Corruption, religious freedom, and judiciary biggest human rights problems in Maldives, say US report

The US State Department has described “charges of Supreme Court interference to subvert the presidential elections process,” as among the most significant human rights problems in the Maldives in its 2013 human rights report.

Also highlighted in the report were restrictions on religious freedom, and “corruption of officials in all branches of government”.

No instances of imprisonment on political grounds, unlawful deprivation of life, or disappearance were recorded, while progress was noted with regards to the passage of the anti-torture and right to information bills.

The report accused much of the judiciary of being unqualified and corrupt, and noted that its rulings during last year’s presidential elections had the effect of restricting the independence of the Elections Commission (EC).

The judiciary was described as “not independent and impartial and was subject to influence and corruption”.

It said that a number of judges were “known to base their rulings on cash rewards, and there were reports that lawyers occasionally built the cost of bribes into their fees” while the public generally distrusted the judiciary.

The report estimated that one in four judges have a criminal record, and that two carried convictions for sexual assault.

It was suggested that the outcomes of cases appear to be predetermined, such as the repeated intervention of Supreme Court in the presidential elections where the court directly accepted cases without allowing lower courts to hear them first.

The October annulment ruling and the 16-point guide to conducting elections was reported to have given both the court and political parties veto power over the EC, “curbing its independence and its ability to execute its mandate”.

The report also mentioned the alleged sex tapes of Judge Ali Hameed and his continued presence on the bench.

“Many judges, appointed for life, held only a certificate in sharia, not a law degree. Most magistrate judges could not interpret common law or sharia because they lacked adequate English or Arabic language skills,” read the report.


The report noted that security officials employed practices that fell under what it regarded as ‘torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment’.

While proper arrest procedures were found to be in place, the report noted that police did not fully implement them, particularly in dealing with protests. It was also noted that courts sometimes freed detainees “on the condition that they not participate in protests or political gatherings for a specified number of days”.

In regard to the cancelled October 19 presidential election, it was reported that “Police abdication of their responsibility prevented the elections from occurring”.

It was found that six cases of police brutality were sent to the Prosecutor General’s Office in 2013, but that five of these officers remained with the police – with one of them being promoted – and two cases later dismissed for lack of evidence.

Referring to the Police Integrity Commission (PIC), the report stated that two of three cases where police officers were alleged to have sexually harassed detainees in 2012 were also dropped for lack of evidence.

While the prisons were found to have ‘met most international standards’, it was also found that they were overcrowded.

Flogging, Rape, Domestic Violence and Sexual Harassment

The controversial case of a 15-year-old victim of sexual abuse being sentenced 100 lashes was recorded, detailing the fact that her alleged abuser received no sentence at all. The girl’s sentence was annulled by the High Court following a government appeal due to domestic and international pressure.

The penal code does not classify rape as a separate offense, the report stated, while the PG’s Office lost almost all cases of forced sexual assault due to insufficient weight was given to the testimony of the victim.

Spousal rape is not considered a crime under the law, and according to the report difficulties remain in implementing the domestic violence act due to religious beliefs.

While the Ministry of Health and Gender was said to have received just five cases of sexual harassment, the report stated that various forms of harassment were accepted as the norm in government offices. The protracted removal CSC President Mohamed Fahmy Hassan was noted in the report.

While the law stipulates sentences of up to 25 years in prison for those convicted sexual offenses against children, the report said that “if a person is legally married to a minor under sharia, however, none of the offenses specified in the legislation are considered crimes”.

In 2012, a total of 47 underage marriages were registered at the court, of which 35 involved girls and 12 involved boys.

Civil and political rights

Common to human rights reports on the Maldives, restrictions on freedom of speech and expression in order to protect Islam was noted. Media self-censorship in issues related to Islam – for fear of harassment- and in issues relating to the judiciary were detailed.

One piece of legislation criticised through out the report was the the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act, which was said to be restricting freedom of expression and the press along with freedom of peaceful assembly itself.

The report said this law “effectively prohibits strikes by workers in the resort sector, the country’s largest money earner”.

With regards to privacy, the report stated that standards required for court permission to monitor mails and phone conversations was very low.

Discrimination and attacks against Raajje TV, in particular the attack on Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed, were mentioned. As the case of the attack against Asward continued, no arrests were made regarding the attacks against journalist Ismail Hilath Rasheed in 2011 and 2012. Hilath’s blog continues to be blocked.

The government was found to have failed to enforce applicable laws with regards to workers rights, and the report criticised established mechanisms such as the employment tribunal as “cumbersome and complicated” which violators of employment law often ignore.

“According to the Labor Relations Authority (LRA), there were four strikes. In two cases the employer refused to work with the LRA as mediator and strike participants were fired. In two others, the LRA participated by phone but strike leaders and others who persisted with the strike were terminated,” the report said.

