“A Human Rights Crisis in the Maldives”: Amnesty International

Amnesty International has today released a report titled “The Other side of Paradise: A Human Rights Crisis in the Maldives”, chronicling human rights abuses in the country since the transfer of presidential power on February 7.

“Without an end to – and accountability for – these human rights violations, any attempt at political reconciliation in the Maldives will be meaningless,” said Amnesty’s researcher in the Maldives, Abbas Faiz.

Amnesty said that several of its human rights recommendations are reflected in the Commission of National Inquiry’s (CNI) report which was released on August 30.

The report details a number of incidents of police brutality on February 8, including attacks on Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs Eva Abdulla and Mariya Didi.

“The overall objective of these violent attacks has been to silence peaceful government critics and stifle public debate about the current political situation,” said the report.

“Based on Amnesty International’s interviews with survivors of these violent attacks, it appears that many were targeted by security forces because they were MDP ministers, parliamentarians or supporters,” it read.

The report recommended that the Maldivian government “ensure prompt, independent, impartial and effective investigations into allegations of violence by officials.”

“Those suspected of offences involving such violations, irrespective of rank or status, must be prosecuted in proceedings which meet international standards of fairness.”

It also urged the government to “remove any bias in the police force, so they act as officers of law without prejudice, and do not take sides politically.”

Tension between the police has continued unabated since the release of the CNI report, with continued MDP demonstrations being met with large numbers of arrests.

The police service last week confirmed that they would be arresting people for using the term ‘baghee’ (a Dhivehi word meaning a traitor who brought about or participated in a coup).

The report is based largely on the testimony of individuals interviews conducted during a three week Amnesty visit in February and early March this year.

Commissioner of Police  Abdulla Riyaz, who was unavailable for comment at the time of press, told Minivan News in April that he had been disappointed by 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.

Strong pressure on weak institutions

As well as concluding that President Mohamed Nasheed was not removed from office unconstitutionally, the CNI report acknowledged that his resignation was accompanied by acts of police brutality which it said must be investigated.

“With respect to the administration of justice, in particular concerning allegations of police brutality and acts of intimidation, there is an urgent need for investigations to proceed and to be brought to public knowledge with perpetrators held to account and appropriately sanctioned,” read the report.

Shortly after the report’s release, the Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed told a press conference that the government did not intend to take action against anyone other than the former President in relation to the CNI’s conclusions.

Jameel stated the responsibility for the investigation of police misconduct would fall upon the Police Integrity Commission (PIC).

This has prompted renewed focus on the apparent weakness of such independent institutions in the Maldives.

“One of the reasons for the 7 February and the associated crisis is weak institutions, and the democratic institutions in Maldives must shoulder at least some of the blame for not being pro-active enough in working to address urgent issues,” said Aiman Rasheed of local NGO Transparency Maldives.

“Providing room for institutions to grow organically, and address institutional issues in an environment free from fear and intimidation from the political overlords is more important for Maldives at the moment,” Aiman continued.

“The independent institutions need to step up their game by standing for and protecting the values for which they were constituted,” he said.

Following Jameels announcement, Chair of the PIC Shahinda Ismail said that she was “very sceptical of the burden we will have to carry”, citing concerns over the lack of clarity in the CNI report and loopholes which prevent the implementation of its recommendations.

Shahinda alleged that certain clauses in the Police Act had already resulted in the Home Minister ignoring recommendations forwarded to him concerning incidents from February 8.

Similarly, a Supreme Court ruling concerning the activities of the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) earlier this week appeared to the leave this institution in a state of limbo.

“In other countries, Anti Corruption Commissions have the powers of investigation, prevention and creating awareness. If an institution responsible for fighting corruption does not have these powers then it is useless,” said ACC President Hassan Luthfee.

Weak institutions have often been described by prominent members of the current government as rendering the country unready for early elections despite months of political stultification.

“Tighter legislation that addresses ambiguities and close legal loopholes will help. However, the political will to truly reform key institutions is lacking, especially the judiciary and the parliament,” said Aiman.

The final recommendation of Amnesty’s report was directed at the international community, requesting that it provide human rights training to the Maldives’judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officials.

In April, the United States pledged US$500,000 (Rf7.7 million) to assist Maldivian institutions in ensuring a free and fair presidential election.

