New UN Resident Coordinator to Maldives commences tour of duty

The new UN Resident Coordinator and Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the Republic of Maldives, Tony E. Lisle, has today officially begun his tour of duty in the country.

Lisle’s main task will be to oversee national development programs by collaborating with the various UN agencies operating in the country, a spokesperson for the organisation told Minivan News today.

The new resident coordinator, who has been serving within the UN since 1996, previously held the position of Country Director for UNAIDS in Vietnam.

Lisle’s mandate as resident coordinator is expected to last for between four to five years, according to the organisation.

Lisle replaces former UN Resident Coordinator Andrew Cox, who completed his tour of duty back in January of this year.


UN Resident Coordinator departs Maldives

UN Resident Coordinator Andrew Cox has left the Maldives following the conclusion of his tour of duty.

In a departure statement, Cox expressed “gratitude for the excellent cooperation he received from the government, state institutions, civil society organisations and the media during his time as the UN Resident Coordinator in the Maldives.”

Cox also paid a farewell call on President Dr Mohamed Waheed. According to the President’s Office, “Waheed expressed his gratitude for the enormous contribution made, and the support received towards the development of the Maldives, during Mr Andrew Cox’s tenure as the UN Resident Coordinator.”


UN defends role in Maldives, emphasises “political impartiality”

The Office of the UN Resident Coordinator has issued a statement defending the UN’s activity in the Maldives and reiterating its “strict impartiality toward political parties”.

The statement follows a recent accusation from the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) that while “the IPU, CMAG, Canada, the Human Rights Committee, the EU and certain international NGOs such as Amnesty International and the International Federation for Human Rights have expressed varying degrees of alarm at the Maldives’ backsliding on democracy and human rights, others including the UN Resident Coordinator and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have remained shamefully silent.”

“Since February’s overthrow of the Maldives’ democratically-elected government, key parts of the international community have remained silent regarding the widespread human rights violations taking place,” the party’s spokesperson, MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, said in a statement.

“To remain silent in the face of injustice is to be an accomplice to that injustice,” he added.

In a statement released on Sunday, the UN said it “continues to be concerned that the current situation in the country may have an impact on the country’s development”, and noted examples of the international organisation’s activities in the Maldives.

“As a trusted partner, the UN has spoken repeatedly in public and in private over the course of several years and three governments on democracy, development, and human rights. Most recently, the Secretary-General spoke of the need for political dialogue, national reconciliation, and respect for the constitution. He called on all parties to exercise maximum cooperation and restraint,” the UN stated.

“The High Commissioner for Human Rights and Special Rapporteurs have engaged robustly and provided considerable support over the years on human rights, which has been further strengthened by the recent deployment of a human rights adviser,” the statement noted.

“The UN team in Maldives, led by the Resident Coordinator, works as part of the larger UN strategy focusing on development, human rights and support to democracy. Our primary and overriding interest is to work for the development of the country and the betterment of the lives of its people. It does this on the basis of a programme of cooperation signed with the government in the interest of the people of the Maldives. We do our work with national institutions in government and civil society, the private sector, and directly with communities.

“The UN team has been deeply engaged in building national capacity, and in urging and assisting Maldivians to take the lead in overcoming deep rooted national challenges. We will continue to provide support and advocate vigorously a renewed focus for development that builds on the gains of the past, and focuses on the needs of the country,” the organisation stated.


UN “shamefully silent” on Maldives’ human rights abuses: MDP

The provisional findings of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)’s human rights mission to the Maldives should “act as a wake-up call” for other members of the international community, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has said in a statement.

“Sadly, since February’s overthrow of the Maldives’ democratically-elected government, key parts of the international community have remained silent regarding the widespread human rights violations taking place,” said the party’s spokesperson, MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor.

“While the IPU, CMAG, Canada, the Human Rights Committee, the EU and certain international NGOs such as Amnesty International and the International Federation for Human Rights have expressed varying degrees of alarm at the Maldives’ backsliding on democracy and human rights, others including the UN Resident Coordinator and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have remained shamefully silent. To remain silent in the face of injustice is to be an accomplice to that injustice.”

Following its visit the IPU delegation noted on Thursday that it was “difficult” to believe that the recent series of arrests of MPs were not politically motivated.

