Efforts to put Maldives on CMAG agenda unsuccessful, says foreign ministry

The Maldives is not on the agenda of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) despite “efforts made by some of the most powerful countries in the Commonwealth to place the Maldives on the group’s agenda and harm the nation,” the foreign ministry has said.

Some Commonwealth members have been pushing for the Commonwealth’s human rights and democracy arm to assess alleged violations of the organisation’s principles by the Maldives following the imprisonment of opposition politicians, including former President Mohamed Nasheed.

“Minister of Foreign Affairs Ms Dunya Maumoon gave a briefing to the CMAG Ministers today about the political situation in the Maldives and reiterated that there is no serious or persistent violation of Commonwealth political values in the Maldives,” the foreign ministry said in a statement yesterday.

It added that Dunya also stressed “the progress that the government has achieved in defusing political tensions in the country” and assured the Maldives’ commitment to “constructively engage with the Commonwealth”.

Signs of an end to a six-month long political crisis are emerging. Nasheed was transferred to house arrest in late June after the opposition backed a constitutional amendment to allow President Abdulla Yameen to replace his deputy.

At a second meeting between representatives of the government and the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party last night, home minister Umar Naseer said the government is open to exploring avenues to release jailed politicians and withdraw charges against opposition supporters.

Foreign minister Dunya said last week that  the Maldives “will seriously consider its membership in the Commonwealth” if the country is placed on the CMAG agenda for a second time.

Meanwhile, former foreign minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed has said that the CMAG only granted the Maldives further time to “sort out [the] mess Maldives is in.”

The UN special rapporteur on Iran also said that the group will convene again after the UN working group on arbitrary detention declares Nasheed’s imprisonment unlawful.

The opposition leader was found guilty of terrorism in March over the military’s detention of a judge during his tenure. The 19-day terrorism trial was criticised by foreign governments, the UN, and international human rights organisations over its apparent lack of due process.

The former president’s international legal team filed a petition at the UN working group in late April. The government has been asked to respond before the first week of July.

In a conversation last week with Commonwealth’s secretary general Kamalesh Sharma, Dunya said there are no serious violations in the Maldives and criticised Sharma’s alleged failure to follow due process before considering action.

The MDP meanwhile called on the Maldivian government to “stop being so arrogant.”

“Having to leave the Commonwealth for not abiding by its principles only isolate the Maldives from the rest of the world. And it will not be very healthy for the Maldives, but detrimental,” said MP Imthiyaz Fahmy.

CMAG agenda

The Maldives was placed on the CMAG agenda from March 2012 – March 2013 after President Nasheed resigned in the wake of a violent police and military mutiny. He later alleged he had been ousted in a coup d’état.

But a Commonwealth-backed inquiry found the transfer of power to be constitutional.

The Maldives was previously placed on the CMAG’s agenda “on an unfair basis, based on false allegations, and the country’s economy and democratic governance suffered significantly as a result,” Dunya said.

She also said Sharma had not raised questions over violations in the Maldives, or extended assistance for redress as required by the Commonwealth’s rules.

In mid-June Canada called on CMAG to “urgently put the deteriorating situation in the Maldives on its formal agenda.”

Dunya urged Sharma to take note of the positive changes in the Maldives in the last few weeks. She also accused Canada of exerting undue influence in the Commonwealth as a donor country.


Majlis reconvenes with elections and legislative reforms atop agenda

The People’s Majlis reconvened today with both opposition and government-aligned parties claiming elections and legislative reforms were among the key focuses of their respective parliamentary agendas following an extended break.

According to the Majlis’ Counsel General Fathmath Filza, today’s opening session saw debates take place on two declarations and eight bills, including the repeal of a motion to remove the Maldives’ membership within the Commonwealth.

The session was also said by the official to include the distribution of the Commonwealth-backed Committee of National Inquiry (CNI) report to all MPs and the respective parliamentary committees dealing with security services, independent institutions and national security.

“These committees will review the report and report to the Majlis on the actions that then need to be taken,” added Filza.

Despite reconvening temporarily for an emergency session to pass the General Regulations Act in August, the Majlis has not reconvened since July after Speaker Abdulla Shahid suspended the institution, deciding a safe environment could not be ensured in the chamber after heated exchanges on the floor.

This suspension led straight into the Majlis traditional recess period, although parliamentary committees have resumed their work as of last month.

Parliamentary Speaker Shahid told Minivan News today that the recess period had provided sufficient time for tensions between leaders on both sides of the country’s political divide to “calm”.

“This has allowed for dialogue between party leaders and for me to set up agreement to have the current third parliamentary session begin on time,” he claimed. “This is important to ensure parliamentarians were part of the process to address their respective agendas.”

The speaker said that in line with a number of reports from independent institutions, the decision had been taken – in line with parliament’s minority and majority leaderships – to pass the findings of the Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) onto the relevant regulatory committees.

Function undisturbed

Abdulla Yameen, Parliamentary Group Leader of the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) told Minivan News by SMS that with parliament resuming today, he expected the Majlis to function undisturbed despite ongoing tensions relating to February’s controversial power transfer.

