Comment: Iranian people need Maldives’ leadership at the UN

Dr Fatemeh Haghighatjoo is a former member of the Sixth Iranian Parliament. A co-founder and chief executive officer of the Nonviolent Initiative for Democracy and a leading advocate for a civil, women’s, and democratic rights in Iran.

During its current session, the UN Human Rights Council has heard the latest report from former Maldivian Foreign Minister and current UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights for Iran Dr Ahmed Shaheed.

The council is set to consider a resolution to extend Dr Shaheed’s current mandate this Thursday (March 27).

Eight months ago, Iranians overwhelmingly supported the moderate Mr Hassan Rouhani electing him president hoping that he could deliver on his promises to make meaningful human rights reforms. These include the release of political prisoners and prisoners of conscious, and specifically Iran’s most important political opposition leaders – Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and Ms. Zahra Rahnavard – who have been placed under house arrest for three years without charges or even seeing a court.

The international community welcomed Mr Rouhani’s election for many of the same reasons. Yet today, Iran has seen little to no human rights changes. Speech remains strictly curtailed. Hundreds political prisoners languish behind bars. Unfortunately, torture is common while fair trials are rare. Indeed, Iran’s leader and the judiciary have block any prospect of progress.

Facing these internal challenges, the Iranian people need the international community to help prioritise human rights reforms in our country.

The Maldives has played this role in recent years. As one of 47 voting members of the United Nations Human Rights Council it voted to establish and renew a special rapporteur dedicated to monitoring the situation in Iran on three occasions. In fact, the Maldives sponsored these resolutions.

In doing so the Maldives demonstrated why it was elected to the council.  It established itself as leading member of the body and one of the few Muslim countries willing to defend human rights.

As a Muslim myself, I know how vital it is that Muslim nations show their commitment to human rights.

This week, I hope Maldives demonstrates its leadership once again when the Iran vote is presented. To do otherwise would be to surrender its responsibilities at the Human Rights Council.

The illegal detention of Mousavi, Karroubi, and Radnvard plays a key role in Iran and demonstrates the need for Maldives and the Council to act.

These three people are no ordinary Iranians. Mousavi is a former Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic and Karroubi, a ranking cleric, is a former speaker of parliament. Both were government-vetted candidates in the disputed 2009 presidential election, and Radnavar – who is Mousavi’s wife – is one of the most respected women’s advocates in Iran and a former chancellor of Alzahra University.

So, if these individuals can be stripped of their rights, held without legal justification, formal charges, or a trial in violation of Iran’s own constitution – anyone can.

After authorities stopped Mousavi, Karroubi, and Radnavar from joining a February 14, 2011 peaceful demonstration in support of the Arab Spring, hardline members of Iran’s parliament called for their deaths on the floor of parliament. For the last three years, the supreme leader has called them traitors and state and pro-government media have repeatedly used distorted religious rhetoric to demonise them.

As a former member of parliament, Mr Karroubi was my boss, a friend and a mentor.

Karroubi is a kind, caring and social person. Human interaction is at the core of his personality. And for three years he has been cut off from the outside world, from visits with others with the rare exception of a few allowed visits from his wife and children. When I was a member of parliament, Karroubi frequently visited with the families of political prisoners and learned of their plight. He advocated on their behalf and in at least two instances, his support for prisoners sentenced to death led to their executions being stayed.

Mousavi and Radnvard were no different – committing themselves in defense of the rights of Iranian people and for this paid the price.

And it isn’t just Mousavi, Karroubi, and Radnvard suffering in Iran. This month, 23 prisoners of conscience wrote an open letter calling for an urgent visit to Iran by international human rights bodies and Dr Ahmed Shaheed, the appointed UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran, to investigate the systematic violations taking place inside prisons.

As a former member of parliament, I understand the Islamic Republic. I know the only way we’ll see change in Iran is when the world stands with the people of Iran and loudly raises its concern.

The Maldives cannot ignore what is happening in Iran. This week, it must join the Human Rights Council and adopt a resolution renewing the mandate on human rights in Iran. The Maldives should also call for the release of Mousavi, Karroubi, and Rahnavard and other political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Iran.

For progress to be made, UN member states must stand together and tell Iran’s supreme leader that Iran must improve its dismal human rights record.

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Maldives crisis requires international assistance: former Foreign Minister Dr Shaheed

“I do not believe that the constitutional and political crisis in the Maldives will be resolved without international assistance,” former Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed has told Minivan News today.

Dr Shaheed – currently UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights to Iran – said he wished to correct local media reports claiming he had called for neighbouring India to intervene militarily to restore democracy in the Maldives.

“It does not have to be force – it can even be good offices,” he said, accusing media of distorting his comments.

Progressive Party of Maldives vice presidential candidate Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed meanwhile told local media that the comments were evidence of the “hunger for power” within the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

“Calling for the Indian military to come to Maldives, I believe it is proof that they want power even by sidelining the country’s independence and sovereignty, through whatever means possible,” Dr Jameel told Sun Online.

Tension is growing in Male’ after the Supreme Court ordered the security forces to forcibly prevent any state institutions proceeding with the constitutionally mandated presidential run-off.

The poll was required under Article 111 of the constitution to take place on Saturday (September 28).