IPU delegation member Francis Pangilinan, a Philippine Senator, described the circumstances surrounding the recent police raid of Hondaidhoo in Haa Dhaal Atoll and arrest of MPs on charges of alcohol consumption as “very worrying”.

“An impressive team of unidentified police and an army of officers allegedly carried out the arrests, reportedly without a warrant and ill-treated the MPs,” said Pangilinan.

“We are well aware that the consumption of alcohol and drugs is forbidden in the Maldives, but we find it difficult to believe in light of the circumstances and timing of the arrests that the parliamentarians were not targeted for political reasons.”

The delegation further expressed their concern over the failure to punish the police officers who used “excessive force” against MPs earlier this year.

The delegation stressed that the issues raised were an internal matter, and that the IPU could only monitor and communicate with the necessary authorities in the hope that a resolution will come “sooner or later”.

“The outside world is not going to resolve these issues. Instead Maldivians sitting down, ultimately talking to each other to solve the issues of controversy is the only way,” said South African Parliamentary expert Peter Lilienfeld.

MP Ghafoor, who was one of the MPs arrested, meanwhile observed that “gradually, the international community, which for a while was fooled by the appallingly one-sided report of the so-called Commission of National Inquiry, is starting to understand the true nature of the Waheed regime.

“The truth is this: unless Waheed can be pressed into calling early elections, the rapid encroachment of the police state will continue – until it will be impossible to turn it back. It is time for the UN Resident Coordinator and others to wake-up to this fact,” he said.

Minivan News was awaiting comment from UN Representative in the Maldives, Andrew Cox, at time of press.


Contraception use in the Maldives still too low: UN Representative Andrew Cox

Contraception prevalence rates in the Maldives are still “too low”, United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) Representative Andrew Cox has claimed.

Speaking at the launch of UNFPA’s State of World Population 2012 (SWOP) report, Cox said that while many aspects of family planning have greatly improved in the Maldives, contraceptive prevalence rates are lower in comparison to other countries of similar development rate and culture.

Figures revealed by Cox show that infant mortality in the Maldives has dropped from 63 deaths per 1000 births in 1986 to 11 per 1000 in 2009, and that a baby born in the Maldives today can expect to live for 74 years – more than 20 years older than a child born in 1980.

However, according to Cox contraceptive prevalence in the Maldives is considerably low in comparison to other comparable countries.

“The prevalence rate of contraception is too low, especially for a country like the Maldives. It is definitely something we need to work with the government on,” Cox told Minivan News.

Further figures revealed by Vice President Mohamed Waheed Deen – who attended the launch to release the SWOP report – show that one in every four pregnancies in the Maldives were unplanned, while 16 percent were unwanted and a further ten percent mistimed.

Deen further stated that the family production unit at Indhira Gandhi Memorial Hospital’s (IGMH) records show 33 percent of women aged 23 had ‘out of wedlock’ pregnancies.

Deen gave his assurance that the government will be part of the development of family planning, adding that “[family planning] is a must”.

“Very often this type of information is easier for non-government organisations (NGOs) to pass on. We support the gender ministry and the health ministry, and if it comes to financial support we would help them.

“Family planning affects the whole economy in a positive way, so we would definitely be willing to help out,” Deen said.

The SWOP report, entitled ‘By Choice, Not by Chance: Family Planning, Human Rights and Development’, focuses on the need for family planning both globally and in the Maldives.

UNFPA’s role in Maldives began in the early 1980s with the launch of national programmes on family planning and population. Since then, four country programmes have been launched addressing issues around family planning.


UNDP awards US$79,862 to local CSOs in small grants program

The United Nations Development Program has awarded US$79, 862.95 to the 13 winners of the “Support to Civil Society Development” program in the Maldives.

The winning projects, supported by the Small Grants Facility and jointly funded by the UNDP and Australia Agency for International Development (AusAID), were designed by local CSOs and selected out of 54 proposed projects.

United Nations Resident Representative, Andrew Cox, spoke at the UN building today. Cox called civil society a “pillar of democracy”, and a significant factor in democratizing the Maldives. He commented on the large scale changes the country has faced in recent years, and called the Maldives “a country which shows much scope for growth and maturity.

This is the second round of projects in the program. Monitors of the first round had determined that the program was constructive, Cox said.