From the perspective of the PPM, which presently holds minority leadership in the Majlis with the second largest number of MPs after the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), Yameen said he believed passing pending legislation was his party’s foremost concern.

“[The PPM] hopes to see all pending legislative agenda addressed in order to ensure free and fair presidential elections,” said Yameen, who is the half-brother of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Having met personally with former President Mohamed Nasheed late last month – without providing direct details of their discussions – Yameen said there had been agreement that the Majlis should function “smoothly”.

Meanwhile, MDP MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor claimed that in order to try and facilitate early elections, the party’s national council had asked for the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) report to be distributed in the Majlis in attempts at having its recommendations implemented.

These recommendations, according to the MDP, include the need for reforms to strengthen the country’s independent institutions like the judiciary, as well as bringing senior defence force figures accused of mutinying against the former government to justice.

According to Ghafoor, the speaker has sent the CNI report to the relevant parliamentary committees to review recommendations made.

He claimed the request was part of a wider process to enact early elections within the Maldives – a key focus of the MDP since former President Mohamed Nasheed’s controversial resignation back in February.

Nasheed, who is presently the MDP’s presidential candidate, has continued to claim he was forced to resign under duress.

However, the party’s claims that the former government was removed from office in a “coup d’etat” were dismissed by the CNI report published in August.  The report was later accepted by the MDP, albeit “with reservations”.

These reservations were first raised by Ahmed ‘Gahaa’ Saeed, former President Nasheed’s appointee on the CNI panel, who alleged there had been a failure to take into account certain key evidence and witness accounts compiled by the panel regarding the transfer of power.

The MDP has claimed that despite its reservations, the CNI report has provided the party with a “way forward” to push for institutional reform.

Just last month, the MDP’s national council had called on the party’s parliamentary group to back a boycott of the Majlis over allegations that working within the present political process was failing to secure reforms highlighted in the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) report.

The proposed boycott was criticised strongly at the time by parties serving within the coalition government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan.


Maldives’ suspension from CMAG lifted, remains on agenda as “matter of interest”

The Maldives is to remain on the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG)’s agenda under the item “Matters of Interest to CMAG”, however its suspension from the international body’s democracy and human rights arm has been revoked.

The decision means Foreign Minister Abdul Samad will be able to able to participate in CMAG affairs following the Maldives’ suspension in February over concerns about the nature of the transition of power.

A Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) claimed in August that the transfer of power was legitimate, that former President Nasheed was not under duress, and that there was no police mutiny.

Despite significant reservations regarding evidence and witness statements that had not been considered, Nasheed said he was accepting the findings for political expediency. However it had, he said, left the Maldives “in a very awkward, and in many ways, very comical” situation, “where toppling the government by brute force is taken to be a reasonable course of action. All you have to do find is a narrative for that course of action.”

In the CMAG statement, “Ministers noted the report’s conclusion that the change of President in the Republic of Maldives on 7 February 2012 was legal and constitutional, but also that certain acts of police brutality had occurred during that period which should be further investigated. They looked forward to advice from the Government of Maldives on progress with those investigations.”

CMAG also “underlined their concern that all parties in Maldives needed to work towards resolving the climate of division and discontent in order to bring about lasting national reconciliation.”

“Ministers noted the importance of ensuring that the Majlis worked purposefully on critical legislation, without further risk of disruption. Ministers again urged against any actions that might provoke or incite violence.”

Nasheed is this week facing trial for defaming the Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim for describing him as a “baghee” (traitor), and detaining Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed during his administration. Nasheed’s party have dismissed the charges as an attempt to convict and disqualify Nasheed from the upcoming Presidential elections, using courts loyal to the former 30 year regime.

“Ministers urged party leaders to commit to dialogue, paving the way to credible elections. Ministers emphasised the need to ensure that all parties and leaders are able freely to conduct election campaigns,” the CMAG statement read.

“In accordance with CMAG’s enhanced mandate, as agreed by leaders at the 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Ministers further agreed that they would continue to engage with Maldives positively and constructively to support Maldives in advancing the Affirmation of Commonwealth Values and Principles, in particular in strengthening the judiciary, in the process of democratic consolidation and in institution building. In this context, Ministers asked the secretary-general to continue to brief the Group on progress in Maldives, including at CMAG’s next meeting,” read the statement.

“Accordingly, CMAG agreed to continue to monitor the situation in Maldives, and to move consideration of Maldives in future to its agenda item “Matters of Interest to CMAG”. Ministers looked forward to Maldives’ resumption of full participation at CMAG’s next meeting, in the absence of any serious concerns.”

On the agenda

The CMAG placed the Maldives on its formal agenda in February although President Waheed’s government has maintained that the group “lacked the mandate“ to to so.

Waheed’s government also spent £75,000 (MVR 1.81 million) on advice from former UK Attorney General and member of the House of Lords, Baroness Patricia Scotland, in a bid to challenge what they deemed was the Commonwealth’s “biased” stance on the Maldives, and has continued to express disapproval at what it terms “interference” by the Commonwealth.