The American Embassy in Colombo also conducted an information session on democratic rule of law for senior officers and management of the police service in May.


Police deny Amnesty International reports of “excessive force” against demonstrators

Police have refuted “in the harshest terms” allegations of police brutality by Amnesty International, after the human rights body released a statement on June 11 condemning the “excessive use of force” against demonstrators.

Amnesty’s statement followed its investigation of the police crackdown on a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) protest against the dismantling of the MDP’s Usfasgandu protest camp on May 29 – a crackdown which included “beatings, pepper-spraying, and arrests. Those attacked include peaceful demonstrators, members of parliament, journalists and bystanders.”

In a press release yesterday, police insisted that “the minimum required force” was used to arrest 52 protesters on May 29, which included those who “obstructed police from performing their duty” and “disobeyed and resisted orders” as well as others taken into custody “on suspicion of attempting to inflict physical injury on police officers” and “for behaving in ways that cause loss of public order.”

Minivan News however observed one protester sustain a head injury after he was hit in the head by a baton, and was rushed to hospital in a pickup truck refueling at the nearby petrol shed.

Local daily Haveeru uploaded video footage showing violent confrontations between police and demonstrators during the arrests.

Minivan News also witnessed a cameraman from local TV station Raajje TV being pepper-sprayed by police while he was attempting to film police arresting a demonstrator.

Police brutality

“Incalculable damage”

The police statement noted that a report on the day’s events by a monitoring team from the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) “stated in very clear terms that excessive force was not used to arrest those among the demonstrators who threw objects at police, used obscene language and tried to obstruct police duties and that no physical harm was caused by police.”

The HRCM monitoring team however observed a police officer chase two demonstrators and strike them with his baton on the night of May 29. After protesting behind police barricades at the Usfasgandu area, MDP supporters began to gather at the intersection of Chandanee Magu and Majeedhee Magu in the centre of Male’ around 8:45pm.

The police statement explained that force was used to disperse the crowd at the Chandhanee Magu junction after protesters began throwing rocks at police officers from a construction site in the area.

“While six police officers sustained varying degrees of injury during the disturbances that day, two police vehicles were severely damaged,” reads the statement.

It added that police have concluded investigations of five demonstrators taken into custody on May 29 – including MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy ‘Inthi’ – and forwarded the cases for prosecution.

Police also noted that “very few complaints” were lodged concerning alleged misconduct and brutality by police officers.

A complaint by Maimoona Haleem, wife of former Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem, alleging excessive use of force in her arrest was being investigated by the police professional standard command, the statement revealed.

According to the Amnesty statement, ‘Mana’ Haleem was “walking home with her female friend in Majeedee Magu Street when police stopped them and began beating them repeatedly with their batons on their arms, back and hips before taking them in a van to the police station.”

“In her testimony Mana Haleem says: ‘I asked why we were being held, but received no answer. Later, they [police] told us it was because we had not obeyed their orders. We asked them how we could have disobeyed their orders if they had not given any, but they were not interested. I have bruises on my shoulder, my back and my hip.'”

However, the police statement claimed that in addition to a complaint filed at the HRCM by a detained demonstrator alleging the use of obscene language during his arrest, no complaints were lodged at the Police Integrity Commission (PIC), the oversight body for police.

The police statement slammed Amnesty for not reporting the “incalculable damage caused to police officers and property” during the MDP protest.

“Maldives Police Service calls on Amnesty International to clarify information from the relevant authorities and state the facts impartially and without bias when issuing such reports in the future,” the statement reads.

The statement concluded by urging “anyone with a complaint regarding police conduct” to formally lodge complaints at independent institutions.

In previous reports highlighting human rights abuse by police, Amnesty has noted police response denying the allegations and its recommendation that victims complain to HRCM.

“HRCM has told Amnesty International that they have serious limitations in terms of trained investigative staff and dealing with human rights issues in a highly politicised environment is an overwhelming challenge for them,” Amnesty has previously noted.

“By referring cases of police abuse of power to the HRCM, when it is clear that such investigations are beyond its capacity, the government is in effect forfeiting its own responsibility to enforce respect for human rights within the police force,” the organisation noted.