Controversy has nonetheless arisen over Shaheed’s remarks on twitter over the past few days, in particular a post from last Thursday (September 26)

CMAG must suspend the Maldives from CW n request India to invoke R2P!

— ahmed shaheed (@ahmedshaheed) September 26, 2013

Initial misinterpretation, argued Shaheed, was a result of Adhaalath Party Vice President Dr Mauroof Hussain distorting a previous message in which he had stated that an Indian takeover would be preferable to one led by local ‘takfiris’ (Muslims who label other Muslims apostates).

Shaheed – noting that local media had run a second article in which he said corrected some of the mistakes made in the first – called on the Commonwealth to take a more proactive stance on the Maldives.

“My tweet on R2P was aimed at the Commonwealth, asking it to suspend Maldives from the Commonwealth and further asking it to invite India to play a more proactive role in restoring Constitutional authority in the Maldives.

“When the Supreme Court has been hijacked by thugs and bandits, the time has come for the Platonic question – who shall guard the guardians? The answer is CMAG, R2P and UN resolution 44/51,” said Dr Shaheed.

He called for a Commonwealth process, and noted that the R2P doctrine itself mandates a UN process, thereby ruling out any unilateral intervention.

Initiatives and resolutions

The R2P initiative is intended to address the international community’s failure to stop genocides, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. It views sovereignty as a responsibility rather than a right.

Former Foreign Minister Shaheed also suggested that UN resolution 44/51 could be invoked to invite Indian assistance to restore constitutional authority in the Maldives.

Resolution 44/51, which was introduced by the former Foreign Secretary Ibrahim Hussain Zaki in 1989, is titled ‘Protection and security of small island states’.

The Maldivian initiative was brought before the General Assembly after the attempted coup by Tamil mercenaries in Male’ the year before.

The resolution stated the General Assembly’s appeals to “relevant regional and international organisations to provide assistance when requested by small states for the strengthening of their security in accordance with the purposes and principles of the [UN] Charter.”

The subsequent paragraph also calls on the Secretary General to pay special attention to the security situation of small states.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had stated his concern about the Supreme Court’s decision ordering the postponement of the second round, given that the first round was “widely recognised as a success by international and domestic election observers.”

“The people of the Maldives have exhibited great patience and should have the opportunity, without undue delay, to exercise their vote,” he stated.

International processes

Expressing concern at recent events in the Maldives, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) last week “urged all those concerned to ensure that the second round of the election is held at the earliest possible date so that this constitutional requirement is met.”

Following last week’s CMAG meeting, Acting Foreign Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela urged the group to “take matters in proper context, and not to over-react on delicate situations in member countries”.

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Shaheed more “actor than rapporteur”: Iran’s human rights chief

Iranian officials have accused former Maldivian foreign minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed, subsequently appointed UN Special Rapporteur on Iran, of failing to perform his duties adequately.

The Secretary General of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights  labelled Dr Shaheed “more of an actor than a rapporteur”, suggesting that he had been acting like an inspector rather than a rapporteur according to the Tehran Times.

Mohammad Javad Larijani at the same time rejected Shaheed’s requests to visit the Islamic republic, stating: “I believe that the request is not serious.”

“I believe that in view of the measures taken by Ahmed Shaheed and the show of interviews launched by him, he is more of an actor than a rapporteur,” he added.

Dr Shaheed was appointed Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran in 2011 – the first time a Maldivian has held such a position.

The decision to establish a Special Rapporteur on Iran was made in 2011 after the deterioration of human rights in the country following the 2009 election.

The mandate for the position includes investigating human rights abuses and undertaking country visits in order to report back to the General Assembly.

The Tehran Times also quoted Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman, who also attacked Dr Shaheed.

“He has not acted fairly and has played the role of the opposition, and his measures have been outside the purview of a UN rapporteur,” the paper quoted Abbas Araqchi as saying.

The spokesman is reported to have said that Iran has no intention of allowing Shaheed into the country until his approach is “modified”.

Shaheed is scheduled to report his recent findings to the General Assembly in October.

In his last report in March, he informed the UN Human Rights Council that Iran’s human rights violations had increased in the past two years.

In a list of recommendations, he urged Iran to “extend its full cooperation to the country mandate-holder by engaging in a substantive and constructive dialogue and facilitating a visit the country.”

Iran’s official response to this report described it as “biased” and as disregarding the “realities on the ground” and “principles of transparency, fairness and impartiality”.

Speaking with the Canadian media last month, Dr Shaheed had expressed hope that the new administration of President Hasan Rohani would result in greater opportunities for dialogue.

“Skepticism borne out of previous experience should not make us blind to opportunities,” he told the New Canadian Media website.

Shaheed’s chief critic, Larijani, made headlines last year when he reportedly described homosexuality as a “disease”.

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Comment: Revisiting the Maldives’ transition to democracy

This article was first published on Dhivehi Sitee. Republished with permission.

The first multiparty presidential election of 2008 in Maldives saw an end to the 30-year dictatorship of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and the adoption of a modern democracy for the first time in the Maldives. Nevertheless, as in many other nascent democracies, there is real doubt whether Maldives can sustain its democracy in its fullest sense, especially after the recent coup that ousted the first democratically elected president in February 2012.

