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MP informed those present that, despite having initially accepted the invitation, the government representatives had withdrawn.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.


Maldives’ Ambassador to the UAE resigns

The Maldives’ first Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Ahmed Rasheed, has resigned for what the President’s Office has said are “personal reasons”.

President’s Office Spokesman Abbas Adil Riza explained that Rasheed had been appointed to the mission at the start of the year under the Nasheed government, after having previously been Chief of Protocol for the Foreign Ministry.

Abbas said that Rasheed’s family were strong supporters of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), adding that Rasheed was related by marriage to former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Dr Farahanaz Faisal.

Dr Faisal resigned from her post shortly after the resignation of President Mohamed Nasheed in February, as did the Maldives’ Ambassador to the United Nations Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed – then the country’s most senior diplomat.


MDP eyes mediation as next step forward following CMAG recommendations

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has said third party mediation -possibly from India – may be needed to help resolve the present stalemate between itself and the coalition government as the Commonwealth steps up pressure for early elections.

Party spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor today claimed that such mediation was needed as the government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan had continued “dragging its feet” in committing to international calls to hold early elections before 2013.  He also criticised what he claimed was a government failure to establish a suitably independent inquiry into the nature of February’s transfer of power.

The comments were made as the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) yesterday met to discuss developments within the Maldives.  The meeting came one month after the Commonwealth body, which is charged with dealing with human rights issues, called for polls to be held as soon as possible to remove any doubts over the legitimacy of President Waheed’s government.

Following yesterday’s meeting, CMAG set a deadline of four weeks for President Waheed’s government to address concerns relating to a perceived lack of impartiality in the Committee of National Inquiry (CNI).  The CNI is the body established by the president to conduct an independent inquiry into the transfer of power that saw him take office.

Following yesterday’s meeting , CMAG continued to push for early elections to be called by the end of 2012 at the latest, whilst also committing to strengthening democratic institutions like the judiciary in the country by working with international partners like the UN.

The Commonwealth body, which consists of foreign ministers from a number of member states including Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Jamaica and Tanzania, said yesterday that failure by the government to amend the CNI would result in the organisation taking “further and stronger measures”.

When contacted by Minivan News today, a spokesperson for the CNI said that it was aware of the latest statement released by the CMAG, but added the commission was itself unable to enact changes to its composition.

“The CNI was set up by the president, so it will be for the government to discuss this [CMAG’s findings],” the spokesperson said.

President’s Office spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza said that with the official visit of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the country today, the government had not yet drafted its official response to CMAG’s statement.

Abbas said he expected an official government response to be released during the next 24 hours.

Opposition perspective

In addressing CMAG’s concluding statement yesterday from an opposition perspective, MDP spokesperson Ghafoor welcomed the Commonwealth’s continued calls for early elections, as well as the organisations concerns about the impartial structure of the CNI.

However, Ghafoor believed that foreign assistance may be needed on the basis of mediation in going forward to resolve questions it held over the democratic mandate of President Mohamed Waheed’s government.

“The government has continued dragging its feet on both holding meaningful road map talks towards securing early elections and in ensuring the independence of the CNI,” he said.  “The next step now could be in third party mediation.”

Ghafoor claimed that mediation could be provided by asking a nation like India to try and help facilitate fresh talks.  All party roadmap discussions have already taken place with Indian assistance, but have stalled on several occasions owing to disagreements between the MDP and several parties in Dr Waheed’s national unity government.

“In the next four weeks, we are willing to engage with the government on CMAG’s recommendations,” he claimed. “We resumed [roadmap] talks but there are eight pro-government representatives compared to just one of us wanting to make decisions on a vote basis. Obviously we have a problem on how to move ahead right now.”

During an session of all-party roadmap on April 7, MDP representative and former Home Minister Hassan Afeef called the day’s meeting a “farce” after questioning the likelihood of a successful outcome during the talks.

However, representatives from other parties during the day’s talks told local media that the stalemate during the session had resulted from the MDP failing to notify other representatives that it would be calling for greater inclusion of all the country’s political parties beyond those in the government.

The talks had previously stalled last month over the MDP’s decision to block President Waheed’s constitutionally mandated address to the People’s Majlis on March 1. This led at the time to the withdrawal from the talks of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), Adhaalath Party and the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP).

However, Ghafoor claimed that the MDP was still committed to using the talks to outline a program of measures to facilitate early elections – something the government had said this week might not be needed this year following the weekend success of two of its coalition partners in parliamentary by-elections.

“We have participated at talks and we accepted the way forward at the talks put forward by India and its mediator Ahmed Mujuthaba,” the MDP spokesperson said. “We actually agreed to the plan outlined by India in the talks, they [coalition government parties] disagreed.”

Meanwhile, former High Commissioner Dr Farahanaz Faizal, who represented Mohamed Nasheed at the CMAG meeting yesterday, said that the party was “delighted” with the meeting’s outcome.  She stressed that the party particularly welcomed calls from the Commonwealth for greater impartiality in the investigation regarding February’s transfer of power, as well as the need for early elections in the country.

Dr Faizal said that, from her understanding, the nature of the “stronger measures” proposed by CMAG against the government could potentially have serious ramifications for the Maldives ongoing membership in the Commonwealth.

Though she was not present herself at the time, Dr Faizal was led to understand that, when questioned about the possible nature of further action against the government, the meeting’s chair was reported to have suggested that  suspension of the Maldives from the Commonwealth was an option on the table.

Dr Faizal did not wish to speculate on what such an action could mean for the Maldives, but she said that the ramifications for the country could be quite counter-productive for its future international standing.

“The Comonwealth is an institution made of a wide and varied selection of member states,” she said.

Speaking to Minivan News before yesterday’s CMAG meeting, President’s Office spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza said that the government felt the success of its coalition partners in three out of four by-elections over the weekend was an indication of its “mandate” amongst the Maldivian people.

Abbas therefore called on international bodies such as CMAG to take the results of the weekend’s polls into consideration when reflecting on the need for early presidential elections before the ones already scheduled for 2013.