Maldives defends death penalty and flogging

The Maldives has defended the death penalty for murder and flogging for fornication at a UN human rights review on Wednesday, stating the punishments are mandatory in Islamic law.

Several countries including France, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Namibia, Spain, Australia and Montenegro expressed concern over Maldives’ decision to end a six-decade moratorium on the death penalty last year.

However, speaking to the UN human rights council in Geneva, legal affairs secretary Aishath Bisham said: “We would like to stress that Islamic principles dictate that its legal measures are to be enforced and regulated by law and process after necessarily subjecting it to rigorous judicial framework.”

The Maldives constitutional assembly had declared Islam to be the state religion and the basis of all laws enacted in the country, and requires judges to refer to Islamic law, she noted.

However, the enforcement of the death penalty and flogging are “never intended to be arbitrary or capricious,” she said.

The former UN high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay and Amnesty International have called on the Maldives to abolish flogging, describing it as an inhumane and degrading treatment.

In 2012, the juvenile court’s decision to flog a 15-year-old rape victim sparked international outrage and led the high court to overturn the ruling.

Information previously made available by the Department of Judicial Administration showed that, while applicable to both men and women, flogging is largely discriminatory against women in practice.

But Bisham said the enforcement of flogging is never served “as a retributive penalty” and primarily serves as a deterrent.

“It is strictly regulated and enforced only when the appeal or its opportunity is exhausted and is executed with civility. The respective regulations disallow flogging on any woman found to be mentally incompetent, or if there is a potential risk to the person’s life, limb or even the function of his her senses.

“Flogging is never enforced on children and pregnant women. The practice itself is with minimal force, with absolutely no instances of nudity or exposure, in full recognition of the person’s right to dignity constitutionally prescribed in the Maldives,” she added.

The standard of proof required in proving an offence prescribed in Islamic law is “far stricter than the conventional threshold of beyond reasonable doubt.”

Flogging is enforced in the Maldives in only five out of a potential 425 offences, she said.

Meanwhile, the death penalty will be enforced in cases of wilful murder alone, and only if the accused confesses in a court of law and when all three tiers of the judiciary deem the accused guilty, she said.

If the accused denies the charges at any stage of prosecution, it will be legally impossible to issue the death sentence, she said.

The government will “urgently strengthen” the legislative and judicial framework in cases of flogging and death penalty and will continuously subject the process to periodic independent assessments, she added.

The Maldives also maintained reservations on the call for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights and freedom of religion.

“Provisions on the country’s Islamic identity are evident in every single draft of constitution ever adopted all throughout our constitutional history. The government emphasises proudly that Islam has been and will remain as the defining part of the nation, its culture, and its people,” she stressed.


CEDAW committee welcomes progress on women’s rights, expresses concern with child marriages, flogging and gender stereotypes

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has welcomed the Maldives’ progress on protecting women’s rights whilst expressing concern with child marriages, flogging and gender stereotypes in society.

In its concluding observations released last Friday (March 6) on the combined fourth and fifth periodic reports of the Maldives – reviewed at meetings on February 27 with a high-level delegation led by Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon – the committee welcomed progress achieved since the last review in 2007, including the adoption of a new penal code that includes a definition of rape.

The committee noted other legislative reforms such as the Sexual Harassment and Abuse Prevention Act of 2014, the Sexual Offences Act of 2014, the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act of 2013, the Domestic Violence Prevention Act of 2012, the Employment Act of 2008, and the new Constitution in 2008, “which removes provisions barring women from being elected as President and Vice-President.”

The committee also noted the establishment of the Family Protection Authority in 2012 and welcomed “forthcoming amendments to the Family Act to regulate the distribution of matrimonial assets upon divorce.”

The Maldives acceded to the UN Convention on Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in July 1993 with reservations to article 16, which deals with equality in marriage and family relations.

“We strongly believe that equality of women in all walks of life, within the family, and in public life, is indeed a prerequisite for social justice and inclusive development that benefits all segments of society,” said Foreign Minister Dunya in her opening remarks at the treaty reporting session.

She reiterated the government’s commitment to addressing emerging challenges such as stereotypical practices that hinders equal representation of women in society.

Issues of concern

Whilst welcoming legislative initiatives on improving access to justice, the committee expressed concern with “persistent barriers faced by women in accessing justice”.

Of particular concern was the “insufficient independence of the judiciary, bias and gender stereotypes among judges and law enforcement officials, the absence of gender sensitive procedures and the limited capacity of the police to deal with complaints from women about violations of their rights in a gender-sensitive manner.”