Some scholars argue that the mode of democratic transition a country experiences proves to be a critical factor in determining the country’s democratic future. Hence, an analysis of the mode of democratic transition that occurred in Maldives may help in predicting whether democracy could be sustained in future.

Political scientist Samuel Huntington argues that the process of democratisation could be determined based on ‘the relative importance of governing and the opposition groups as the sources of democratisation’.

He identifies three broader modes of democratisation; (1) ‘transformation’ (from above) occurs when the regime itself takes initiative in bringing democracy; (2) ‘replacement’ (from below) occurs when opposition groups take the initiative and replace the regime by bringing democracy; and (3) ‘transplacement’ (through bargain) occurs when both government and opposition work together to bring about democracy.

My aim here is to analyse the process of democratisation in Maldives in terms of the theories offered by Huntington, and identify the modes of democratic transition that occurred in Maldives.

This in turn may help predict the future sustenance of democracy in Maldives. I will argue that no one particular mode of democratisation occurred in Maldives as none of them materialised fully. However, various efforts from the current opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), together with the leadership of Mohamed Nasheed, have contributed significantly to the process and facilitated negotiations with the regime leading to democratisation.

To achieve the stated-aim, I will discuss the major events that contributed to the democratisation process in Maldives by relating them to the modes of transition outlined above.

The initial period of democratic struggle – a period of near ‘replacement’

The initial period of the struggle for democracy in Maldives depicts characteristics of ‘replacement’ where citizens started to challenge the regime through various means and made attempts to overthrow the autocratic government. The first serious challenge to dictator Gayoom was in 1988, with a failed coup attempt carried out by Sri Lankan Tamil mercenaries financed by wealthy Maldivians. A year after the attempted coup, the election of western-educated young politicians to the parliament in 1989 resulted in increased pressure for democratic reforms.

However, many of them and their family members faced significant threats from the regime and some of them were imprisoned for various politically motivated charges[3]. The regime continued to suppress major opposition figures through arbitrary arrests. In 2001, Mohamed Nasheed – both a Member of Parliament and a major opposition figure – was arrested and imprisoned for two and half years. The same year, the opposition MDP made their first attempt to formally register themselves as a political party. The Home Ministry, mandated to register civic organisations, sent the petition to parliament where it was overwhelmingly rejected.

On September 20, 2003, civil unrest broke out in the capital Male’ sparked by the death of prison inmate Hassan Evan Naseem. Evan was tortured to death by security forces during an interrogation. News of his death led to riots in the prison and a subsequent shootout by the police that killed three more inmates and injured many others. The news spread throughout Maldives, becoming the major trigger for many to publicly demand democratic reforms.

Since the September unrests, Gayoom came under tremendous pressure from both domestic and international actors that compelled him to announce democratic reforms. On June 2004, during an informal meeting, Gayoom announced his proposed changes to the Constitution including two term limits for the president, direct election of the president, measures to increase separation of powers and removing the gender bar for political participation. Moreover, he urged citizens to publicly debate his proposals. The opposition were still very sceptical about Gayoom’s real intentions and raised doubts about whether he could bring about concrete reforms.

However, the reform announcement itself facilitated the opposition to organise more activities publicly. Matt Mulberry from the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, argues that the reforms announced by Gayoom ‘technically gave citizens freedom of speech and freedom of assembly’. As a result, some citizens organised a series of “minivan debates” (‘minivan’ means ‘independent’ in Dhivehi) where they discussed the political issues facing the country. Unsurprisingly, the government sent police to disrupt these debates, eventually declaring them illegal.

Despite these repressive actions, the opposition organised a huge protest on August 12-13, 2004 to mark the death of Evan Naseem and demanded reforms, including the release of political prisoners. A record number of citizens took part in the protest which became the largest political gathering ever in the history of Maldives at that time.

The crackdown that followed the protest led to the arrest of hundreds of activists and injured many protesters. As a result, violence erupted in capital Male’ and other parts of the country. Despite the oppressed media, news of the regime’s repressive actions attracted the attention of many international actors. By then, President Gayoom faced immense pressure from the UK, US, India and Sri Lanka to bring about political reforms.

From ‘replacement’ to ‘transplacement’ – a period of joint action

The mounting international pressure and political instability in Maldives led to a new phase in the democratisation process as the regime agreed to have serious negotiations with the opposition. The willingness of joint action from both the regime and the opposition led to a period of ‘transplacement’ in the democratisation process. The regime agreed to sit with the opposition for the first time in the UK.

During the negotiations, the regime agreed to more reforms including formation of independent oversight bodies such as the Police Integrity Commission and the Judicial Services Commission. Moreover, informal talks between reformers within the regime and the opposition were held in Sri Lanka facilitated by the British High Commissioner.

However, the lack of true commitments from the regime led the opposition to realise that international pressure alone would not help bring down the autocratic leadership. Hence, they increased their efforts in organising more protests, speeches and sit-ins. As a result of the mounting support for the opposition’s cause, reformers within the government increased their efforts in pressuring Gayoom to implement urgent reforms.