It stated that some undocumented migrant workers were subject to forced labor in the construction and tourism sectors, while domestic workers – especially migrant female domestic workers – were sometimes trapped in forced servitude.

Without any laws on refugee or asylum status, a family of four Palestinian refugees from Syria were housed in Hulhulé island without being rehoused upon UNHCR’s request until asylum was granted for them by Sweden.

Read the full report here.


Waheed and Nasheed hold first meeting since power transfer

Former President Mohamed Nasheed met with his successor Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan yesterday evening for the first time since the former’s controversial resignation in February last year.

Meeting at the president’s official residence – Muleeage – at 9pm, the encounter lasted around fifteen minutes before Nasheed left without speaking to the press.

A subsequent Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) statement said that the discussion had included Nasheed’s concern at the delayed run-off election following the Supreme Court rulings ordering the cessation of preparations – by force if necessary.

The court is reported to be working around the clock to reach a conclusion in the Jumhooree Party’s (JP) case, which has requested an annulment due to what it allegs were systemic failings during the first poll.

Despite President Waheed’s hopes that the court reach a decision as soon as possible, none has been forthcoming since the concluding statements were heard one week ago.

A President’s Office statement today noted Waheed’s desire to see a smooth transfer of power to the eventual winner of the election.

Addressing the nation earlier in the day, Waheed said that verification of election related complaints was vital.

“Presidential candidates, political parties, individual citizens, foreign organisations and nations are all waiting to see the election being held as quickly as possible and to see the new president take oath on November 11,” said President Waheed.

The constitution mandates that a new president take office by November 11, a schedule the Elections Commissioner has said cannot now be met.

Both MDP and President’s Office statements claimed that the meeting had been requested by the other attendee.

Waheed assumed office within hours of Nasheed’s unexpected resignation, in what Waheed has insisted was a constitutionally prescribed procedure.

Nasheed would soon claim that his resignation had come under duress, publicly labelling Waheed as a conspirator in his demise and a ‘baghee’ (‘traitor’).

Whilst Nasheed topped the first round of polling on September 7 with 45.45% of the vote, Waheed’s ‘Forward with the Nation’ coalition gained just 5%.

The final result was due to be followed by a run-off on September 28 between Nasheed’s MDP and second-placed candidate Abdulla Yameen of the Progressive Party of Maldives before third-placed candidate Gasim Ibrahim’s JP took his complaints to the Supreme Court.

Gasim – who himself met with Nasheed two weeks ago to discuss the maintenance of national interest and maintaining stability and public order – missed out on the run-off by less than three thousand votes.

Supporters of Nasheed have protested for six consecutive nights following the decision to indefinitely delay the run-off.


PPM MP Ilham Ahmed stands by Commonwealth withdrawal bill

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ilham Ahmed has told local media that there has been no “consideration” to remove a bill from parliament to renounce the Maldives’ membership in the Commonwealth.

Ilham was reported in Haveeru yesterday as claiming that a parliamentary motion to leave the Commonwealth would not be retracted without first holding discussions with President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, the PPM and the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP).

The bill was forwarded by Ilham and Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MP Riyaz Rasheed last month over allegations that the intergovernmental association was working to “protect the interests” of one party in the country without understanding the “reality” of February’s controversial transfer of power.

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (GMAG) has increased pressure over the last few months on the Maldives government to revise the composition and mandate of an independent commission established to ascertain the nature and legitimacy of how President Waheed came to power on February 7.

During a visit to India this week President Waheed said he would not back proposals to withdraw from the Commonwealth, despite expressing disappointment with CMAG’s statements regarding the transfer of power.

Dr Waheed told media that he believed any bill to renounce membership in the intergovernmental organisation would be dismissed as soon as the Majlis returned from recess.

The bill to leave the Commonwealth has also been criticised by the leader of the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), Ahmed Thasmeen Ali .


President addresses importance of “will” in ensuring sustainable developments

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan has today said that the “will to make a difference” – both by political and private sector bodies – was vital to ensure more effective environmental protection in the future.

Speaking at the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation’s (CANSO’s) 2012 Asia Pacific Conference being held this week at the Kurumba Maldives resort, the president addressed delegates over the “evident” toll on the global environment from unsustainable practices.

At part of a keynote address given this morning during the conference’s final day, President Waheed claimed that technological developments in air traffic management were a good example of the measures available for cutting down on the wider civil aviation industry’s carbon footprint.

However, Dr Waheed stressed that “the will to make a difference” was more essential to sustainable development than purely technical advances, according to a President’s Office statement.

