UN Committee grills Maldives delegation on human rights commitment

A delegation from the Maldives headed by Attorney General Abdulla Muiz has reported to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which will release its findings in early September.

According to a UN report summarising the meeting, the delegation was questioned on “restrictions on the practice of religion, the rights of migrant workers, human trafficking, the lack of anti-discrimination laws in the country, the role of the Human Rights Commission and the requirement that all members be Muslim, citizenship laws and the stipulation that non-Muslims could not become citizens nor could they openly practice their religion, the discrepancy in secondary school enrolment rates between boys and girls, and the interaction between English common law and Islam in the legal system of the Maldives.”

The committee noted that the government’s historical position had “been to deny the existence of racial discrimination in the country as the Maldives has a small homogeneous population, of the same origin, pursuing the same religion, and speaking the same language.”

However it had acknowledged that a substantial increase in migrant workers “requires legislative attention”, the UN committee noted.

“In the absence of prejudices leading to racial discrimination in the Maldives, the government did not take specific steps in terms of education and teaching, and culture and information, to address racial discrimination. However, the report says in the Maldives the teaching of Islam promotes understanding, tolerance and friendship among nations and all groups,” the committee noted.

The report was presented to the committee by Muiz, who emphasised the “enormous progress” the country had made in recent years towards guaranteeing “fundamental freedoms and individual liberties”.

He did, however, acknowledge the “enormous challenges” the Maldives faced in ensuring that those rights now protected by law were actually enjoyed in practice. In particular, the Maldives delegation identified these as including “fragile democratic fabric, infant democratic institutions, religious fundamentalism, heavy drug abuse, the vulnerability of the country to environmental threats and most recently, human trafficking.”

Furthermore, the delegation claimed, the country’s Human Rights Commission “was one of the most active national institutions in Asia” and “fully compliant with the Paris Principles”, apart from the requirement that all members of the Commission be Muslim.

“Maldivian law did not provide for freedom of religion, although in practice foreigners were allowed to practice religions other than Islam in private,” the delegation informed the committee.

Nonetheless, the Maldives was “a culturally diverse society” that protected its vulnerable migrant labour population by imposing duties on employers, “including responsibility for the employee during their stay and other requirements”, despite the absence of health and safety laws.

“The right to association and the right to strike were now guaranteed under the Maldives’ Constitution,” the delegation informed the committee.

It noted that while the Maldives did not have any laws prohibiting trafficking in persons “and no official studies or reports had been conducted”, the government had a “strong policy to prevent the country from becoming a safe haven for traffickers.”

“Muiz asked the Committee to bear in mind that the democratic and legal framework of the Maldives was a work-in-progress,” the committee noted.

Delegation confronted

In contrast to the Maldives’ position that racial discrimination did not exist, the committee observed that cases of hostility and ill-treatment of the country’s increasingly large number of migrant workers – half the country’s total workforce – had been reported.

“The Maldives should consider acceding to conventions concerned with the rights of non-citizens and amend relevant regulations to allow non-Muslims to acquire Maldivian citizenship,” the committee suggested, and noted that there was “still no anti-discrimination legislation” active in the Maldives.

“It is necessary for the State party to enact legislation on prohibition of incitement to national, racial or religious hatred,” the committee stated.

The committee observed that there was a lack of demographic information on the Maldives, given the extensive size of its foreign labour force, and that “it would be useful to investigate whether there are tensions between Maldivian citizens and foreign workers.”

“Restrictions on the rights of migrants and other foreigners to prohibit the practice of religions other than Islam, except in private, were of concern as well. Was any one Maldivian citizen married to an individual practicing a different religion?” one committee member asked.

Delegation defends

In response to the committee’s questioning, the Maldives delegation contended that the Maldives had “capacity constraints” and “relied on the support of international organisations”, in which case the committee noted “a report longer than three pages would have been appreciated.”

Regarding the committee’s questioning on freedom of religion, the delegation noted that the Maldives maintained a reservation to article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on freedom of religion “and there were currently no plans to withdraw that reservation.

“This was a reflection of the deep societal belief that the Maldives always had been and wished to remain a 100 percent Muslim nation,” the delegation informed the committee, adding that “Muslims and non-Muslims lived harmoniously in the Maldives.”