The pressure from a few reformers within the government and the opposition MDP led to a period of ‘transformation’ where the regime was compelled to take reform actions. In April 2005, the then Attorney General Dr Hassan Saeed overturned his predecessor’s decision by issuing a formal legal opinion to allow the registration of political parties. In June 2005, the parliament unanimously voted in favour of a resolution to allow multi-party democracy for the first time in Maldives. The MDP – the main opposition party – led by Mohamed Nasheed was formally registered, along with several other political parties representing different views. In March 2006, the regime published a roadmap that ‘included 31 proposals for revision of the Constitution, a series of time-bound commitments on human rights, and proposals to build institutions and mobilise civil society’.

However, many still doubted whether the regime was committed to real reforms. Ahmed Shaheed (then Foreign Minister) later argued that, through the reform agenda, Gayoom was seeking to get rehabilitated and thereby stabilise his presidency. He argued that, by 2007, Gayoom had achieved his aim by gaining widespread domestic support and getting rehabilitated.

However, new cracks that significantly weakened the regime emerged as those most closely associated with the reform agenda left the government. On 5th August 2007, both Dr Hassan Saeed and Mohamed Jameel (Justice Minister) resigned from their posts. They claimed that working outside Gayoom’s regime was the only option to advance their reform agenda. Later on the same month, Ahmed Shaheed resigned from the post of Foreign Minister, accusing the government of stalling democratic reforms. These developments saw more public support for the opposition reform movement. After several disagreements with the Special Majlis (Special Parliament), Gayoom ratified the new Constitution in August 2008, allowing key democratic reforms and paving way for the first multi-party presidential election in October that year.

Democracy sustainable?

As evident from the discussion above, three modes of democratisation have contributed to the democratisation process in Maldives, though characteristics of ‘transformation’ are very little. Interestingly, there appears to be a correlation between each mode as the occurrence of one type led to the other. This observation therefore contradicts Huntington’s view that the three modes of democratisation are alternatives to one another.

However, it is important to note the significant role played by the opposition MDP, especially Mohamed Nasheed as the leader who never took a step back in his quest to bring democracy to Maldives. It is clear that MDP played the most critical role in the process of democratisation. I have previously argued that Gayoom is the major obstacle to sustaining democracy and the threat is heightened more than ever with his current political activeness.

Reflecting on the process of democratisation and the strong influence of Gayoom on many institutions till today, I still doubt sustenance of democracy in the Maldives. Similar to the 2008 election, this year’s election is very much a choice between democracy and autocracy.

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]

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“Anti-semitism, racism, xenophobia and religious intolerance” deeply entrenched in Maldivian political discourse: Dr Shaheed

Anti-semitism, racism, xenophobia and religious intolerance “are deeply entrenched” in political parties currently opposed to the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), former Foreign Minister in both Nasheed and Gayoom’s government, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, has said.

Dr Shaheed’s comments follow reports in local media summarising US Embassy cables first published by Wikileaks in 2009, and discussed during the then-opposition parliament’s efforts to impeach the foreign minister.

In particular, the Maldivian government’s engagement with Israel was the subject of a parliamentary debate November 9, 2009, in which Shaheed narrowly avoided impeachment following a no-confidence motion.

Opposition to the Maldives’ recognition of Israel was seized by then opposition groups in December 2011 as a sign of the Nasheed government’s “anti-Islamic” policies. The previously disparate parties formed the ‘December 23 coalition’, following a large rally in Male’.

Dr Shaheed said “Growing extremism hurts the Maldives rather than anybody else, because whenever a state is unable to deliver what is in the public interest due to intimidation from others, it is the state that suffers.”

“The growth of extremism itself has numerous causes, but none of it is linked to government policy towards Israel or Palestine,” he added.

Many Maldivians firmly believe that policies pursued by Israel affect their solidarity with Arabs and other Muslims, Dr Shaheed explained.

“We care about how Israel treats the Palestinian people, because we care about the safety of the Muslim holy places under Israeli jurisdiction, and because we need to have a dialogue with Israel communicating our interests and concerns on these matters regularly,” he said.

More space for civic reasoning in Maldivian politics is needed for the Maldives to “behave like the rational nation-state, with friendship towards all, that we claim we are,” he said. “Silence may be golden but dialogue is the miracle tool of diplomacy.”

In the original cable referred to by Sun Online, Dr Shaheed told then US Ambassador Robert Blake that he believed “radical clerics ignited a reaction” among the Maldivian population and this was “a lot, but not a genuine undercurrent.”

Dr Shaheed “highlighted that former President Nasheed pledged to “renew ties” with Israel in his September 24 (2009) UN General Assembly speech,” that the Maldives Defense Minister and Minister for Natural Disasters would visit Israel later that year, and both nations “have already signed agreements on health, education, and tourism”.

Speaking to Minivan News, Dr Shaheed said he believed MDP’s rivals considered the cables “the perfect fog-machine to distract any discussion of bread and butter issues in the campaign.”

“Many in the Maldives see the Palestinian-Israeli dispute in religious terms, and religious sensitivities are played up during election time,” he added.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs meanwhile told Minivan News the Maldives is “not against Israel”.

“The Maldives’ government always supports Palestinian citizens to have their freedom and urges this in the United Nations,” said Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Muaz Ali.

“This does not mean Maldives is against Israel,” he said.

