How the seat was won: Maldives on the Human Rights Council

The Maldives has secured a seat in the UN Human Rights Council, the first time the country has won a seat at a major UN body.

Lobbying for candidature began in March this year, when Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Ahmed Shaheed spoke in front of an audience of world leaders at the 13th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

At the time, Dr Shaheed told Minivan News the Maldives was running for candidature because of the country’s “own positive experience with the international human rights system,” and added, “we understand, through first-hand experience, [the council’s] value and its capacity to bring about change.”

Dr Shaheed then visited New York in April to seek further support from UN member states and had a special meeting with members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

There were four available seats for Asia in the Human Rights Council and five candidates. The other four candidates were Malaysia, Thailand, Qatar and Iran.

How the seat was won

Iran recently withdrew its candidature, leaving the four seats open for all four remaining candidates to win a seat on the council. Dr Shaheed said Iran withdrew its candidacy “because they knew they would not be able to contest against the other countries.”

When hearing of the secured seat in the council, Dr Shaheed said, “as the smallest and poorest country in the race, there was a lot of speculation as to whether the Maldives would be able to stay in the race and compete against the more influential states, but in the end we were able to mount the most intensive campaign and perhaps the most credible candidature.”

Dr Shaheed said, “in March, I estimated we would lose. But we worked very hard and within two weeks it was made clear we would take one of the four [winning seats].”

Because of Iran’s withdrawal, all four remaining countries are guaranteed a seat in the council, although elections are still required to take place. A vote will be cast at the UN’s Headquarters in New York on 13 May, when the final results will be announced.

Dr Shaheed said he suspects not every country will get the necessary 51% of votes from UN member states that are required to attain candidacy, but since there is no more competition, the results will simply show the ranking. He believes the Maldives could even be number one.

The minister said he believed gaining a seat in the Human Rights Council would improve human rights within the country because it will give the Maldives greater access to resources and more UN systems which will help regulate and improve current laws and regulations in the country.

“There will be more opportunities to reinforce strength in the domestic agenda of human rights,” he said.

Dr Shaheed said the Human Rights Council is seen as “top players” in the international human rights arena, and a seat for the Maldives shows “we are seen as a country doing quite well regarding human rights.”

The Maldives will hold a seat in the council for three years, and the current mission in Geneva will be in charge of the work relating to the council.

Human Rights Commission of the Maldives

President of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) Ahmed Saleem said he was “very delighted” the Maldives won the seat in the council, as it “reflects well on us, as well.”

He said although the HRCM “are not part of the government, the membership has been possible also partly because of the way the human rights commission has performed.”

Saleem said the membership “comes with a lot of responsibility” as they will now deal with “everything” concerning international human rights. He noted the Maldives will now be under “very close scrutiny, so we have to set an example for everybody else.”

He said the government works very closely with the commission, and “I have seen positive change. This is a very good opportunity for the government to realise [they have] to make necessary changes.”

Saleem noted the commission “does not criticise the government unnecessarily” but tries to help the government by pointing out the problems the country is facing concerning human rights. He said unless the government takes the HRCM’s recommendations seriously, “the international community is not going to look positively on the government.”

He is sure the Maldives’ membership in the council will improve human rights in the country, “because the government also will have to act very positively now, there has to be room for improvement in the way the government reacts to human rights issues.”

Saleem added he had “always been very positive about this commitment because it’s good for us. We can take advantage.”

Saleem said membership also meant the Maldives could run for presidency of the Human Rights Council as it’s the Asian group’s turn, “but I think it’s too early. We should be content in being a member of the Human Rights Council itself. It’s the first time we are there.”

He said if the Maldives performed well, they could think of running for presidency the next time they have the opportunity.

He claimed HRCM was “one of the best in South Asia”, as most other countries in the region except India “don’t have commissions that are credible.” But he noted the HRCM was not working at its full potential because it is not yet a full member of either the International Criminal Court (ICC) or the Asia Pacific Forum (APF).

“We want very badly to be full members of the ICC and APF,” Saleem said, “our work suffers because we’re not full members. Everybody knows we work much better than most other members that are full members…but there is nothing they can do.”

The reason the HRCM can’t become a full member of these organisations is directly related to freedom of religion, he claimed.

“The HRCM legislation states that all members be Muslim,” Saleem explained, and noted that international human rights bodies see this as a violation of human rights.

Saleem proposed it be changed to say “all members must be Maldivian” but not to specify they must be Muslim, as the country’s Constitution already states that all citizens must be Muslim. “That would fix everything,” he said.

He added the government and the Attorney General “are working on it. It’s no big deal.”

“HRCM should be able to work well, fully and effectively, but we are not able to work to our full capacity,” Saleem said. He noted membership in the Human Rights Council was “a very good opportunity” for the government to do something about the Maldives gaining full membership in the ICC and APF.

He said, overall, “I am very delighted. I hope things will change positively…and hopefully there will be marked improvements.”


20 thoughts on “How the seat was won: Maldives on the Human Rights Council”

  1. Congrats for winning a seat out of 4 available seats by competing with 3 other candidates. Good work, Dr. Shaheed.

  2. Please stop this nonsense! If the government was serious about human rights it would take action to protect our rights at home and not blow our scare recources on campaigning to get a seat on some fancy council overseas.