Noting “the high number of unregistered marriages in rural and remote areas, including child marriages,” the committee recommended setting an age limit of 16 for exceptional cases of underage marriages.

The committee also recommended the abolition of flogging for fornication “as a matter of urgency,” noting that flogging “disproportionately affect women and girls and deter them from reporting sexual offences.”

Moreover, the committee noted the “existing discriminatory provisions regarding the participation of women as witnesses and delays in amending the stringent evidentiary provisions required for sexual violence offences.”

The committee noted that marital rape was not criminalised in law, the lack of enforcement of the anti-domestic violence law, and the lack of resources for the Family and Child Service Centres and safe houses.

The committee suggested that social stigma attached to women who report abuse as well as the perception that domestic violence cases were private family matters deters reporting.

Traditional stereotypes regarding the role and responsibilities of women in society meanwhile remain deeply entrenched, the committee observed, “which overemphasise the role of women as wives, mothers and caregivers, as well as prevent them from asserting their rights and actively participating in decision-making and other aspects of political and public life.”

The committee also expressed concern at “the growing trend in conservative interpretations of religion which encourage stereotypical patterns which negatively impact women and girls, as acknowledged by the State party during the dialogue. The Committee is further concerned about the emergence of cases of female genital mutilation in the State party, despite legislative prohibitions.”

Stereotypes as well as geographic constraints also limit girls’ access to higher education, the committee observed, noting “de facto restrictions on the re-entry of pregnant adolescent girls and married girls under the age of 18 in the formal educational system.”

Whilst noting the high representation of women in political parties, the committee noted that “social and cultural barriers continue to stigmatise women wishing to participate in political and public life which prevent them from running for public office.”

The committee noted the underrepresentation of women in parliament, the executive, the judiciary and decision-making level posts in the civil service.

“Further, it regrets the limited participation of women in local governance at community level, in particular in atolls, islands and city councils,” it stated.

On anti-trafficking, the committee expressed concern over “delays in establishing shelters for victims of trafficking and the absence of procedures for early victim identification, case management, and victim protection” and noted the “risk of internal trafficking for women and girls from remote islands placed in households in Male to access higher education opportunities.”

On health issues, the committee noted “limited access to obstetric health services, including pre- and post-natal services, for women living in remote areas,” “restricted access, in practice, to sexual and reproductive health services, for unmarried women and girls,” and “the absence of a study and data on the prevalence of unsafe and illegal abortion which is reportedly increasing.”


The committee urged the Maldives to honour its commitment to withdraw its reservation to paragraph two of article 16, which states: “The betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify a minimum age for marriage and to make the registration of marriages in an official registry compulsory.”

The committee also recommended a review of the reservation to paragraph one of article 16, “with a view to fully withdrawing it, taking into consideration practices of countries with similar religious backgrounds and legal systems which have successfully harmonised their domestic legislation with international human rights obligations”.

Despite its ratification in 1993, the committee noted that the convention “has yet to be incorporated into its domestic legal system and can therefore not be applied by the courts” and expressed concern with the delay in conducting a gender impact analysis of existing laws.

The committee called on the state to pass gender equality legislation with a definition of discrimination in line with the convention.

Referring to the restructured Ministry of Law and Gender headed by the Attorney General, the committee said the move “weakened [the national machinery’s] institutional capacity to develop coherent and sustainable plans and policies and to ensure effective gender mainstreaming across relevant sectors” and expressed concern about the “the insufficient financial, human and technical resources” available to the ministry.

On the Supreme Court’s suo moto proceedings against members of the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) concerning its submission to the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Period Review last year, the committee said “such actions seriously undermine the independence of the commission.”

Related to this story

Amnesty calls for moratorium on flogging in Maldives

Some police officers believe women to blame for domestic violence, says HRCM

Supreme Court slams HRCM for basing rights assessment on “rejected” UN rapporteur findings


Amnesty calls for moratorium on flogging in Maldives

Amnesty International has called upon the Maldives to establish a moratorium on flogging, and to annul all convictions for the crime of fornication.

The human rights NGO has made the recommendations as part of its submission for the 60th session of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women later this month.

“Laws criminalizing ‘fornication’ or ‘adultery’ can act as a deterrent to women and girls reporting rape because they fear being prosecuted if their allegations are not believed,” reads the submission.