“Anti-semitism, racism, xenophobia and religious intolerance”

“Neither former President Maumoon Gayoom nor former President Mohamed Nasheed divided the world into a Dar al- Harb and a Dar al- Islam as in classical Islamic international relations theory, which is what the Salafists in the Maldives want to do,” stated Shaheed.

Shaheed explained that “anti-semitism runs deep in certain sections of Maldivian society”, highlighting as an example an article published in Dhivehi on local news website Dhi-Islam in January 2011, reporting on the agreements made between the Maldivian and Israeli government.

“Under this heinous agreement, these people have thrown the little children and the youth of the Maldives, as well as the country’s education sector and the health sector and many other matters, into the lap of the evil Zionist Israelis, who, as we have been informed through the seven heavens, will never wish anything but evil for Muslims,” the article reads.

“Jews have even historically been an evil people who have been cursed because they had killed prophets and spread corruption on earth, and that they are the biggest enemies of Muslims is proven by the teachings of the Holy Quran and forms of the core beliefs of Muslims. This agreement will impose pressures to prevent the dissemination of these teachings,” it adds.

The report claims that Jews have falsely exaggerated “incidents” of torture and killings during the Holocaust “to inculcate sympathy towards Israel in the minds of Maldivian youths; to convince the Maldivian youths that the jews are the victims of oppression and to make them blind and insensitive to the occupation of Palestine, the seizure of Muslim holy lands, and the endless oppression the jews inflict on the inhabitants of the land.”

“This agreement is high treason or the highest form treachery against the noble Islam and Maldivian identity, upon which this country is founded. It is a matter far more dangerous and grave than can be treated lightly,” said the report.

Historical Maldivian – Israeli relations

There is no document to support the claim that Maldives ever severed diplomatic relations with Israel, in Maldivian or Israeli records, explained Dr Shaheed.

Instead, what appears to have happened is a downgrading of the relationship where no Maldivian president since the early 1970s has been willing to receive an Israeli ambassador formally in his office.

The Maldives voted at the UN to accept the legitimacy of Israel, on December 17, 1991, at the request of then President George Bush, by repealing the 1975 UN resolution equating zionism with racism.

“The Maldives was not alone in changing its policies towards Israel – there were a number of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) states doing the same thing, or had even restored full diplomatic relations,” said Dr Shaheed.

“Under Gayoom, the Maldives categorically accepted the two-state solution. All of these actions were firmly grounded in international law and state practice,” he added.

The Maldivian government discussed the question of restoring ties with Israel following the Oslo Accord agreement in 1993, which established a peace process framework to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Israel agreed to recognize Yasser Arafat as its partner in peace talks and essentially exchanged land for peace. The Palestinians in turn recognized Israel’s right to exist while also renouncing the use of terrorism and its long-held call for Israel’s destruction.

The Gayoom cabinet agreed on a three-stage restoration of ties with Israel, beginning in June 1994. The Maldivian government “agreed to recognize Israeli passports and ended the travel ban” during stage one, explained Shaheed. Shortly thereafter stage two saw trade and commercial relations were fully restored. Restoring political ties occurred during stage three, with regular meetings at senior diplomatic levels, between 1995 to 2008.

“So what President Nasheed said at the UN – and that was my formulation – was that Maldives wanted friendly relations with all states in the General Assembly,” said Dr Shaheed.

“This does not and has not prevented Maldives from criticizing actions of UN member states when they violate peremptory norms of international law, but Nasheed was not going to divide the world into the good the bad and the ugly,” he declared.

In recent years, attitudes toward Israel have greatly fluctuated with collaborative engagement by the Maldivian government being countered by some anti-semitic ‘blowback’ from elements within Maldivian society.

In February 2010, a team of experts from the Israeli Foreign Ministry are training 35 Maldivian officials in emergency preparedness, with a focus on the management of mass casualties.

Later that year, in November, the Islamic Foundation of the Maldives (IFM) called on the government to break off all diplomatic ties with Israel, a day after Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) announced that a team of seven Israeli doctors is due to arrive in the country to treat patients at the government hospital for a week.

The IFM reiterated calls to the Maldives government to “shun all medical aid from the Zionist regime” with a team of seven Israeli eye surgeons due to arrive in December 2012, claiming that Isreali doctors and surgeons “have become notorious for illegally harvesting organs from non-Jews around the world.”

The following month, Founders of the IFM NGO claimed that although they do not believe in “hysterical outbursts” and theories of an imminent “Jewish invasion” in the country, a week of anti-Israel protests and flag burning across Male’ has reflected “strong dissatisfaction with the government’s open attitude” to the Jewish state.

In May 2011, Ahmed Naseem became the first Maldivian Foreign Minister to visit Israel.

However, in September 2011, Deputy Leader of the Adhaalath Party Dr Mauroof Hussein has called for alarm after alleging that a delegation from an Israeli company, Teshuva Agricultural Products, was due to arrive in the Maldives to assess the country’s agricultural potential. The Israeli agricultural delegation that was supposed to arrive on Filadhoo cancelled the visit after the islanders warned that they would not let the delegation go further than the jetty.

In December 2011, Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari requested parliament endorse a resolution forbidding the government to establish ties with Israel.

While in April 2012, MPs passed a resolution preventing Israeli national airline El Al from operating scheduled flights to the Maldives until Majlis’ National Security Committee completes further investigation into the matter. El Al applied to the Ministry of Civil Aviation in May 2011 requesting permission to fly to the Maldives starting in December 2011.