“Initiatives such as the Monitoring of Political Violence in the First Local Council Elections project, The Empowerment of Women project and The Right to Empower project – among the 09 projects funded in the first round, have indicated steps taken in the right direction by the civil society,” he said.

The second round of projects were selected from 11 atolls, including Raa, Baa, Noonu, Addu City, Malé City, and others. Almost every atoll in the country is represented in the selection.

Among the areas the program intends to address are human rights, governance, gender equality, and youth development. Cox added that the tenets of democracy, such as transparency, accountability, and the voice of the people will be empowered.

Cox backed the program by invoking the Maldives government’s Strategic Action Plan, “which guarantees that space will be allowed for individual freedoms and the civil society to thrive.”

In closing, Cox reminded his audience that significant challenges to establishing a full  democracy remain in the Maldives, but that they can only be overcome by the united efforts of the people. Cox reinforced the UN’s committment to supporting the Maldivian people in their pursuit of a consolidated democratic identity.


Comment: Building a modern justice system that is right for the Maldives

As we see in the stories carried daily in this newspaper, Maldives is deep into the difficult business of building a strong and democratic society. There is often an understandable impatience about the time it takes to see the fruits of democracy, but when you compare to other countries that have had to do the same thing, you realise that the Maldives is trying to achieve in a few years what others have taken decades or centuries to do.

This is possible, but the key to success continues to be mobilising everybody around issues that are in the national interest. This is particularly true in the area of justice, which is the foundation of all democratic societies and the development of any nation. Developing a strong and independent justice system needs a concerted effort from all three branches of government, and civil society.

Change in the Maldives has brought its own anxieties, and society is particularly concerned about increasing levels of crime. This lends new impetus to the reform of the Criminal Justice System.

A reliable and operational criminal justice delivery system is needed to sustain democracy and the rule of law, strengthen new democratic institutions, and protect security, economic development and foreign investment, based on the firmest of foundations of justice and human rights. Establishing a robust criminal justice system is a very complex, long and difficult exercise, requiring work across many areas.

A vital step, however, is ensuring that the legislative foundation is put in place as soon as possible. Of priority, therefore, is enactment of criminal reform legislation, particularly the Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), Evidence Bill, and the Juvenile Justice Bill.

A solid and modern Penal Code gives consistency to legal systems and makes criminal law more understandable and transparent to people. The Penal Code defines the general principles of criminal responsibility, classifying crimes and their penalties. If there is a proper Penal Code, it is much less necessary to draft legislation defining every crime or procedure. The Criminal Procedure Code will define procedures in criminal matters, which then provide transparency and accountability.

Another important piece of legislation is the Juvenile Justice Bill. Statistics on crime demonstrate that children under 18 and youth are involved in a lot of the cases of violent crimes. However, currently there are no strategic crime prevention programmes or rehabilitation programmes specifically targeting juvenile offenders.

In addition, there is no detention facility that caters for juvenile offenders, and there are no separate spaces for juvenile offenders to be incarcerated. In light of the emerging challenges and the increase in juvenile crime, the current law does not adequately cover rights of children or address the need for proper treatment of children in conflict with the law to rehabilitate them back in to society.

Until August 2008, Maldives’ criminal justice depended heavily on confessions. However with Constitutional reform, we are moving from a confession based to an evidence-based system, which is in line with international standards. It is therefore vital that we have an Evidence legislation that is in line with the new Constitutional reform and best practice.

Strong and functioning criminal justice systems certainly depend on a solid foundation of law, and effective courts, police, prosecutors, prisons and other institutions and actors. But it is equally important that public confidence in the system is high – to know that criminal conduct will be investigated and prosecuted in accordance with the rule of law, that the streets will be safe, that rehabilitation of offenders is possible, that human rights will be protected. Public confidence is served by knowledge and certainty. This demands the process of investigation and prosecution to be independent of political pressure, that it is transparent and follows a process that is fair and just.

We have already seen this year that pressure to ‘do something’ about crime, combined with a lack of the legal and institutional foundations discussed in this Opinion Editorial, can lead to a tendency to find reactive short-term solutions to complex problems, and even violate human rights.

The Maldives, instead, needs a proper criminal legislative framework as a matter of urgency. A real opportunity is now before the Majlis, supported by the justice system and the Government, to deliver a unanimous and thorough response to crime. It is possible to pass these key pieces of legislation in this session of the Majlis.

