Maldives Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem has welcomed “a new dawn in Libya” following reports yesterday that the rebel Transitional National Council (TNC) had all but taken control of Libya’s capital, Tripoli.
President Muammar Gaddafi remains nowhere to be found, but early reports yesterday – confirmed by the International Criminal Court (ICC) – suggested that the rebels had detained his son, Saif al-Islam.
Saif however appeared in front of journalists later in the day declaring that the rebels had “fallen into a trap”, and “screw the criminal court.”
The Maldives was among the first countries to formally recognise the TNC rebels as the sovereign representatives of the Libyan people, and helped organise several UN Human Rights Council resolutions increasing pressure on Gaddafi and legitimising Western military intervention.
“The Maldives took these steps because of our conviction that men such as Muammar Ghadaffi should not be allowed to check, through violence, the recent march of democracy and human rights across the Muslim world – the Muslim Awakening,” Naseem said.
“For decades, the government of Muammar Ghadaffi has ruled through a system of patronage, repression and fear. The Muslim Awakening brought hope that this system could be dismantled peacefully, through dialogue, reform and free and fair elections. However, instead Muammar Ghadaffi chose to use his security forces to attack and kill civilians.
“With the imminent fall of Ghadaffi, the Muslim Awakening lives on, and the Maldives looks forward to welcoming a new, democratic Libyan State into the international family of nations,” Naseem said.
The Maldives is taking a similar line on Syria it took with Libya earlier this year, insisting on democratic reforms and yesterday spearheading an emergency session of the UN Human Rights Council.
“The Maldives considers itself a friend of Syria and its people, and has watched with increasing alarm as the government there has responded to peaceful protests calling for democratic reform with violence and intimidation. Thousands have been arbitrarily detained and hundred of our Muslim brothers and sisters, including children, have been killed. Worse, these gross human rights violations have intensified during the Holy Month of Ramadan,” Naseem said, in another statement.
Syria, which has failed to respond to the Council or cooperate with the UN, is backed by Iran and has taken a hard line against civilian demonstrators calling for President Bashar al-Assad to step down.
Protests began in January 26 as the ‘Arab Spring’ demonstrations began to sweep through the Middle East, escalating into an uprising in which over 2200 people have reportedly been killed.
Involvement of the Maldives
At a press conference held yesterday in Male’, the Maldives Ambassador to the UN Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed said that the small size and relative isolation of the Maldives was “no impediment” the country’s pursuit of an international human rights agenda.
“I think we have shown that size is not everything in international relations,” Ghafoor said. “Even if you are a small country your commitments, your principles, and how you work with others can help you achieve many of your goals.
“Our relations with other countries and our record of promoting human rights both at home and in concert with other countries, and our cooperation with the Human Rights High Commissioner has given us respect and legitimacy in the international community, and we have been at the forefront of a number of resolutions that has been initiated on matters of grave concern,” he said.
Asked about the Maldives’ commitment to human rights locally, and whether he concurred with the Maldives’ recent delegation to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives was the “most active national institution in Asia”, Ghafoor observed that “I don’t think there’s any country that has a perfect human rights record.”
“Without exception I think all countries have human rights issues and problems, but what is more important is how do we deal with it and how do we address these issues,” he said.
“I think Maldives has shown that it is willing to address the shortcomings it has in its human rights promotion and making every effort possible within the resources we have to improve our human rights record.
We are willing to work with other countries, with the international human rights organisations, even with NGOs to make the human rights issue a non-issue hopefully some time in the future. But that maybe a bit too much to hope for. So long as there are human beings interacting with each other there’s likely to be human rights issues.”
Speaking as to the Maldives’ position on the UN report detailing war crimes in the closing days of Sri Lanka’s civil war, Ghafoor said he did not think the matter would create friction with the Maldives’ neighbour.
“I do not see the government having any issues at this stage with the Sri Lankan government,” he said.
“[Naseem] has stated that we would like to see the UN take a more comprehensive review of what has happened in Sri Lanka, rather than concentrate on the last few days. This could skew the whole issue. So we do not see our memberships of the Human Rights Council making it difficult for us to have good relations with Sri Lanka or speak on issues of sensitivity. I think as good friends Maldives can speak very frankly with Sri Lanka and I’m sure they would happy to listen to our views.”