There was no direct flight from Israel to Maldives between 2009-2011, so the Maldives was “not able to maximize the benefits from the growing Israeli market,” Dr Shaheed remarked.

“Maldives could have significantly increased the direct income and benefits from Israeli tourism by accepting direct flights from Israel, resulting in a longer holidays and greater expenditure in Maldives while still making the holiday comparatively cheaper for the visitor,” he added.

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Nasheed’s trial and Maldives’ human rights record debated in Westminster

The ongoing trial of former President Mohamed Nasheed was again the subject of debate in London this week, as well as the current human rights situation in the country.

On Tuesday night, the Conservative Party’s Human Rights Commission convened to discuss the Maldives, inviting speakers from the government, the opposition, and civil society to participate in the event titled “Human rights and Democracy in the Maldives: Where do we go from here?”

The following day, a private members debate was secured by Karen Lumley MP in the House of Commons to discuss the role of the UK government and the Commonwealth in ensuring a fair trial for Nasheed, whose case was postponed on Sunday following a high court injunction.

Tuesday’s meeting was attended by former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Dr Farahanaz Faizal, former Foreign Minister and current UN Special Rapporteur Dr Ahmed Shaheed, barrister – and current member of Nasheed’s legal team – Sir Ivan Lawrence QC, as well as Amnesty International’s South Asia specialist Abbas Faiz.

Invitations were also extended to the Acting High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Ahmed Shiaan and Minister for Tourism Ahmed Adheeb.

However, after queries from panel members in attendance as to the whereabouts of the government’s representatives, the committee’s Chair Robert Buckland MP informed those present that, despite having initially accepted the invitation, the government representatives had withdrawn.

A Foreign Office spokesperson said that Adheeb had been unable to attend the meeting as it had clashed with a ministerial dinner. He had also been busy with duties related to the 2012 World Travel Market, which had been the primary purpose of his visit to London.

Where do we go from here?

Shaheed was the first to speak at the Conservative’s meeting, urging the government to uphold the commitments made via its international commitments as well as the pledges made this summer at the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC).

Farah was the next to speak, choosing to focus in particular on the issues of gender based violence and rising religious extremism in the country.

She argued that the treatment of female protesters in the aftermath of the February 7 transfer of power had highlighted this endemic abuse.

Farah deviated from her prepared testimony to mention the recent incident of the 11 year old girl who gave birth in Seenu atoll last week.

“The silence of the authorities is disturbing,” she added, before chastising President Mohamed Waheed Hassan for failing to speak out, despite his history of working with UNICEF.

Abbas Faiz spoke next, taking time – after distributing a copy of the recent Amnesty International publication, ‘The other side of paradise’ – to assert the independence of his organisation: “Some still believe we are not. We do not take sides.”

After the release of the report in the summer, Amnesty was accused by Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed of acting with bias towards anti government supporters.

Faiz pointed out that Amnesty also condemned any acts of violence by protesters and stated that it still considered the detention of Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January this year to have been “arbitrary”.

Sir Ivan Lawrence QC contended that the “arbitrary” arrest of Abdulla Mohamed was yet to be proven in a court of law.

The member of Nasheed’s current defense team recalled his previous work in the country in 2005, noting the proven gains to be made from garnering global attention on human rights abuses.

He did acknowledge the difficulty of this task, with far greater human rights atrocities occurring elsewhere in the world, and expressed his belief that the Commonwealth was best placed to help solve the country’s current problems.

When taking questions from the floor, Farah expressed her concern that international observers were often sheltered from the real Maldives when visiting the country, arguing that this must change if observers are to assist with free and fair elections.

Buckland, the Chair, concluded the meeting by saying that he would pass on the details of the forum to the Foreign Secretary William Hague as well as the Under Secretary Alistair Burt.

Private members’ debate

Burt was unable to attend the private member’s debate the following day, sending Mark Simmonds to represent the Foreign Office on his behalf.

Lumley described the 2008 election victory as a “political fairy tale”, but argued that Nasheed had been left with a “constitutional time bomb” regarding the unreformed judiciary, which the Commonwealth ought to have offered greater assistance with.

Robert Buckland, also present at this debate, remarked that the “current government is in a supremely ironic situation.”

“They criticised the former president for interfering in the judiciary and now it seems they are using judicial processes to frustrate a free and fair election,” he said.

“Is not the message we need to send to them that the guarantee of a true democracy is an independent judiciary, and that they had better make sure that is so,” he asked.

Both Karen Lumley and John Glen MP both stated their firm belief that the events of February 7 amounted to a coup.

On behalf of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), Simmonds said that he disagreed with the assertion that the Commonwealth had “taken its eye off the ball” in the Maldives.

“I do not think that is an entirely accurate reflection of matters,” he said.

He said that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) was concerned about the situation – noting that the recent meeting in New York went on for five hours, despite being scheduled for 45 minutes – and that it had pledged additional support for civil society and judicial reform.

Simmonds was keen to stress that, after the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI), “we fully accept the legitimacy of the current president and his government.”

He described the current legal proceeding as a “significant test” which was being “watched closely” by the international community before noting that the government had previously sought and received assurances from President Waheed that the trial would be free from political influence.