“Minimum force”

In its statement on the May 29 incidents, Amnesty had said that despite police claims to have used “the minimum required force to dismantle the area and arrest unruly demonstrators”, “it is clear that by far the majority of demonstrators were not using violence, and any such incidents cannot be used by police as an attempt to justify the ill-treatment of bystanders and those rallying peacefully.”

“Amnesty International believes that the police response to the demonstrations on 29 May was a clear example of excessive use of force.”

Amnesty’s statement included testimony from a number of protesters, noting that the latest reports “are consistent with many other testimonies Amnesty International has gathered previously.”

“One woman protesting peacefully in Majeedee Magu Street told Amnesty International that police officers suddenly pushed into them, and hit her and other peaceful demonstrators with their riot shields. Police hit them repeatedly on their back, and then pepper-sprayed them, aiming at their face and eyes. She said that police grabbed one demonstrator by the neck, shouted at him to open his mouth, and sprayed directly into his mouth,” the human rights organisation reported.

“Police also beat bystanders who showed no signs of violence. An eyewitness saw a man sitting on a stationary motorbike taking no active part in the demonstrations. Police went for him and hit him on his head with their batons. He lost consciousness. His friends took him to a nearby house where they arranged private medical treatment for him – they did not take him to hospital straight away as they were afraid he would be arrested.”

Amnesty called on countries supplying police and military equipment to the Maldives, particularly pepper-spray, to ensure that the substance was not being used to commit human rights violations.

“Any country that knowingly supplies police or military equipment to a force that uses them to commit human rights violations is itself partly responsible for those violations,” the human rights organisation warned.

“Amnesty International is calling on the government of Maldives to halt attacks on peaceful demonstrators including beating and pepper-spraying; bring to justice any police personnel who have used excessive force; ensure that security forces in the Maldives receive comprehensive training on what constitutes human rights violations, which they should not commit.”


Comment: Political impasse between government and opposition weakens human rights safeguards

The current stand off between the government and the opposition on how to secure the independence of the judiciary is hampering the much needed reform of the country’s criminal justice system.

Neither the government, nor the parliament or the judiciary can take pride in maintaining an outdated justice system that lacks a codified body of laws capable of providing justice equally to all.

Current laws are mainly remnants of acts of parliament passed at the time of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom when the country’s legal system was even less developed and more prone to political influence. Laws also include religious injunctions, regulations passed by ministries, some acts of parliament passed in recent years, and the 2008 Constitution. Even so, these laws cover penal areas only partially. Some are too vaguely formulated to prevent miscarriages of justice.

Most judges have no formal training in law but exercise considerable discretion – often based on their own interpretation of religious law – in deciding what constitutes an offence and the punishment for it.

In such a milieu, judicial decisions could be at risk of the judges’ personal or political preferences especially when these relate to complaints by the government or the opposition. One potential remedy for this problem would be to hold judicial personnel strictly accountable for any misconduct, but the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) appears unable to ensure this type of accountability.

So far, the government and the opposition-dominated parliament have failed to address these shortcomings. They have not even, as a first step, enacted a penal code that can reflect Maldives obligations under the international human rights treaties the country has ratified. A draft penal code intended to do this has remained dormant in parliament for at least four years.

While the government and the opposition blame each other for these failures, people whose rights are being violated are at risk of receiving unfair trials.

Respect for human rights has been further undermined by recent arbitrary arrest of Abdulla Mohamed, the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court.

He was arrested on 16 January. His arrest followed a civil court injunction on 27 November that blocked the JSC’s probe into Judge Abdullah’s alleged judicial misconduct. The Judicial Service Commission began this investigation in 2009 after receiving a complaint from the government. JSC found that judge Abdullah was guilty of violating the Judges’ Code of Conduct for making politically contentious statements on a local TV Channel. At this point, judge Abdullah successfully applied to the Civil Court for an injunction against further investigation or any actions against him. By granting that injunction, the Civil Court exposed the judiciary to further allegations from the government that Judge Abdullah can effectively remain in office with no accountability. The government then instructed the police to investigate the allegations against Judge Abdullah. Police went to arrest him but judge Abdullah refused to go with them, saying they had no warrant of arrest. The government then sent the army, still without a warrant of arrest, and he was taken into army custody on 16 January.