“It was not true that under the new Constitution existing citizens could be arbitrarily deprived of their nationality if they were to stop practicing Islam. The Constitution was very clear on this point: no citizen could be deprived of his or her nationality under any circumstance. The Muslim-only clause under the citizenship article of the Constitution only applied to non-Maldivians wishing to become naturalised,” the committee reported.

The delegation acknowledged “increased reports of mistreatment of migrant workers by their employers”, but noted that the Maldives placed high importance on acceding to the eight core Conventions of the International Labor Organisation (ILO).

It also argued that “some of the rights and privileges enjoyed by foreign workers were even better that those enjoyed by Maldivians themselves”, such as those mandating the provision of food and accommodation for foreign workers.

“Foreign workers were not discriminated against in any way in the Maldives,” the delegation informed the committee.

In his concluding remarks, Muiz observed that the exercise of appearing before the committee “was tougher than even appearing before the parliament of the Maldives.”

Read the full summary


19 thoughts on “UN Committee grills Maldives delegation on human rights commitment”

  1. Interesting observation.

    "no citizen could be deprived of his or her nationality under any circumstance. The Muslim-only clause under the citizenship article of the Constitution only applied to non-Maldivians wishing to become naturalised"

    Is this a factual statement?

    Is this delegation empowered to interpret the constitution?-

    As far as I'm aware, it remains a crime under Islamic sharia to stop practicing Islam. In fact, there have been cases where non-believers have been dragged to court and forced to declare their faith to avoid further prosecution.

    If the constitution guarantees the citizenship, despite his non-Muslim status, then a person's constitutional rights cannot be taken away just because a person chooses to declare his disbelief.

    Therefore, if the committee's statements are correct, then the courts are wrong - and the laws are wrong in prosecuting non-Muslims.

  2. No wonder y government relaxing the labour rules .. Allowing mo n mo .. Mmmmm b careful adhaalath ha ha

  3. It is noteworthy that we still have not yet achieved full fusion of 24th chromosome to become highly intelligent, we should be allowed to live as primate. Human rights, freedom are still a distant reality for Maldives. We want live in the Dark Age, enslaved by ideologies that enslave human being and convert them to subhuman. We cannot come under any UN convention; we should be a protected species’.

  4. @yaamyn

    Valid points.

    The sweeping statement enshrined in the Constitution stating that no regulations shall contravene Islamic beliefs in itself ensures all citizens are breaking the law.

    We earn nearly all our income from tourism, which encourages amongst the gravest sins, fornication and alcohol consumption.

    We depend on this income. We are in contravention of our constitution and breaking our own laws, just by being alive.

  5. Denial and lies through and through! How can Maldivians say that the Bangladeshis have better facilities than Maldivians? They are treated lower than dogs in this country. Sad but true!

    And yeah! When did the constitution change so that Maldivians could be any other than Muslim? Has everyone forgotten Nazim's case already? What a load of bullshit? Why do they even report to the Committee when they have to lie their way through it? I wonder when things will change in this country...not only superficially but in principle?

  6. Hypocrisy to Extremes; in reality there is discrimination in Maldives among themselves. There is discrimination between atolls and also between islands. The north Maldivians discriminate the southerners. This is a fact and it’s true.
    In case foreigners all most all Maldivians hates and despise The Bangalhis openly and Maldives is not a proper place for them to come for jobs seeking. Before the situation get worse it is better for them to depart and never to return, the Maldivians don’t need them at all.

  7. we have enough problems already in our country. so no need to create more problems by acceding to international covenants on gay lesbian rights, permanent citizenship for disbelievers etc. Those countries that have ratified these covenants had done so because they had a sizeable population of all these types of ppl to start with. It seems as if the whole human rights things revolves about the rights of gays/lesbians and the right to disbelieve in god. That cannot surely be all there is about human rights. if it is who defined human rights that way? does he/or she or it has a right to interpret human rights in that particular way for us? what a farce!

  8. “Foreign workers were not discriminated against in any way in the Maldives,” - A blatent lie.
    “some of the rights and privileges enjoyed by foreign workers were even better that those enjoyed by Maldivians themselves”
    While it is true that they have a provision for food on top of their salary and accommodation, it is a joke. They can only afford to eat really boring food and the places where they sleep, I think a lot of us already know that it is not really fit for humans (or animals in some cases).
    And I don't want to even get started on the issue of religion!