Technical support is available, if it is needed, from the UN and others, but above all, it is now a matter of political will to take this important step, in the national interest, to finalise and pass these key legislations. I urge MPs of all parties to pass these Bills as a matter of priority, resolve areas of disagreement constructively, and present the Bills to the Majlis for passage.

Andrew Cox is the Resident Coordinator of the United Nations System in the Maldives.

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]


Comment: Reactive and obstructive politics threaten democracy in the Maldives

The International Day of Democracy (September 15) is a good day on which to take stock of democracy in the Maldives, a country that is well into its democratic awakening.

This is an opportunity to look at the successes achieved and the challenges that lie ahead – to look at the progress of democracy, with all of its opportunities and difficulties.

You can see the progress made as a nation in the rapid advancement of human rights and fundamental freedoms. A great deal of faith has been placed in democratic governance as a system, and in its transformative power for the country as a whole.

The space for free expression has been unlocked and is vibrant, with the role of the media growing. Two successful elections have been conducted, and the level of engagement by the people in the country’s development is increasing.

The forthcoming local elections offer another opportunity to show how democracy, development and human rights are interdependent and mutually reinforcing.

However, transition and change is always a painful process and there is still much to be done. Tensions have run high in recent months between the Executive, Majlis and Judiciary, the three pillars of democratic government. We still find ourselves in a political crisis that has made it very difficult to make progress on issues of pressing importance to the nation.

This has created a logjam of desperately needed legislation, including bills necessary for the functioning of the Maldives’ economy and government. The judiciary, institutions and independent commissions have sometimes come under remarkable pressure. There is a great need to build their institutional capacity to help them function as strong democratic institutions.

Why does the political crisis matter to ordinary Maldivians, who may just reduce their support and involvement in democracy for a while?

The best answer to this comes from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who says “setbacks in democratic advancement are setbacks for development. Development is far more likely to take hold if people are given a genuine say in their own governance, and a chance to share in the fruits of progress.”

This view suggests that the progress of democracy, and the resolution of the political crisis, is in the best interest of every man, woman and child in the Maldives.

With the parties frequently at an impasse, the challenges can seem too great to overcome. But I do believe that solutions are readily available to the parties, should they commit themselves to working towards them.

Dialogue and cooperation on areas of common interest (and there are many of these) are the only ways to deal with the challenges facing the country. I hope that the governing and opposition coalitions can recommit themselves to political dialogue after the September recess is over, so as to find political solutions that allow government to function as it needs to; and ensure cooperation where it is needed within the Majlis, and between the Majlis and the Executive.

This does not mean that there has to be agreement on everything – democracy is about managing disagreement in a productive way. But I do believe there are high expectations for government and opposition to work together on finding solutions to problems that affect the country.

The United Nations has been supporting the parties in the last few weeks to try to find these solutions. The UN is committed to continuing to help Maldivians to safeguard and advance democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the country. But it has always been clear that these are Maldivian talks, on Maldivian problems, and we believe that a locally owned process offers the best way forward, with support from the international community when it is needed.

Maldivians and the parties that represent them face a decision point now. With the Maldives being one of the most promising young democracies in the region, there is undoubtedly a strong national commitment to democracy.

But should the political crisis continue as it is, many democratic gains could be lost. The choice therefore is to find a way forward and resolve political differences through dialogue and compromise to the greatest extent possible; or to continue reactive and obstructive politics that threaten the democratic project and prevent progress, even on issues where the parties might agree on normally.

It is my sincere wish that dialogue is chosen, trust is slowly but surely built, and Maldives continues to take the path towards a united, just and democratic nation.

Andrew Cox is the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in the Maldives

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]


Q&A: United Nations Resident Coordinator for the Maldives, Andrew Cox

Andrew Cox is the newly-appointed UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative for the Maldives. Before arriving in the Maldives, Cox was based in New York as the Chief of Staff for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in New York.

Prior to this he held several positions in Sudan where he worked on comprehensive peace agreements between warring factions, and in Afghanistan. Before his UN career Cox worked as Field Director for Concern Universal in Sierra Leone and had assignments with various companies and NGOs in the UK, Democratic Republic of Congo and Côte d’Ivoire.