The president added that private organisations like CANSO had an important role to play alongside governments in addressing “environmental damage and neglect”.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed, who Dr Waheed controversially replaced in February, has in recent years became a high-profile advocate for carbon neutral policies in the Maldives.

Nasheed’s government had committed to an ambitious plan to try to become carbon neutral by 2020, with the former president being an outspoken figure on the potential environmental impacts facing the Maldives should the world fail to adopt more sustainable practices.

During his speech today, President Waheed claimed that the Maldives had been a strong advocate for responsible global environment policy since 1989.

He added that his government was committed to protecting the environment and would develop new institutions to help oversee these goals, as well strengthening existing environmental bodies, according to the President’s Office.


Foreign Media should “check the facts” with Nasheed coverage: Dr Hassan Saeed

Writing for Haveeru today, Dr Hassan Saeed, Special Advisor to President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, has criticised some foreign journalists for failing “to check the facts” when it comes to reporting the claims of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Many newspapers in the USA and UK rightly pride themselves on their record of investigative journalism.

That is why it is disappointing that Mr Nasheed seems able to get away with feeding journalists so many fantasies, distortions, half truths and – there is no other word for it – lies during his recent visit and charm offensive to the US. They wouldn’t let their own politicians off so lightly!

I’m just going to look at one interview to the UK newspaper The Guardian that appeared this week- but this sad example is not unique.

On the 19th March, Male saw unprecedented scenes of violence, vandalism and arson with eight law enforcement officers injured. Demonstrators, led by the MDP, attacked the local TV station VTV studio, with rocks and iron bars causing damage amounting to approximately 1.5 million Rufiyaa to the building and equipment. The Auction Shop area in Male, with an area about 5000 sq ft. was torched and razed to the ground.

What’s Mr Nasheed’s take on this? Well, talking The Guardian, Mr Nasheed refers with a ‘rueful grin’ to a ‘scuffle’ and then adds (with a truly bizarre reference to the disturbances at this time) “I must say … I think some very good music has come out of this.” I can only imagine how this remark feels to the injured and those whose property was destroyed.

Mr. Nasheed then paints a picture which has at its centre the explicit claim that he had to resign or the generals “would resort to using arms”. We in the Maldives all know that Mr Nasheed has now acknowledged that a previous claim that he was forced to resign “at gunpoint” was fantasy. So why repeat it?

Read more


UN celebrates 66th anniversary

The United Nations (UN)’s Maldives office today marked the 66th anniversary of the UN’s founding with a ceremony and reception held in the UN’s Male’ compound.

Speaking at the ceremony, Vice President of the Maldives Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan observed that the UN “is as relevant today as it was when it was first founded.”

Dr Waheed, himself a former UN employee with the UNICEF agency, noted that he had himself witnessed the organisation’s work in 16 of the 190 countries in which it had a presence.

In countries such as Yeman and Afghanistan, Dr Waheed recalled that he had seen friends “risk their lives to deliver food, medicine and books to remote parts of countries that even government officials rarely visit. I’ve worked with warlords who fear the UN because of the human rights it stands for.”

The UN had a mandate to protect people from their own government, if the government turned on its own population, he said.

“The world does not want another Bosnia or Rwanda. Libya was saved thanks to the work of the UN Security Council,” he noted.

Locally, new problems such as transnational crime, drug addiction, human trafficking, piracy, human rights challenges, climate change, “cannot be solved in isolation. Some are international issues – global problems needing global solutions,” Dr Waheed said.

Also speaking at the ceremony, acting UN Resident Coordinator Zeba Bukhari observed that despite a perception that the UN dealt primarily with peace and security, “most of its efforts and resources are actually devoted to improving the conditions of vulnerable population groups, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress and development.”

Concrete examples in the Maldives, Bukhari noted, will include the support of electrification of islands through more efficient means and alternate energy, cost effective solutions to coastal management, water and sanitation, land use and resource management, reef systems management and waste management.

“All these efforts will be tied to better livelihoods and agriculture and fisheries opportunities, ‘green’ healthcare-related activities, disaster preparedness and mitigation measures, and greater environmental awareness especially at the community and school level,” she noted.

On October 26 the UN is due to launch a report marking the date the human population reaches seven billion. According to the report, the figure has implications for sustainable human development including climate change, food security, water and waste management, employment, and conflict and peace building.

“Some say our planet is too crowded. I say we are seven billion strong,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, in his UN Day address.

“We are living longer. More of our children survive. More and more of us live at peace, under democratic rule of law. As we have seen in this dramatic year, people everywhere are standing up for their rights and human freedoms,” he said.

“And yet, all this progress is under threat. From economic crisis. Rising joblessness and inequality. Climate change. Around the world, too many people live in fear. Too many people believe their governments and the global economy can no longer deliver for them. In these turbulent times, there is only one answer: unity of purpose.”