  9. Does this great 'fusion of 24th chromosome' mean a small island country should go on spending millions on a global human rights plan, while the population lives lives in poverty.

  10. I am a die hard supporter of Anni and Dr Waheed. However, I find it appauling that over 300 kids are not going to school. This is mandatory in our constitution and both must take responsibility and appropriate actions immediately to send those kids to school. Meantime, the religious factions are forcing their girls not to go to school. I think we should arrest these parents to ensure all the kids especially the girls are given an equal opportunity to study. I want the administration to take immediate and necessary steps.

  11. whats puts the whole report to shame they equated race = religion which is wrong. As if equating a certain religion with a certain race. In there arises a arises a certain prejudice and fundamental philosophical problems within the topic which the report actually touched.

    This has really turned me off in further reading this.

  12. These are highly sensitive issues.

    I have always said and will maintain that the precursor to the discussion of these issues should be a decent education system which allows for our population to learn;

    - Common sense and critical thinking (the ability to think without revision papers and rote-learning materials).

    - General knowledge about the world, about other cultures and how to use the internet to learn more than your friend's current twitter status.

    - How to be interested in and acquire knowledge.

    Our current educational levels have given us a youth-population which is mostly dependent on teachers, propagandists and lowest common denominator entertainment for their information. Given these conditions there is a very real chance that a discourse on human rights will invite a violent backlash from the local community. A lot of the concepts discussed in this article are not accepted by even the most "liberal" coffee crowds discussing world politics out there.

  13. "A lot of the concepts discussed in this article are not accepted by even the most “liberal” coffee crowds discussing world politics out there."

    Absolutely, not just unaccepted, some concepts are not even comprehended.

  14. @peasant

    Don't forget, islam demands no compulsion (according to the quran), yet islam is enforced under threat of death, ostracization and violence.

  15. The committe doesn't talk about gay/lesbian/disbeliever rights but about unacceptable discrimination towards Maldivians and foreigners who believe in other religions than Islam.

  16. AG and the current Maldivian government should be taken to International Criminal Court for grossly and neglectfully misrepresenting this country in front of the international community.

    Our country has a history that dates as far back as 300 BC (Before Christ which means before Islam). How can the AG representing our government claim that:

    "This was a reflection of the deep societal belief that the Maldives always had been and wished to remain a 100 percent Muslim nation”

    The first inhabitants of our country were the ancestors of 'Giraavaru' people. They are descendants of Tivaru people of Tamil origin. Their arrival predates Buddhism, which came and the ancestors of Dhivehi people, who arrived much later in 2500 - 1700 BC.

    Maldives practiced a ritualistic Hindu practice of venerating Suraya 'the god of sun.' In 1153 AD Maldives supposedly converted to Islam peacefully and in unison. However there is a lot of evidence to point to the contrary.

    He mentions that the "Muslim-only" clause exists so that other citizens don't get naturalised and become Maldivians. Doesn't this inadvertently imply that we have no problems with Muslims becoming naturalised Maldivian citizens? Isn't that discriminatory.

    Here's a clue. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights applies to everyone everywhere. Therefore it is also subject to this ancient ocean kingdom that has witnessed many religious patterns. Gayyoom introduced Islamisation as a political tool during his 30-year rule.

    The sychretic liberal version of Islam which accommodated pre Islamic practices and beliefs was severely affected by several factors. Firstly through the influx of religious scholars who had returned after perusing studies in the Middle East. Secondly through youth who became radicalised due to disenfranchisement with the societal identity and modernity. Thirdly through transational waves of Islam and globalisation. Fourthly by way of adverse effects of American foreign policy in the Middle East.

  17. I think it would be much better if un committee could teach some of those to some African nations where half of the population is in slavery and hunger .. Why are they so interested in 250,000 population, while there are many other countries which needs help on human rights, also it's our right to have our own constitution! If the foreign workers doesn't like what's in our constitution they are free to leave! Thank you

  18. maldives is the most dense nation in the world, with only 2% of its territory as land, these resources are barely sufficient for its own existing popultation, it cannot sustain any migration. i wish people can look beyond the very obvious straw man being presented by minivan here. this government will rob us of everything we have, our land, our identity, our nationality.


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