of government. On February 8, Minivan News journalists witnessed Specialist Operations (SO) officers specifically target certain MDP activists by chasing and beating them.
Anti-government protests have continued on and off throughout 2012 resulting in both local and international media coverage of alleged police brutality, attacks by protesters on police and reporters, numerous arrests and the occasional, almost playful stand-off.
Amidst this backdrop, several NGOs have released reports into alleged rights abuses conducted by police. These reports include findings by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) entitled “From Sunrise to Sunset: Maldives backtracking on democracy” and an Amnesty International publication entitled: “The Other side of Paradise: A Human Rights Crisis in the Maldives”.
FIDH noted in its findings that the government of President Waheed stood accused of a wide range of human right violations, including violent harassment of street protesters, torture and harassment of pro-opposition media as well as legal and physical harassment of the opposition.
“Practices to silence political dissent that had disappeared in the course of Nasheed’s presidency, have once again become prevalent under Mohamed Waheed’s presidency,” said FIDH at the time.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International’s report recommended that the Maldivian government “ensure prompt, independent, impartial and effective investigations into allegations of violence by officials.”
The NGO also called for the de-politicisation of the police, reform of the judiciary and enhanced training of security forces to meet with international standards of conduct.
Amnesty said that several of its human rights recommendations were reflected in the Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry’s (CNI) report which was released on August 30. The report concluded that President Waheed’s government had come to power legitimately and that there no evidence of any mutiny by the police and military.
Following the report’s publication, two international advisors to the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) – Judicial Advisor Sir Bruce Robertson and Legal Advisor Professor John Packer – criticised what they believed was an “alarming level” of street demonstrating.
“Some would want to call [this] an example of the rights of freedom of expression and assembly. In reality it is rather more bully-boy tactics involving actual and threatened intimidation by a violent mob,” they stated at the time. “This perpetual behaviour is sapping public life and hindering the Maldives’ development as a modern democracy.”
However, the CNI’s findings did nonetheless highlight the need for institutional reform within the country focusing on areas such as law enforcement and the judiciary.
Earlier this month, the Commonwealth announced it would be working with the Maldivian government to push ahead with strengthening and reforming “key public institutions” – issues raised in the CNI report. The Commonwealth also said that it was reiterating calls for “inclusive and credible” presidential elections to be held next year.
Following the publication of Amnesty’s report in September, Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed criticised Amnesty International for failing to seek comment from the government, accusing it of publishing a one-sided report.
Similar criticisms of the NGO were made by Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz back in April. He expressed disappointed with what he perceived had been Amnesty’s failure to ask the police for its comments before releasing a report based on its findings.
“I don’t see that there has been any investigations done, none of our officers was questioned, interviewed – neither by them nor by the Police Integrity Commission (PIC), nor by the Human Rights Commission (HRCM). I don’t think that’s fair,” said Riyaz.
Amnesty International had previously denied it has taken sides compiling its report on the Maldives.