  3. Congrats. This is excellent for the Maldives.

    However, the article seems to give all the credit to Dr. Shaheed. It does not mention the formidable team behind him that did all the lobbying from the Maldivian embassies in NY, Geneva and London.

  4. Good job cuddles. By far the best minister in the nasheed administration

  5. ya people, all the best to Dr Shaheed. That's why DRP want to vote him out of the Nasheed administration. congrats to Dr Shaheed

  6. Lets just wait and see where Maldives get ranked after the votes. A bit premature to be celebrating just yet I thought.

  7. Diplomacy has a way of working. " You scratch my back and I will scratch yours too". Fine thing for Maldives to have won a seat. But yet, it would be worth to take a closer look at our track record. However, all these are more recent developments with a high return price to pay. Internation supoprt can be lobbied by playing into the hands of certain countries or lobby groups.... especially the lobby backed by the "jewish" Israeli state. The jewish population in the states is not a mojority, but they still have a very strong influence and say in determining the the winning candidate in any presidential election in USA. This is exactly what is happening. Maldives, led by the likes of our current FM and the government are looking for international support to a "failing government" and there are some elements who would do anything. The diplomatics ties with Kosovo and Israel and how it came about are still something that needs an account from the FM. We just have to wait and see.

  8. Maldives' seat was secured after Iran's withdrawal, not won. However, the full set of Human Rights will anyway never be practiced in Maldives with Shari'a in place. That's just a fact.

  9. Lucky man Dr.Shaheed. This is what "politicians" should aspire to in Maldives. To prove their worth by achievement, hard work and the ability to organize and mobilize the resources handed to them. Not paste an "insert here" sign on their backsides for the next party leader to poke their strings in. People like Dr.Shaheed will never go out of vogue. Meanwhile a certain pack of wannabe politicians may soon realize that their inability to put paid to their big talk will end in early resignation from the political arena.

  10. All due congratulations to the hard work of the Ministry and the government.

    Nevertheless, I must say that the Maldives has a lot of catching up to do on the human rights thing.

  11. Is this the guy opposition thought was incompetent for FM. Damn! u showed some good character. I must say FM is working hard on such things. however a "failling government" does not recieve such things. may be some people cannot digest what is happening and what the new administration is doing. never the less they only know one thing. "thiyaee Lobuvethi Zaemm" which they are proud of. show us better FM in the last 3 decades than shaheedh. then i will accept Shaheed's incompetenceness..Congra to the new adiministration

  12. Before going to this seat we must stop RACISTS IN MALDIVES , and Give us FREEDOM BY ALL MEAN

  13. We are all talking about Maldives and maldivians, citizens of this country. Recognise and celebrate achiements. Whats wrong with us. Do we have to paint a color to everything that happens in this country.Governments change in other countries too but this country is still not able to digest the change. Is it possible to take a vote on political parties. Do people want political parties or not. Our youth and young are learning to disrespect elders and mock at people. Is this the democracy we want? As 100% Muslims we should be more respectful of others and communicate with people to come to an understanding if and when needed.

  14. FYI
    ICC here is not the International Criminal Court as noted in the article, it's the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions (ICC)

  15. The Maldives embassy in Geneva was setup with former Hill & Knowlton staff to whitewash Gayoom's human rights record. Now the we have taken one step further and got a seat on the Council with ofcourse the help of the same old former Hill & Knowlton guys. Bloody waste of our time and money.

    Anyway getting the seat was not an achievement at all. We got one out of four seats allocated to Asia without any competition.

  16. Why did we have to lobby so hard for a seat when there was no competition. There were only four countries competing for four seats allocated to Asia. Iran would have withdrawn anyway as it has very little chance winning with a strong Western lobby against it.

  17. Dr Shaheed trying to take all the credit for the work done by President Nasheed and the reform movement.Once a as..... always a .......

  18. Well it is a great achievement for a small nation like us, but Dr Shaheed is most definetly not the champion of this achievement. It is the new Government! If Dr Shaheed is so wonderful why didn't he achieve anything like this during his tenure with the previous government? Sorry but for me, he's the most cunning minister in the cabinet and given his track record for party loyalty, I wouldn't be surprised if even now he has plans to switch over to DRP or any other party, if MDP were to fail in the next election. Use him to your advantage MDP, but please be aware of what a sly fox that guy really is!

  19. Dear Dr. Shaheed,

    May be you should continue lobbying still to make sure we keep this seat. You seem to ridicule yourself. For god's sake there were 4 seats. Maldives got one by defualt. Good we have a seat but its completely outrageous that you try to expose yourself as a champion because of this. People will just ridicule you and say, well, whats the big deal, Maldives got a seat because there were four candidates for 4 seats.

    Dr. shaheed, you have gone made due to publicity greed.

  20. Dear all,

    I think everyone is very confused here. The Group had 5 competitors, for 4 seats until last Friday. Maldives was the 5th candidate until Iran withdrew.

    Everyone else is much more richer, powerful and influential than the Maldives. If the Maldives had not fought and lobbied for it, we would have been simply swept aside. It would have been the Maldives withdrawing, and not Iran.


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