“At this stage of proceedings, we have no reason to believe that this will not be the case,” said Simmonds.

“I have no doubt that the Maldives government and judiciary will feel the eyes of the world on them, and that they realise that a fair and impartial trial is most evidently in the national interest,” he added.

The second hearing in Nasheed’s trial had been scheduled for last Sunday but was postponed pending a High Court ruling on the procedural points raised by his legal team.

A High Court decision had been expected on the day after the private members debate, but the Supreme Court was reported to have instructed the lower court to halt its hearings on Wednesday afternoon.

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Resolution calling for Dr Shaheed’s dismissal from UN post removed from Majlis agenda

Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim – presiding in the absence of Speaker Abdulla Shahid – removed from the agenda a resolution submitted by Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MP Riyaz Rasheed calling for the dismissal of former Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed from his post as UN Special Rapporteur on Iran.

Nazim said at the beginning of today’s sitting that the item could not be tabled in the agenda and apologised for having previously tabled it for debate and announced a first reading.

He noted that the UN and not the Maldivian government had appointed Dr Shaheed to the post.

The People’s Alliance Leader made the apology after Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ahmed Sameer raised a point of order to object to the resolution being accepted in August, contending that in doing so parliament had defamed Dr Shaheed.

“If someone told him that a resolution in the parliament is not going to strip him of his FIFA referee accreditation, he might understand,” Dr Shaheed told Minivan News when the resolution was first submitted by the DQP Deputy Leader.

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CMAG will not remove Maldives from agenda without guarantees: Dr Shaheed

“If the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) agrees to remove the Maldives from its agenda – and it’s a big ‘if’ – it will be based on guarantees of free and fair elections next year in which Nasheed could participate,“ said former Foreign Minister and UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, Dr Ahmed Shaheed.

Shaheed explained that he had been in contact with a number of ministerial delegations from the group, receiving assurances that the Maldives would not be removed from the agenda without “very good assurances” that human rights norms would be adhered to.

Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed has today said that any direct conditions set by CMAG could infringe upon the sovereignty of the Maldives, telling Minivan News that nothing along these lines had been conveyed to the government by CMAG.

After the release of the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) ruled that February’s transfer of power was constitutional, prominent members of the government have argued that the country be removed from CMAG’s investigative agenda.

Conversely, members of the now-opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have been lobbying for the Maldives to stay on the group’s agenda, arguing that questions still remain over the country’s ability to adequately observe the values of the Commonwealth.

This campaigning has taken former President – and current MDP presidential nominee – Mohamed Nasheed, to the UK this week, where he met with Foreign Secretary William Hague and asked him to back calls to ensure continued Commonwealth oversight of the Maldives.

“We want to be on someone’s agenda until the elections are through. That’s what we’re trying to do now. I have known William Hague for some time. I know they have difficulties as a government. They have to take on board everything and give proper consideration to the regional sensibilities of British intervention in the Maldives,” the UK’s Telegraph newspaper reported Nasheed as saying.

“But we feel now that they have an avenue to help the Maldives through the Commonwealth. What we are asking for is not the sun, the moon and the stars. What we are asking for is very natural and it can be done.”

Nasheed also spoke at the Royal Commonwealth Society on Wednesday, where he pushed for the Maldives to remain on the CMAG agenda, despite the CNI report’s findings.

“I am not for one second suggesting the transfer [of power] was legal… but we don’t have to go there to keep us on the CMAG agenda,” he continued, arguing that the persistent violations of the Commonwealth’s values was ample grounds to keep the country on the CMAG agenda, according to its revised mandate.

Jameel remained confident, however, that CMAG’s role in the this year’s political crisis ended with the CNI’s legitimisation of the current government: “We do not believe that CMAG will take any steps to exceed its mandate as it exercises a defined function.”

Shaheed’s comments regarding Nasheed’s ability to run in next year’s elections come as the government continues to pursue him through the courts, with prominent politicians stating a desire to see the former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience back behind bars.

On Wednesday evening, Nasheed acknowledged his fears of returning to prison.

“I don’t want to be there but we have to face reality of consequences and I don’t see the international community as robust enough to stop that happening – this is very sad… I might not be with you for the next few years but, rest assured, we will come back and democracy will reign in the Maldives again.”

Jameel today argued CMAG could not override domestic legal proceedings.

“The people have decided the criminal justice system of the Maldives. So no foreign party has the authority to dictate or ask to revise that process,” he told Haveeru, referring to charges against Nasheed in relation to the detention of Judge Abdullah Mohamed in January this year.

During his time in London, Nasheed also met with Richard Ottaway MP – Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Alistair Burt MP – Parliamentary under-secretary of state at the FCO as well as MPs John Glen MP, Mark Menzies, and Karen Lumley.

A Spokesperson from John Glen’s office said that discussions had included the Commonwealth’s procedures in such cases as well as Britain’s role in dealing with the CNI report.

Dr. Shaheed spoke to Minivan News from London just before boarding a plane to New York, where he will be lecturing on human rights.

He has recently accepted a position at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom as visiting professor of human rights practice for the coming academic year. He will continue his work for the United Nations.