Regardless of the allegations against Judge Abdullah, his continued detention since 16 January remains arbitrary. The Maldives Human Rights Commission has confirmed that he is treated well and is allowed access to his family. Amnesty International is calling on the government to either bring formal criminal charges against him or release him.

Amnesty International has no position on the validity or otherwise of the allegations against judge Abdullah. It is for the judiciary to ensure that a mechanism exists to uphold accountability in any case of alleged judicial misconduct.

Sadly, all sides in the debate about the independence and impartiality of the judiciary tailor their arguments only to their own, narrow political ends. What they are missing is the opportunity to turn the Maldives into a hub of respect for human rights where the government, the parliament and the judiciary work alongside each other to strengthen the rule of law.

Abbas Faiz is South Asia Researcher with Amnesty International.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Mother of deceased premature baby receives 100 lashes for fornication

Aminath Shaira, age 30 of Finolhu/Noonu atoll Manadhoo, was publicly lashed 100 times outside the Justice Building for committing fornication. Lashing is the standard punishment for intercourse outside of marriage under Maldivian law.

Shaira was sentenced to one years’ imprisonment after she was identified as the mother of a premature baby that was found on 19 May in a Coast Milk tin in the bushes near the Vilimale’ powerhouse.

Forensic experts at the time claimed the baby was dead upon birth, and had been aborted after a five-month pregnancy.

Shaira was also sentenced to 100 lashes and one year’s house arrest for fornication, the Criminal Court confirmed today. Officials said she would be transferred to a prison in the next few days.

Shaira had been charged with disobedience to an order under article 88(a) of the 1968 penal code as well as violations under the Child Protection Act.

Fingerprints belonging to Mariyam Rizna, 18, of Guraidhoo in Kaafu Atoll, had been found on the Coast Milk tin at the time. Rizna was sentenced to six months in prison for helping Shaira deliver the baby.

A third suspect, Aishath Aniya, 24, of Huraa in Kaafu Atoll, was released after the court determined that there was not enough evidence to prove that she had provided abortion pills to the defendant.

Police were unable to identify the baby’s father at the time, and Shaira did not reveal his name.

Abortion is illegal in the Maldives except to save a mother’s life, or if a child suffers from a congenital defect such as thalassemia. Anecdotal evidence, however, points overwhelmingly to a high rate of abortion and unwanted pregnancy.

Around the same time as Sharia’s arrest, a dead infant was found in a plastic bag in Male’s swimming track area. A medical examination later concluded that the baby had sustained cuts, bruises and other wounds, an indication of possible abortion practices.

In November 2010, an abandoned newborn was discovered alive in bushes near the Wataniya telecommunications tower in Hulhumale’.

In January 2010, Minivan News reported that many women unable to travel to Sri Lanka resort to illegal abortions performed by unskilled individuals in unhygienic settings.

Deputy Minister of Health and Family Fathimath Afiya told Minivan News that a meeting was held today to discuss reproductive services in the Maldives. While Maldivian and Shariah law criminalise abortion and intercourse outside of wedlock, Afiya said communication between relevant services and the judiciary made it difficult to fully address each case.

“There needs to be an appropriate legal framework for reporting these cases to the services that could help unmarried and teenage women in compromised positions,” said Afiya. “We are very concerned about the rising number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions by married and unmarried women. Today, we began formulating an action plan for short- and long-term improvements.”

The action plan, which will be finalised during a half-day workshop in November, aims to create awareness of the challenges that pregnant married or unmarried women face, and the comparative lack of appropriate services, among citizens and legislators.

“The situation is very serious, I was surprised at the work that needed to be done to improve the situation,” Afiya said.

Sexual education is not administered per se in the Maldives, and the only official study of reproductive health was done in 2004. Other unofficial studies have noted that very little information is available on the subject.

According to Afiya, up to three cases of abortion are reported by Indira Ghandi Memorial Hospital’s (IGMH) family protection unit–a scant slice of the real picture. Most abortions go unreported or are only brought to medical professionals when an unsafe abortion has damaged the mother.

The stigma of having a child out of wedlock appears to drive women to grave action. Some use abortion-inducing pills or receive injections from amateur abortionists; others turn to harmful vaginal preparations, containing chemicals such as bleach or kerosene. Although infrequent, some women insert objects into their uterus or induce abdominal trauma.