The committee is the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

In its submission for the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, released last month, Amnesty argued that human rights in the Maldives in general had deteriorated over the past four years.

While having ratified CEDAW in 1993, the Maldives has maintained reservations to any provision which may contradict the principles of Islamic Sharia enshrined in the country’s Constitution.

“As frequently highlighted by UN treaty bodies and UN Special Procedures, including CEDAW, flogging constitutes a cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and the criminalization of fornication is a violation of the rights to privacy and bodily autonomy,” said Amnesty.

The NGO reported that attempts to gain statistics of the incidence of flogging from the Prosecutor General’s Office had been unsuccessful.

New regulations for flogging introduced by the Supreme Court last October noted that the offender must be of sound mind, must not be pregnant, and must not have an illness that could endanger his or her life due to flogging.

Moreover, a sentence for flogging must be implemented after the convict has either exhausted the appeal process or declined to appeal the verdict in the specified period.

Information previously made available by the Department of Judicial Administration showed that, while applicable to both men and women, flogging is largely discriminatory against women in practice.

“In 2013, the office of the Prosecutor General told Amnesty International that convictions were primarily based on confessions, and that if the accused denied the allegations, the charge of ‘fornication’ would normally be dropped,” read the report.

“The office said men usually denied such allegations, and were therefore not charged. This was also true for some women, unless they had become pregnant or were under pressure from their communities. In such cases they admitted to the allegations and were charged.”

Additionally, Amnesty’s submission to the committee recommends that the Maldives bring laws on rape and other forms of sexual violence into line with international human rights standards.

Amnesty also called upon government to investigate and prosecute all allegations of rape and other forms of sexual violence and ensure that anyone who reports rape or other forms of sexual violence is provided with appropriate support services.

While polls conducted in recent years suggest that two thirds of Maldivians would support a moratorium on the practice, public criticism of the practice has caused unrest.

After UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called for a moratorium while speaking in the People’s Majlis in 2011, protesters gathered outside the United Nations Building in Malé, calling for her arrest.

Related to this story

The culture of flogging in the Maldives: a systematic abuse of human rights

Two-thirds of Maldivians back moratorium on flogging: survey

Supreme Court enacts new regulations on flogging

Maldives’ human rights worsening, Amnesty tells UN


Supreme Court enacts new regulations on flogging

The Supreme Court has enacted new regulations on the enforcement of flogging sentences, specifying conditions and criteria for meting out the Islamic Sharia punishment.

The regulations (Dhivehi) made public yesterday state that the offender must be of sound mind, must not be pregnant, and must not have an illness that could endanger his or her life due to flogging.

Moreover, a sentence for flogging must be implemented after the convict has either exhausted the appeal process or declined to appeal the verdict in the specified period.

Speaking at a ceremony held last month to mark the anniversary of the Criminal Court, Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed revealed that 37 flogging sentences remained unenforced due to alleged lack of cooperation from the relevant authorities.

If the offender is a deaf mute or does not speak Dhivehi, the regulations state that the court should seek a statement through a translator.

The court must also appoint a competent “special employee” to implement flogging sentences.

If the offender is under age when the verdict is delivered, the regulations state that the sentence must be imposed when the offender turns 18 years of age.

Section 222 of the regulations on conducting trials would be abolished once the new regulations come into force.

According to statistics from the Department of Judicial Administration, almost 90 percent of those convicted of fornication or pre-marital sex in 2011 were female.

Of 129 fornication cases in 2011, 104 people were sentenced, out of which 93 were female. This included 10 underage girls, 79 women aged 18-40, and four women above 40 years.

In response to a Minivan News report in 2009 of an 18 year-old woman fainting after a 100 lashes, Amnesty International called for a moratorium on the “inhumane and degrading punishment.”

Of the 184 people sentenced to public flogging in 2006, 146 were female, making it nine times more likely for women to be punished.

In November 2011, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged the authorities to impose a moratorium on flogging and to foster national dialogue and debate “on this issue of major concern.”

“This practice constitutes one of the most inhumane and degrading forms of violence against women, and should have no place in the legal framework of a democratic country,” the UN human rights chief told MPs during a maiden visit to the Maldives.

Her remarks sparked protests by Islamic groups outside the UN building and drew condemnation from the Islamic Ministry, NGOs and political parties.

In August 2013, a flogging sentence of a 15-year-old girl rape victim convicted of fornication was overturned following an international campaign.