“It is my belief that the Commonwealth and its institutions have treated us very badly,” wrote President Waheed’s Special Advisor Dr Hassan Saeed in a newspaper column.

“I would now argue that if CMAG does not remove the Maldives from its agenda, we should end our relationship with the Commonwealth and look to other relationships that reflect modern realities of the world.”

The Hulhumale Magistrate Court has meanwhile confined Nasheed to Male’ ahead of his trial this week. His legal team have expressed concern over a host of irregularities, such as the appointment of a panel of three judges not from the Hulhulmale court – that they say will deny the former President a fair trial.

The matter is likely to come to a head this week, after Nasheed’s party decided that it would no longer follow any orders given by the courts of the Maldives until the changes proposed by international entities were brought to the Maldivian judicial system.

The party said the decision was reached as to date, they had observed no efforts to improve the judicial system based on the recommendations put forward in reports released by numerous international organisations.


Inquiry commission conditions apply to all commission members: Commonwealth

The Commonwealth has clarified that criteria for members of the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) are expected to extend to all members, under the government’s commitment signed last week.

The CNI was set up by incoming President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan to investigate the controversial circumstances that brought him to power on February 7.

Dr Waheed appointed the three member panel: Dr Ibrahim Yasir, Dr Ali Fawaz Shareef and Chair Ismail Shafeeu, Defence Minister under former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

The ousted Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) – and subsequently the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) – challenged the independence of the commission and set a deadline for its composition to be adjusted.

Last week, a day before CMAG’s deadline, the government agreed to allow a retired Singaporean judge to co-chair the CNI, and also permit former President Mohamed Nasheed to appoint a representative to the commission.

Following the signing of that commitment – and the departure of Commonwealth Special Envoy Sir Donald McKinnon – the government gave a press conference during which Attorney General Azima Shukoor outlined the conditions for Nasheed’s appointee: they must not have served in a political position in the past two years, must not have taken a public stand on the transfer of power, and must “be of good behavior and integrity”.

If an acceptable appointee was not nominated before the June 1 deadline, the government stated that it would appoint a lawyer to represent Nasheed on the panel.

Following the government’s rejection of nine nominees, the MDP challenged these conditions as highly subjective: “They are [essentially] saying Dr Waheed will appoint President Nasheed’s representative,” said former Youth and Human Resources Minister, Hassan Latheef.

Spokesperson for the Commonwealth Secretariat, Richard Uku, told Minivan News that the criteria for membership of the CNI, as reflected in the commitment given to the Commonwealth Special Envoy, “are intended to apply to all Commission members, including existing ones as well as the nominee of former President Nasheed.”

“The Commission is intended to consist of persons who have not taken a public stand on the events of 7 February 2012 or who may be expected to testify to the Commission. The criteria are designed with this in mind,” he said.

“The Maldives Government has made a written commitment, witnessed by the Commonwealth Special Envoy Sir Don McKinnon, to keep one place vacant for a suitable nominee from former President Nasheed on the Commission of National Inquiry. It is the Special Envoy’s hope that such a nominee can be in place no later than 1 June 2012, so that the reconstituted Commission can commence its work,” Uku added.

MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said it was likely that the Commonwealth would again have to mediate: “The government have defined ‘suitable’ in a manner conducive to them – in that case it might as well be Azima Shukoor. I think in the end it will be up to CMAG or the Special Envoy to define what they mean by this. That’s the impression I am getting at the moment,” he said.

The ‘Thinvana Adu’ campaign of NGOs has issued a statement in support of changes to the CNI, saying that it would “pave the way towards addressing the current political crisis”, and that any commitment to dialogue and working with international organisations by political actors “is a positive sign.”

Thinvana Adu spokesperson Aiman Rasheed said the NGO coalition was not able to comment officially on the conditions as they had not seen the Commonwealth’s agreement with the government and the MDP – “however any conditions should be agreeable to both parties,” he suggested. “Our stand is that the MDP should be represented on the commission, and that any people on the committee are acceptable to all parties. That is not the case with the current composition.”

Meanwhile, despite agreeing to change the CNI’s composition, the government has continued to maintain that the Commonwealth is being manipulated by opposition politicians, with President Waheed alleging to diplomats in Delhi last week that the Commonwealth was “intimidating” and “punishing” the government. He also challenged CMAG’s remit in placing the Maldives on its formal agenda.

“We are aware of the Maldives Government’s concerns as to CMAG’s scrutiny of the Maldives situation and have responded to them,” Uku told Minivan News.

“CMAG is specifically mandated by Commonwealth leaders to promote adherence to Commonwealth fundamental political values and to address situations where those values are seriously called into question. Given the situation where an elected Head of Government claimed that he was forced to resign, the nine Foreign Ministers who comprise CMAG felt obliged to be seized of the situation.”

Gayoom’s political party, the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), have meanwhile also demanded a representative on the CNI.

“President Nasheed has made the false allegation that our party’s interim president is behind the coup, and if a seat is reserved for Nasheed’s representative, then we must have representation on the council as well,” said PPM Deputy Leader Umar Naseer, addressing media last week.