President Dr. Mohamed Waheed Hassan also left for the United States yesterday morning, where he will reportedly be attending the next meeting of CMAG on September 28, at which a decision on the removal of the country from the agenda is expected to be made.

Waheed will also be attending the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) which opened last Tuesday.

Despite the Commonwealth Secretariat being based in London, for logistical reasons CMAG also meets annually in New York alongside the UNGA.

The previous teleconference meeting, earlier this month, was expected to produce a decision on whether to remove the Maldives from the agenda.

After an inquiry as to why no decision was made at the teleconference, following local media reporting technical problems, the MDP was informed that the CMAG ministers preferred to conclude such discussions face to face.

Shaheed suggested that Waheed’s attendance at the meeting could be taken advantage of by CMAG members to “wrest concessions” from the president.

He added that sending the president himself was a far better idea than sending other members of his cabinet who had “waged war” on CMAG.

No spokesperson from the President’s Office was responding to calls at time of press.

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Waheed says China to grant Maldives $500 million loan

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan has told Reuters that China will grant the Maldives US$500 million (MVR7.7billion) in loans during his state visit to the country.

The loans, equal to nearly one quarter of the Maldives’ GDP, would include $150 million (MVR2.3billion) for housing and infrastructure, with another $350million (MVR5.4billion) from the Export-Import Bank of China, reported Reuters.

This state owned bank is mandated with facilitating the export and import of Chinese products and promoting Sino-foreign relationships and trade, according to its official website.

China’s aid may provide an immediate salve to the government’s financial ailments which are on track to leave a MVR 9.1 billion ($590million) deficit in this year’s budget.

Former Foreign Minister and current UN Special Rapporteur to Iran, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, explained that it was unlikely China would give any money to the Maldives as cash, suggesting that it would more likely come as assistance in kind, which was often difficult for the economy to “absorb”.

Shaheed said that the loan should not be interpreted as a change in foreign policy after former President’s Nasheed and Gayoom both recognised the importance of cultivating ties with China.

“This is very much in keeping with past policy. There has been a growing Chinese interest in the Maldives – a relationship based on trade, tourism and political contact,” said Shaheed.

“The lines so far drawn have demonstrated that the Maldives remains primarily SAARC focused, followed by trading partners in the EU and Singapore. China has moved into this second category,” he added.

“Nothing will change the fact that we are only 200 miles from Trivandrum,” he said.

A Chinese embassy opened in Male’ in time for the opening of the SAARC summit last November, reciprocating the opening of a Maldivian mission in Beijing in 2007.

Indian officials were reported at the time as having concern that the move was part of China’s “string of pearls” policy which supposedly involves Chinese attempts at naval expansion into the Indian Ocean.

On this matter, Shaheed acknowledged that India would be worried about Waheed’s arrival in Beijing after its apparent diplomatic failings during the Maldives’ recent troubles.

However, Shaheed said that a genuine policy shift would have to involve enhanced military cooperation, something avoided by former President Nasheed after his predecessor had shown some interest.

“Nasheed understood that the Maldives should not become a playground for the big powers,” he said.

Similarly, when asked upon his recent return from Sri Lanka what the Maldives’ policy was regarding Sino-Indian competition in the region, President Waheed is said to have responded that the policy of a small nation like the Maldives ought to be to avoid too great an involvement in geopolitics.

Waheed’s first official state visit after becoming president saw him travel to India in May. The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) conducted joint naval operations with India in the same month.

More recently, Waheed has visited the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka.

The vast rise in the number of Chinese tourists visiting the Maldives was a point Waheed was keen to make to both Reuters and the Chinese state news agency, Xinhua.

“The purpose of this visit is we have a growing relationship with China,” Waheed told Reuters. “The most tourists from one nation are coming from China. So it is really important to have a good relationship and to also encourage Chinese tourists to continue to come to the Maldives.”

China leapfrogged the United Kingdom in 2010 to become the number one source of arrivals for the country’s travel industry.

Official figures from the Maldivian Ministry of Tourism reveal that China has provided 22.2 percent of all arrivals to the Indian Ocean nation this year – up 14.5 percent from last year.

When speaking with Xinhua, Waheed thanked the Chinese for choosing to visit the Maldives before going on to give praise to China’s policy of non-interference in foreign affairs.

Waheed has been critical of the Commonwealth’s role in the country’s recent political turmoil, suggesting that the organisation’s calls for early elections were “premature”.

In a comment piece for local newspaper Haveeru this week, Waheed’s Special Advisor Dr Hassan Saeed said that the Maldives should not tolerate interference from people “who fail to practice what they preach in their own country.”

“We need to have the confidence to challenge those diplomats and politicians in the international community who sometimes seem to let their personal political sympathies determine their approach to our problems,” said Saeed.

Xinhua reported that Waheed had lauded China for understanding the international affairs of smaller countries.

“China is emerging as one of the superpowers now. In that sense, it will inevitably play a significant role in world affairs,” said Waheed.

On this point, Shaheed argued that the mention of ‘non-interference’ alongside ‘world power’ was a non-sequitur.

“The world has moved on from this approach. It is now state business to interfere when partners appear to have violated agreements,” he said.

Shaheed added that praise for a host country’s policies was standard in these instances, “a nicety”, and suggested that people should “not read too much into it.”

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