JJ Robinson: How does your experience in development and within the UN system benefit your new role in the Maldives?

Andrew Cox: I’ve worked for the UN since 1999 and NGOs before that. I come from a development background, but I just seem to have ended up in a lot of conflict, post-conflict and post disaster-places.

During my three years in Sudan I spent a lot of time working on a comprehensive peace agreement, and I spent time in Afghanistan in 2002 just as the situation there was changing – I was very sorry to leave, actually. I have also spent some working in Sierra Leone, which oscillated between conflict and post-conflict.

I think the process of transition in [such places] is very interesting – it’s about how people behave when their basic assumptions are changing and the bedrock is shifting under them. People act in extreme ways and sometimes it’s very difficult to get institutions in these countries to change.

What is especially difficult [about countries in transition] is the need for urgency. You don’t have luxury of 10 years to see if something might work. You just have to try things at high speed and discard them if they don’t.

One of the interesting things about coming to Maldives is that I find this transition happening. There is a tremendous amount of dialogue, although sometimes a little above the level of dialogue in terms of intensity and rhetoric.

What the Maldives is going through is not unusual and is to be expected in such circumstances. What I hope I can bring from my past is help and advice, and assistance from the UN system in managing this transition.

JJ: The Maldives has made a major transition to democracy, and the next major transition is the transition from less developed country (LDC) status to middle income. What does this mean and what are the key challenges for the country?

AC: On the surface there are some things the Maldives will lose along with its LDC status, such as access to concessional credit, which is probably one of the more important things. It will also lose a certain amount of grant income from donors.

But the point is to look at it as an opportunity; OK it may hurt in certain areas at the beginning, but in the end the Maldives has got itself where it needs to be and now has more to offer the world than it might have had before – it’s not just about offering beaches to tourists coming in.

When I saw the President I asked him if he had thought about having the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF) serve in UN peacekeeping operations – it’s one way in which Maldivian experience can be sent out there to benefit the rest of the world, and of course it’s a learning experience for those who participate.

Similarly, the Maldives was a victim of a major natural disaster in the tsunami, and in my view it would make a lot of sense for the country to join the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC), which sends in disaster coordination experts to a country whenever there a natural disaster. The Maldives should be able to contribute to that.

I also think, and the President said this and I fully agree with him, that the Maldives should not be about dependency on aid. It should be about development, trade, and punching greater and greater weight in the region.

What everyone seems to be doing at the moment is focusing on the future. The loss of income from donors, if things go well, will be replaced by greater trade and economic growth. But there are some structural issues making that difficult, no doubt about it.

JJ: What kind of structural issues?

AC: The budget deficit is the major one. I’m not completely up-to-date with the figures, but last time I looked it the deficit was 33 percent of GDP, which everyone – the government as well as international institutions – has said the Maldives has got to address.

The deficit in Greece is 12 percent of GDP. Obviously Greece is a very different place [to the Maldives], but everybody needs to be serious about the problem. It’s a huge challenge and until it is solved it is going to be difficult to change other things.

The UN’s position is to help the government find ways dealing with this. There’s various things you can do but in the end the gap between income and expenditure has to change, because it is simply not sustainable at the moment.

JJ: How does the UN navigate the polarised politics here? How do you find the middle-path and involve the opposition?

AC: There have been many changes here over the last few years, and the UN has been here throughout that entire period. I think we played quite a positive role – although you can’t get everything right. But by sticking to its principles, the UN tries navigate its way through. For example, during the change to democracy the UN worked closely with then-president and his party, as well as the opposition.

What we tried to do was help them manage the process [of transition]. It’s very clear what the UN stands for – our principles are out there. There’s no hidden agenda and the approach is consistent across the UN. There are many different levels of support the UN can bring.

I’m not trying to be naive or idealistic – but it’s [an approach] that works just as well if you’re dealing with rebels in the middle of a conflict or if you’re dealing with development challenges – you help those who are there to make the right choices, and sometimes provide an enabling environment for that to happen.

The UN is also here to try and improve the lot of ordinary Maldivians. One of our principles is that we work with all parts of society and we do that in an open way, and that can sometimes be difficult to explain. But in the end it is our job to work with everybody who can be a positive force for change, and to try and advise those who are less convinced for the need to change to change their approach. That’s consistent across all the countries we work in.