Afiya said the situation is not limited to abortions – an increasing number of women abandon their babies at the hospital after birth.

“Some will just leave after giving birth. It does happen somewhat regularly,” she said.

In 2009, a young woman convicted of having extra-marital sex was also flogged. Amnesty International called for a moratorium on the “inhumane and degrading” punishment in the Maldives.

Although flogging is still a legal form of punishment in many Muslim countries worldwide, Amnesty officials claim that it specifically discriminates against women. Of the 184 people sentenced to lashing in 2006, 146 were female.


Vice President meets Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa during UN General Assembly

Vice President Dr Mohammed Waheed Hassan has paid a courtesy call on Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the 66th session of the UN General Assembly in New York.

The Vice President’s Office later refuted reports that Dr Waheed discussed the Sri Lankan human rights situation with Rajapaksa during the meeting, following media reports quoting Sri Lankan officials to the contrary.

Haveeru on Tuesday quoted a senior Sri Lankan official as saying that during a meeting between Rajapaksa and the Vice President, Dr Waheed “assured that he will be supporting Sri Lanka’s stance on the human rights issue.”

The Vice President’s office later claimed the meeting was a courtesy call during which Dr Waheed said it was refreshing to  hear the Sri Lankan President talk about trade unions and north-south cooperation in his speech [to the UN], and that there was “no mention of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka.”

Sri Lanka is currently conducting an internal investigation of these allegations, which refer to acts of violence committed by both government and rebel forces in the final phases of Sri Lanka’s civil war.

Numerous human rights groups, including Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW), have rejected Sri Lanka’s investigation on the grounds that its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) does not meet international standards.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has reported that human rights groups found the commission flawed because “its members were appointed by the government, it has no real mandate to investigate war crimes in the last stages of the conflict, lacks any mechanism to protect witnesses and falls short of minimum international standards of a commission of inquiry.”

The Sri Lankan government has denied committing any offenses. The Maldivian government said it supports Sri Lanka’s wish to solve internal issues without external involvement.

Today, the Maldives President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair issued a statement expressing support for the Tamil people.

“The President of the Maldives would like to express his good wishes to all Tamil people. The Tamil people have always been like brothers to Maldivians. The President would like to see peace and harmony in our region and has expressed his desire for all people to live peacefully together.”

Human Rights Watch recently applauded the Maldives as one of the seven most important countries on the UN Human Rights Council. It expressed puzzled concern, however, over the Maldives’ “regrettable” support of Sri Lanka at this time.

“The Maldives should revisit its approach on Sri Lanka in order to bring it in line with its otherwise principled approach to human rights at the Council,” said the report.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Naseem said he did not wish to comment on the issue.

Meanwhile, UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon has appointed a panel to advise him on accountability issues in Sri Lanka, reports the BBC. The Sri Lankan government rejected the panel, however, and said it would not issue visas to UN panel members visiting Sri Lanka.

The UN Office for the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) today said they are urging Sri Lanka “to ensure there is a genuine accountability process to address the serious violations believed to have been committed during the last months of the  war in Sri Lanka.”  The OHCHR is waiting to see how member states take action on the issue, “but, of course, the United Nations hopes Maldives – like other UN members – will encourage Sri Lanka to address this important issue.”

Late last week, President Mohamed Nasheed met with Sri Lankan Prime Minister Disanayaka Mudiyanselage Jayaratne regarding the upcoming South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit, due to be held in Addu City in November. The heads of state also discussed ways to strengthen ties between the two countries.

The SAARC summit could afford the Maldives an opportunity to promote human rights in south asia, a region that is reportedly slower than others to adopt international human rights standards.

The Maldives recently became the 118th member of the International Criminal Court (ICC), a close partner of the UN.

“As a chair of the SAARC summit, Maldives will have quite an influence on South Asian countries attending this year’s event,” she said previously. “It will certainly be constructive in reviewing human rights, a key point we plan to address at the summit.”

Evelyn Balais-Serrano, Asia-Pacific Coordinator for the ICC’s advocacy NGO Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), called the Maldives’ accession to the Rome Statute a significant step for human rights in south asia.