“Social stigma, religious and social culture” hinder women’s sexual health, says Hope for Women

Young women’s sexual health is being compromised by “social stigma, religious and social culture,” argues Fathmath Nazeefa, Advocacy Officer at local NGO Hope for Women.

According to Nazeefa, many young Maldivians refrain from accessing the limited sexual health services due to these societal pressures.

“It is apparent in many cases we are lacking information in the family-planning area, early sexual engagements, and in gender stereotyping, which actually makes women to go ahead with child bearing practices even though that is not in their best practice,” Nazeefa told Minivan News.

Her comments came after the body of a new-born baby was discovered in a house in Maafanu yesterday. After local media reported that an 18-year-old committed infanticide after having hidden her pregnancy, police have today confirmed the girl in question was arrested this afternoon.

After being taken into custody at around 2:20pm, the girl’s will be detained for up to fifteen days pending a court appearance.

Nazeefa expressed particular concern over a lack of sexual health education for young women which prevents them from making informed choices.

“To prevent this, we need to educate the young minds starting from adolescents on human anatomy, reproductive health, and build their capacity to protect themselves from being sexually exploited.”

A lack of sexual education, argues Nazeefa, is “depriving [women] of their sexual rights and human rights as well.”

“The ultimate objective has to be the empowerment of girls and women so that they make the right choices,” she concluded.

Rise in Infanticide – DNP reports

Yesterday’s news of the abandoned baby girl – discovered after the mother was forced to seek medical treatment by her family – has brought attention to the issues surrounding sexual health services available to young women.

Local media reported yesterday that the 18 year-old gave birth on her own in the family bathroom, with family members unaware of her pregnancy.

According to one family member, the girl didn’t admit to giving birth – even during a doctors appointment arranged by her family.

“However, doctors kept questioning her about her marital status,” a young female member of the family told local newspaper Haveeru.

According to Maldivian law, the repercussions for fornication out of wedlock is flogging for both the man and the woman involved.

The Maldives is a 100 percent Muslim country, and it’s justice system is based on a hybrid of common law and Islamic Sharia.

Some critics of the justice system have also highlighted the lack of accountability for men in cases of extra marital fornication.

“These women are tainted for life and forever looked down upon. There were a couple of men too, but the islanders did not react in the same way against the men. They seem to be more easily accepted back into society, their sins are generally forgiven or forgotten in time,” a former court official, who wished to remain anonymous, had previously told Minivan News.

Issues regarding a lack of support services for women with unwanted pregnancies in the Maldives have been well-documented in the past.

A report entitled ‘Maldives Operational Review for the ICPD Beyond 2014‘, carried out by the Department of National Planning (DNP), claimed that incidents of infanticide and unsafe abortions are symptoms of a lack of sexual education in young Maldivians.

The report identified, “clear indicators of the imperative need to provide access to information on sexual reproductive health and reproductive health services to the sexually active adolescents and youth population.”

Infanticide also appears to be increasing, as demonstrated by media reports cited in the study, which included several new born babies and few premature babies abandoned in parks, buried in secluded places, or thrown into the sea.

“These are clear indications for the need of life skills programmes and reproductive health education,” the study suggested. “Access and utilisation of contraceptives to avoid unwanted pregnancies must also be advocated to minimise these issues.”


HRCM members summoned to Juvenile Court again over confidential report

With additional reporting by Ahmed Nazeer

Members of the Maldives Human Rights Commission (HRCM) refused to attend a Juvenile Court meeting yesterday (April 1), after having asked the Supreme Court to rule on the legitimacy of the court’s actions.

The commission has contended that the Juvenile Court is in violation of “the legal principles and procedures followed in contempt of court cases.”

A press statement from HRCM released yesterday evening noted that the Prosecutor General’s Office had not charged the commission with contempt of court because only the Supreme Court could initiate such cases of its own accord.

Deputy Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem has told Haveeru that the court does not have the authority to summon HRCM members over contempt of court charges.

The court has been requesting the meetings in order to question HRCM members about a confidential report concerning the sentencing of a 15 year old rape victim to flogging and house arrest in 2012.

”We are trying to summon the HRCM members regarding a report they sent to the Juvenile Court on 5 December 2013, in which the HRCM has included false information about the Juvenile Court and it also contained things that could be considered as an attempt to influence the court’s work,” Juvenile Court Spokesperson Zaima Nasheed told Minivan News today.