JJ: What are some of your experiences from the programs you have worked on in the past that you think would also work in the Maldives?

AC: I worked on the last stages of the comprehensive peace agreement in Sudan, which is a mostly Muslim country. The key in Sudan was doing everything you could to get the parties to sit together. Obviously we don’t have the same kind of situation in the Maldives, but the principles are still the same.

A facilitating role sounds a little bit ‘wishy washy’, until you realise what happens when you don’t have that. It doesn’t have to be the UN – in Darfur the African Union had the lead on the political side, and the UN helped them to do their job.

As a newcomer to the Maldives, it is very obvious that there is a certain amount of heat in the political discourse, to say the least. A lot of this is a very natural outcome of the change everyone has gone through. I think the trick is to find areas where there can be cooperation, and not to allow bigger disagreements to pollute the water where consensus might be possible.

For example, I think the cross-party effort to deal with domestic violence is very interesting right now. Everyone agrees domestic violence is a problem, and although there may be disagreement over how that problem should be addressed, this is absolutely one of those areas for mature political dialogue. We will try and help that process along, but it needs to be the parties in parliament to figure out how they want to deal with domestic violence issues.

The UN's role is to facilitate dialogue, explains Cox
Civil society is weak in the Maldives, explains Cox

JJ: To what extent should be UN be a leader of civil society in a country, in terms of supporting NGOs and helping them work properly and efficiently?

AC: I don’t think leader is the right word. If we were, then if we withdrew our support the whole thing would collapse and that’s not the way it should be. The real strength of civil society in most countries, to use an overused phrase, is ‘grassroots.’

Civil society is only powerful if it comes into being organically. I think most people on either side of the political divide recognise that civil society is very weak in the Maldives, and that much more needs to be done to support its growth.

I think the UN can play a major enabling role. There are an awful lot of people around the world who have [grown civil society], and one thing we can do is to bring some of them in to explain how they did it. That process of sharing information and knowledge is very important.

JJ: What do you mean when you say civil society is weak in the Maldives? There are a great many NGOs and it does seem to be a sought-after profession.

AC: Yes exactly – I think across all parts of society, and obviously it varies area to area, from human rights to gender to drug prevention, there are a number of things you look for, such as sustainability of funding and resources. In the end civil society will only be strong if Maldivians embrace their own civil society and start paying for it.

Some of that is about government funding, but much more of it is local philanthropy and gift giving – and earning the organisation that you’re associated with.

The UN can give out a grant of US$20,000 [to an NGO], and what they’ll do is buy a computer, pay for some travel and training and so on, then it’s gone and that’s it. What happens then?

This is a very important question that a lot of civil society organisation managers are thinking about – or at least I hope they are. Because in the end, international funding can’t be assured for anybody over time.

I think the whole point is to use that external support as a way to building up a civil society organisation so it can have links with the community and an income stream, and a sufficiently strong volunteer network to get done what they think needs to get done.

How do we help them through that process? Definitely we have supported NGOs in the past, and there has been a proliferation in the last year or two, but now they need to move beyond that start up phase and become a bit more secure. You really need a strong civil society because it gives you a way to get important things done that is separated from politics.

JJ: The Maldives recently beat Iran to the UN Human Rights Council – what kind of an achievement does that represent?

AC: I think it’s a remarkable achievement. The Maldives ran a good election campaign on its own merit and got the support, which was a very big deal.

The Human Rights Council is in organisation in flux, and I think both [UN Secretary General] Ban Ki Moon and the High Commissioner of Human Rights [Navi Pillay] see it as a long term project – and many of its members see it in the same way.

For the Maldives it represents a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate it can be a world leader, as it already is in the area of climate change. For a country to progress so far on the human rights side allows it to go out there with a very honest position and say ‘we’re not perfect yet, but this is what we’ve done.’

Another part of the Human Rights Council is that you have support from your peers to deal with human rights issues, so when it works well is when there is an atmosphere of cooperation and people get down to business away from the heated rhetoric you also sometimes hear on human rights issues.

But I would also say that because the Maldives has a somewhat exalted position on this council, this is also a challenge. The Maldives can’t stop its progress on human rights, because the eyes of the world are on the Maldives as much as eyes of the Maldives are on the world in the human rights sense. I think it is very important that this election provokes a renewed investment in human rights in the Maldives, and if it doesn’t happen then the Maldives’ position on the Human Rights Council could invite unwelcome attention.