She noted that Sri Lanka is “a long way” from membership at the ICC.

ICC membership requires the Maldives to uphold ICC standards and rulings. “The Maldives cannot do anything if the ICC decides to investigate and put into trial the perpetrators of crimes in Sri Lanka,” said Balais-Serrano. “If suspected criminals from Sri Lanka seek refuge in the territory of the Maldives, as a state party to the ICC, the government is obliged to cooperate with the Court by arresting  the criminals.”

Sri Lanka’s findings are due for release on November 15.

Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect a clarification from the Vice President’s Office that human rights were not discussed at the meeting with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.


“Don’t marginalise Sri Lanka”: Nasheed to Human Rights Council

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has submitted a report documenting alleged war crimes in the closing days of the Sri Lankan Civil War to the UN Human Rights Council.

The report accuses the Sri Lankan military of killing tens of thousands of civilians through shelling in the closing days of its war with Tamil separatists, and increases the likelihood that the Human Rights Council may be called on to vote for a full international, independent investigation.

Sri Lanka has meanwhile rejected the report’s findings and stated that it opposes an outside investigation. Instead, the government has appointed its own ‘Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ (LLRC), which is expected to publish its findings on November 15.

Central to the UN’s case is graphic footage of the execution of bound and gagged prisoners, which the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Christof Heyns, described as reflecting “crimes of the highest order — definitive war crimes.”

Heyns analysed the video in consultation with a forensic pathologist, firearms expert and two forensic video analysts, and concluded that the footage was authentic, however the Sri Lankan government has maintained that the video is fake.

It has also stated that civilian casualties were unavoidable during the final offensive, due to the Tamil Tigers’ use of 300,000 people as human shields.

As an outspoken member of the UN Human Rights Council and a vocal proponent of intervention during the Libyan uprising – and also Sri Lanka’s neighbour – the situation is likely to challenge the Maldives diplomatically.

Yesterday, as the international community was ratcheting up the pressure on Sri Lanka, President Mohamed Nasheed called for an “amicable solution”.

“As long as we argue about Sri Lanka, the government is increasingly marginalised and we are losing the government and the country outside the fold of the international community,” Nasheed warned.

“We must understand that a number of very, very bad things happened but we must be able to move forward,” he said.

Current Maldivian Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem has previously described the UN report as “singularly counterproductive”, while during a recent interview with Minivan News, former Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed said he felt the government’s position on Sri Lanka “has been misunderstood”, particularly its comparison with the government’s stance on Libya.

“But I think Naseem’s comments and the government’s position on Sri Lanka have been misunderstood. The Libyan situation is different from the current situation in Sri Lanka. Libya is ongoing – things are happening today on the ground, and we need to try to prevent further abuses tomorrow,” he said at the time.

“In Sri Lanka’s case these are post-conflict issues. What we say is that the most important thing in a post-conflict situation is to find a way forward and not live in the past. This does not mean we are condoning abuses, or saying such things are fine. But Sri Lanka needs to find common ground with the UN Human Rights Council in which both parties can move forward. The government of Sri Lanka needs to be able to enter into dialogue with the international community to achieve speedier reconciliation.

“You can’t have reconciliation and long-lasting peace unless you respect human rights and set up mechanisms to do so. But we should steer clear of politicisation, or the divisions that have kept the flame of terrorism alive in Sri Lanka for so long. We are saying let Sri Lanka find a way forward and achieve reconciliation – we are not saying we don’t care about the past,” Dr Shaheed said.

China and Pakistan have also expressed support for Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile Mahinda Samarasinghe, Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa’s special envoy on human rights, has called for the international community to wait for the findings of Sri Lanka’s own commission in November.

“It is disconcerting to note the haste with which some have sought to usurp the government of Sri Lanka’s prerogative in deciding its domestic process,” Samarasinghe has previously told the Council.

“We firmly believe that our home-grown process is capable of addressing the nuances of our unique situation.”

However several international human rights organisations, including International Crisis Group (ICG), Human Rights Watch (HRW), and Amnesty International (AI) have refused to appear before the LLRC claiming it fails to meet minimum international standards, noting that its members were appointed by the government, it had no mandate to investigate war crimes in the closing days of the conflict, and lacked any mechanism to protect witnesses.