Zaima has argued previously that the constitution states no public officials can “interfere with and influence the functions of the courts”, instead they must “assist and protect the courts to ensure the independence, eminence, dignity, impartiality, accessibility and effectiveness of the courts.”

The HRCM press release added that the report referred to in the media was a confidential document, which had only been shared with relevant authorities or state institutions.

“We assure that the report does not include any false statements that hold the Juvenile Court in contempt,” the press release stated.

Previous meetings

After refusing to attend the meeting yesterday, the Juvenile Court sent an official court summons  for today (April 2) to each individual commission member, according to local media.

Following the official court summons, the HRCM members appeared before the court this morning at 10am and were told to respond in writing before 3pm.

The HRCM was first summoned to the Juvenile Court on March 12, with a further request to meet made on March 17 after members failed to accede to the previous requests – all five members of the HRCM subsequently attended on March 17.

The HRCM is reported to have agreed to cooperate at this meeting, on the condition that it was given a period of ten days after the parliamentary elections scheduled for March 22 before the first questioning session.

The 15-year-old rape victim from the island of Feydhoo in Shaviyani Atoll was convicted of premarital sex at the Juvenile Court and sentenced to 100 lashes and eight months of house arrest.

In June 2012, the girl gave birth to a baby that was discovered buried in the outdoor shower area of her home. Her stepfather was later charged with child sexual abuse, possession of pornographic materials and committing premeditated murder.

An official from the Prosecutor General’s Office told Minivan News in January last year that the fornication charges against the minor were related to a separate offence of premarital sex that emerged during the police investigation. The charges were filed on November 25, 2012.

In its verdict, the Juvenile Court ordered the state to transfer the girl to the Children’s Home in Villingili to enforce the sentence of eight months house arrest, according to local media reports.

Following the 15 year-old’s conviction, local NGO Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC) called on the Maldivian government to pass legislation concerning the treatment of sexual abuse victims.

ARC also previously called for reforms of the juvenile justice system and reform of the current protection mechanisms provided to minors who are kept in state run institutions, such as homes and foster programs.


HRCM attends Juvenile Court after summons, agrees to cooperate with enquiry

The Juvenile Court has stated today that all five members of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) have complied with the court’s order and attended a meeting at the court this morning (March 17).

The order was sent after HRCM members had failed to attend two meetings requested by the court in recent weeks.

Juvenile Court Spokesperson Zaima Nasheed stated that the court was requesting the meetings in order to question the HRCM members about a confidential report that they shared with the court concerning the sentencing of a 15 year old rape victim to flogging and house arrest.

The court maintains that, although the HRCM has included in its report that the case was one of sexual assault and harassment, the court was in fact presiding over a case concerning the crime of consensual fornication.

Alleging that the HRCM included fabricated information in the report, the Juvenile Court spokesperson stated that the members had been summoned to a meeting, and not a court hearing.

“They [HRCM members] attended Monday’s meeting as though they were coming to a court hearing, complete with being accompanied by legal representation. It was not a hearing though, just a meeting held to clarify some issues,” Zaima stated.

Zaima said that the court requires all members of the HRCM to explain to the court’s panel of judges why “fabricated information was included in the report”, as well as “the reasoning behind the need to compile such a report”.

Zaima further revealed that HRCM President Mariyam Azra had requested that the commission be allowed to submit their answers to the court’s queries in writing.

The court refused this request, however, and insisted that the members attend meetings at the court in order to verbally respond to questions put to them by an assigned panel.

According to the Juvenile Court, the HRCM had initially objected to this, quoting Article 27(a) and 27 (b) of the Human Rights Commission Act.

Article 27 (a) states that “no criminal or civil suit shall be filed against the President or Vice President or a member of the Commission in relation to committing or omitting an act in good faith whilst undertaking responsibilities of the commission or exercising the powers of the Commission or the powers conferred to the Commission by a law”.

Additionally Article 27 (b) states “the Commission can only be questioned or a suit can be filed against the Commission in court regarding a component in a report published by the Commission following an inquiry, should sufficient evidence be available to prove the component is false”.

The court responded by quoting the same article, as well as Article 141(d) of the Maldives constitution, arguing that this made it obligatory for the HRCM to oblige with the questioning.

Article 141(d) of the constitution states that “persons or bodies performing public functions, through legislative and other measures, must assist and protect the courts to ensure the independence, eminence, dignity, impartiality, accessibility and effectiveness of the courts”.

The HRCM is then said to have agreed to cooperate, on account that it is given a period of ten days after the parliamentary elections scheduled for March 22 before the first questioning session.

