The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has renewed calls for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in the Maldives, after coming under attack for failing to address the custodial abuse of political dissidents prior to 2002.
During the launch of the ‘Torture Victims Association’ NGO on Saturday night, MDP MP and founder ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik threatened to call for the dismissal of HCRM’s president Ahmed Saleem in the parliament.
“We’ve come out for justice for the torture we went through before 2002. If you can’t do it, why don’t you resign and go home,” he demanded.
At a press conference today, Saleem said that “since we are an institution working for human rights, we will give support to anyone working for human rights – our law compels us to protect and promote human rights, so [the TVA] will get our support and cooperation. But it should not be political.”
Yesterday the DRP accused the MDP of forming the TVA in an attempt to motivate its activists by uniting them against former president Abdul Maumoon Gayoom. Today Saleem emphasised that such an NGO cold only be justified “as long as there is no politics involved, as long as there’s some sincerity in what they’re doing. Already there’s a network of NGOs that we support, so it’s like any other… we will support it if it is genuinely working for human rights.”
However he added that “it’s is not our mandate to look into the type of allegations they’re making – we don’t talk about things that happened before a certain date. The main reason this is happening is, in truth, if there is no democratic system in a country for too long, [human rights abuses] will happen.”
Furthermore, he claimed, “we have to consider national unity, the state of the nation and if it’s the right thing to do. I would say this is a very dangerous time for the country’s future – as a small, homogeneous Islamic nation the Maldives cannot afford such bitter divisions.”
Although HRCM’s mandate did not extend past 2000, he said, the commission could technically investigate human rights abuses before that. But, he said, HRCM had to “consider the consequences of such an investigation.”
Instead, he reiterated his earlier call for a South African-style Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), “with powers to conduct investigations, take witness statements and issue pardons in exchange for testimony.
“The Human Rights Commission does not have these kind of powers – the two things that are needed most for it are the powers to issue judgements and pardons. We don’t have either of these powers and neither does any human rights commission anywhere in the world.”
A TRC would demand the cooperation and participation “of all political parties, to move beyond the past.”
He added that the commission was concerned about the current unstable political atmosphere and the polarisation of Maldivian society, and stressed that a truth and reconcilation process should not be politicised.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Ahmed Shaheed today said he supported the concept of a TRC, but noted that a “blanket amnesty is illegal under international law.”
“The UN said it would not associate with the Sierra Leone amnesty in 1999. But yes, the notion that we need to address past grievances, find the truth, and through process of finding the truth find redress, is important. I think as the year progresses the idea will develop,” he said.
Three assessments on the human rights situation in the Maldives, produced by the government, HRCM and a coalition of NGOs, will be presented to a UN council in November this year. Shaheed said he hoped the government’s draft would be ready for public review by early February.