It just the way we seen these things work over the years. I sincerely hope – and everything I’ve heard suggests this will continue to happen – that the Maldives will continue to strengthen human rights in the country, especially now.

JJ: How would you describe the level of human rights in the Maldives, from the perspective of a newcomer?

AC: I would probably describe it again as a situation of change. There have been tremendous advances made, but obvious areas that need strengthening – areas like access to justice.

I think there are important bills pending on the judiciary, things like access to legal aid. The Maldives needs to invest in the judiciary and its ability to do its work, and there needs to be investment in corrections – I think the problems are self-evident. Then there’s right to information, and of course the police, who now have themselves been changing and adapting to new challenges. I think there’s a raft of institutional legal framework measures that are needed to strengthen human rights in the Maldives.

I think the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) needs to continue to be supported, for obvious reasons. It’s important to have a strong home-grown human rights commission to encourage the government to take the steps it needs to take, and I think it is absolutely important to have strong human rights organisations on the civil society side. This is a priority for UNDP, and we’ll be scaling up our support to human rights NGOs. If you get them right, there’s a knock on effect to other NGOs.

JJ: Human rights issues such as freedom of expression and gender equality appear to sometimes conflict with stricter interpretations of Islam. Is it possible for human rights to be fully realised in a 100% Islamic country?

AC: I think there is a very strong human rights tradition in Islam, and I think it’s absolutely possible. I know there are many different legal systems under the Islamic system, and what I think is quite important is to learn from other experiences around the world and shamelessly steal the best parts. I see absolutely no contradiction between Islam and human rights.

JJ: The Maldives has established itself as an international leader on climate change based on its vulnerability to rising sea levels, but at the same time it’s trying to attract long term business investment. Is there room for these to exist side by side?

AC: I think it’s an interesting dilemma, and if it’s going to get solved anywhere it be here. Obviously I’m not a climate change scientist, but speaking as the manager of UNDP I think there’s interesting opportunities in the Maldives over how to cope with climate change.

We still don’t know how bad it’s going be, so yes, risk inherent in every situation. But let’s not forget that the Maldives is not alone in this – the Maldives may have problem with rising sea levels, but there are many other countries with problems related to climate change – you just have to look at sub-Saharan Africa, and see how climate change is affecting water and food production there.

Certainly from the Maldives side, the country has to press on with mitigation and creating a low-carbon economy. There are thousands of different possibilities, and money to be made off successful models of technology that can be proven to reduce carbon. On the adaptation side there’s a lot we don’t know how about how reefs will react to changing water temperatures, and new technologies which can be looked at in terms of sea defenses. And things like if you’ve mangroves that you look after, you got a much greater change of withstanding rising sea levels and weather events than if you don’t have them. It’s a matter looking at these things and the impact of communities that live in these areas.

With all that in mind, the Maldives is a good place to invest in from the point of view of climate change-related industries. Businessmen and women are not stupid – they evaluate situations and make decisions accordingly. One of the things the government has committed to is loosening the trade environment and having clear regulatory frameworks, and I suspect if they successful pushing that through then that will also encourage investment.

So don’t think the two messages are contradictory. You have to do an awful lot because of climate change, but you can continue to build the economy as well.

I think adaptation is also very important – people need to be able to manage risk more than they can at the moment. Generally speaking we estimate that for every dollar spent on disaster risk mitigation you save $10 in losses when a natural disaster strikes – the economics are quite obvious.

We have quite some interest in the Maldives’ obvious vulnerabilities to climate change and major weather events, and it’s useful to use different communities around the Maldives to test ways of strengthening people’s ability to withstand natural disasters. If we get that right, then that is also something the Maldives can export – knowledge and know-how about how to deal with vulnerability in the face of climate change.

What we are going to be doing over the next year or two is looking along with the government at creating a global climate change centre in the Maldives. We are working on the details at the moment.

Another priority area is to look at governance programs and see how we can help. A major step forward of the last few months was the government getting together its strategic action plan – it’s a great document but it’s very thick, and it’s not much use unless it gets implemented. We all feel it is quite important to have a results framework, and if the government is able to do that, Maldives stock will go up in eyes of donors.