“The LLRC’s mandate, its composition, its procedures, and the human rights environment in which it is operating all conspire to make a safe and satisfactory outcome for victims of human rights violations and their families extremely unlikely,” said Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Asia-Pacific region, Madhu Malhotra, in October 2010.

“Amnesty International is particularly concerned about the lack of any provisions for witness protection and the fact that former officials who have publicly defended the Sri Lankan government against allegations of war crimes serve on the commission.”

Warning: some readers may find the following footage disturbing


“If you want to sue Shafeeg, you’ll have to sue me,” President tells Gayoom

President Nasheed has promised that the Maldives Police Service will investigate claims made by local historian Ahmed Shafeeg in his book, that 111 Maldivian citizens were held in custody and tortured by the former administration.

The claims led former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to declare that he would file a court case against Shafeeg for politically-motivated slander.

Spokesman for the former president, Mohamed Hussain ‘Mundhu’ Shareef, did not respond to Minivan News at time of press. However the former president’s lawyer, Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim, was cited in newspaper Miadhu as saying that lawsuits would be filed “against anyone who writes anything untrue and unfounded against Gayoom”, and that all such cases so far had been won.

During a ceremony at the Nasandhura Palace Hotel this morning to launch Shafeeg’s book, titled “A Day in the Life of Ahmed Shafeeg”, Nasheed observed that the former President was not solely to blame for human rights violations.

“The [human rights] violations were not committed by Gayoom alone. A whole system committed them. The whole culture of the Maldives committed them,” he said.

Shafeeg, now 82, was held in solitary confinement for 83 days in 1995 together with three other writers, including Hassan Ahmed Maniku, Ali Moosa Didi and Mohamed Latheef.

Shafeeg contends that 50 of his diaries containing evidence relating to the deaths of the 111 Maldivians were confiscated during a raid by 15 armed men. He was ultimately released by Gayoom with without charge, and was told by the investigating officer to write a letter of appreciation to the then-President for the pardon.

The lawyer representing Shafeeg, Abdulla Haseen, said the family intended now intended to press five charges against the former president after the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) rejected the case, claiming it was outside the commission’s mandate.

The President added that he knew the events chronicled by Shafeeg very well.

“Back then, from 1989 and 1990 onward, I spent a very long time – three years in total – in jail. Of that I spent 18 months in solitary confinement, and nine of those months in the tin cell,” he said.

All Maldivian rulers had employed fear to govern, Nasheed said, and he had always believed that Gayoom had him arrested and tortured to serve as a cautionary tale as the former president and his senior officials were already aware of the intent of “a whole generation” to topple his government since the early 80s.

“So the decision to put me through every imaginable torture in the world from the very beginning as an example to all those people was made, in my view, not because of any animosity President Maumoon had towards me personally,” Nasheed said.

He added that Gayoom alone could not be blamed for all the human rights abuses that occurred under his watch.

“It was not done by him alone. It was a whole system that did it. It was Dhivehi tradition that did it. It was Dhivehi culture that did it,” he said.

The President said said he thought that Gayoom’s decision to take legal action against the 82 year-old historian, who has lasting physical and mental damage from his ordeal, “is going beyond the limits.”

“I ask President Maumoon very sincerely and respectfully, don’t do this,” Nasheed said. “Go to Shafeeg. Go and ask for his forgiveness. This is not the time to come out and say ‘I’m going to sue Shafeeg.’ If you want to sue Shafeeg now, you will have to sue me. That is because I will repeat what Shafeeg is saying fourfold.”

Nasheed urged the former President to seek forgiveness, as he believed Gayoom had the “foresight and learning” as well as “capability and talent”, and had made “many contributions to the country.”

Together with allegations of corruption in the former administration, such as those aired by former Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem prior to his dismissal by the opposition-controlled parliament, allegations of torture remain one of the most politically divisive topics in the Maldives.

Opinions – very strongly held – oscillate between a desire for justice and a desire to move on, a desire for revenge and a desire for reconciliation.

Given the current state of the Maldives judiciary, sensitivity of the issue and extreme political polarisation of the country, it is likely that any verdict with even a remote chance of being accepted by both sides would need to come from an international court. Shafeeg’s family have indicated that they are prepared for this course of action should legal proceedings falter in the Maldives.