Zaima then said that the court has agreed to grant the HRCM the requested period of time.

“We did this with consideration towards the work of the HRCM and the nature of this matter that we are looking into,” the Juvenile Court’s Spokesperson said.

HRCM member Jeehan Mahmoud stated that the HRCM was not prepared to comment on the matter at present.


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.


Justice “still out of reach” for Maldivian women, girls:

Social activism website Avaaz has said it remained concerned at the “appalling state” of women’s rights in the Maldives, despite welcoming a decision by the High Court this week to overturn a controversial flogging sentence handed to a 15 year-old girl charged with ‘fornication’.

Avaaz, which earlier this year launched an online petition signed by over two million people calling for the minor’s sentence to be quashed, has expressed continued concern that justice remains “out of reach” for Maldivian women.

The flogging sentence – handed to the minor by the Juvenile Court in February after she had been charged with ‘fornication’ – was overturned by the High Court on Wednesday (August 21) after the girl was found to have previously denied confessing to having had consensual sex with an unknown partner.

Sources from Feydhoo, in Shaviyani Atoll, where the girl is from, previously told Minivan News that islanders had raised concerns regarding the suspected abuse of the minor as far back as 2009.

Local people were said to have suspected that the girl had been the victim of sexual abuse, not just by her stepfather – who has subsequently been charged with several sex offences – but also by a number of other unidentified men from the island.

The High Court concluded that the minor, found to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, was also unable to correctly define pre-marital sex according to the law.

“The High Court’s ruling is a step forward, but the Gender Ministry should now ensure that the girl receives a proper education, is not sent back to the custody of relatives who failed to protect her, and ensure that she doesn’t end up ghettoised because of stigma,” stated Avaaz.

“Glimmer of hope”

After visiting the country earlier this year to lobby the Maldives government to overturn the minor’s case, Avaaz said it continued to advocate for systemic legal reforms to overcome “serious hurdles women and girls face in trying to get justice for gender-based crimes”.

“Today people in the Maldives and across the globe celebrate that this young girl is free and won’t be flogged,” said Avaaz Campaign Director Jeremy Waiser. “It is a glimmer of hope which must not be an isolated case – now it’s time to listen to the majority of Maldivians and kick start major reforms to protect women and girls and put an end to flogging for consensual sex outside of marriage, once and for all.”

Avaaz pointed to the recently published results of a survey conducted on its behalf by Asia Research Partners that concluded that nearly two-thirds of Maldives nationals surveyed would support a moratorium on flogging.

According to Avaaz, the first survey of its kind to be conducted in the Maldives found an “overwhelming” 92 percent of those surveyed believe that laws and systems to protect women from sexual assault should be reformed.

With the upcoming presidential election scheduled for September 7, Waiser argued that ensuring rights for both women and girls should be treated as an issue of huge importance by all candidates standing next month.

“The ruling and the recent opinion survey should serve as a wake-up call to all candidates and parties that they cannot afford to neglect one half of the Maldivian population – women and girls want to live without fear of persecution and with dignity,” he said.

“The vindictiveness with which the Prosecutor General’s office pursued the case against this Maldivian child highlights the dangers that women and children face in the Maldives,” the statement concluded.

“Politicised” issue

Some government figures have been critical of international campaigns targeting the reputation of the country’s lucrative tourism industry in order to push for legal reforms.

Discussing the campaign by Avaaz in the Maldives, Attorney General (AG) Azima Shukhoor criticised unnamed groups for  having “politicised” the issue, arguing such campaigns they had complicated the work of Maldivian authorities.

In March this year, former Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal directly questioned the motives behind the Avaaz campaign calling them “dubious”, despite accepting a need for “capacity building” in parliament and other institutions.

“People should not be doing anything to damage the [tourism] industry. In Switzerland, you would not see a campaign designed to damage Swiss chocolate. Likewise you would not see a German campaign to damage their automobile industry,” he said.

However, organisations like the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) have this week stressed the need for strengthening measures to protect victims of sexual abuse to prevent other similar cases from occurring.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International – which has previously warned that the 15 year-old’s case was the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of the country’s treatment of victims of sexual offences – has released a statement this week calling for a moratorium on flogging.

“Annulling this sentence was of course the right thing to do. We are relieved that the girl will be spared this inhumane ‘punishment’ based on an outrageous conviction,” said Amnesty’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director Polly Truscott.