HRCM claims mandate pushed to limit over 15 year-old’s flogging sentence

The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) has said its mandate has been pushed to the limit after “braving” the country’s courts to oppose a controversial flogging sentence handed to a 15 year-old sexual abuse victim that was overturned this week.

The flogging sentence handed to the minor by the Juvenile Court in February was  overturned by the High Court yesterday (August 21) after the girl denied confessing to having had consensual sex with an unknown partner.

HRCM member Jeehan Mahmoud said that the decision to punish the minor, which has since garnered global media attention, represented a “continuous failure” on behalf of the whole state to protect children and other victims of sexual abuse.

She therefore called on all stakeholders to strengthen their internal mechanisms for protecting vulnerable people in the country.

“Lots of money has been invested, but we have failed to uphold a system,” said Jeehan. “There must be a better translation into reality. We need to ensure that the group works for all cases – rather than the one or two that gain international attention.”

Jeehan said that as part of efforts to appeal the flogging sentence handed to the minor, the HRCM had adopted what she called an unprecedented tactic of “braving the courts” as a third party by directly approaching the judiciary.

“We required permission from the courts,” said Jeehan. “This was a groundbreaking opportunity…we pushed our mandate to its limits.”

Authorities had previously said that the minor had confessed to having consensual sex during a separate investigation into her alleged abuse that had resulted in the birth – and subsequent murder – of her baby.

On the back of the High Court’s ruling yesterday (August 21), 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 welcoming the decision.

“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.

Amnesty went on to argue that the sentence ought not to have been imposed in the first place, before calling for a moratorium on flogging.

Despite the moratorium calls, President Dr Mohamed Waheed defended the wider use of Islamic Sharia in the country’s courts, while expressing his satisfaction with the High Court verdict this week.

“I also note that [the] verdict has established beyond doubt the sound principles of Islamic Shariah for such cases and became part of the country’s legal framework,” said the president in a statement.

“Considering the state of the country today, with sexual violence against women and children increasing daily, it is essential for the criminal justice system to ensure that women and children do not become prey to further abuse. I believe that establishing procedures necessary for the legal framework to protect such children is a welcome development to ensure that such tragic incidents do not repeat.”

Waheed added that he saw the decision as “major progress” in the protection of children’s rights. He concluded by saying that the child was still under the state’s care.

“The state will continue to provide the assistance she needs to overcome the tragic ordeals she endured and live a happy life in our society.”

Attorney General (AG) Azima Shukhoor echoed President Waheed’s comments today, arguing that Islamic Sharia is perfectly well-equipped to protect the rights of children.

The AG also spoke of an online Avaaz petition calling for both the minor’s sentence to be overturned as well as an end to flogging, criticising those she said had “politicised” the issue, arguing that they had made the work of Maldivian authorities difficult.

The online petition was signed by over 2 million people – a group more than six times the population of the Maldives.

The Maldivian judicial system currently practices a combination of common law and Islamic Sharia. Article 142 of the country’s constitution mandates that any matter on which the constitution or the law is silent must be considered according sharia.

Maldivian civil society group Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC) meanwhile has continued to press the government for ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a Communications Procedure.

This protocol provides an additional avenue of complaint should the state fail to uphold the rights of a child, which ARC mantain would greatly improve upon current domestic mechanisms.

“The case of the 15- year old girl is a good example of how the procedure could have been used to approach the UN Committee,” the group’s co-founder Zenysha Shaheed Zaki told Minivan News.


Maldives High Court overturns flogging sentence for 15 year-old charged with fornication

The High Court has today overturned a Juvenile Court decision to sentence a 15-year old to 100 lashes after she was charged with fornication.

The case of the minor, who was previously found to have been a victim of sexual abuse, has garnered global media attention and condemnation from numerous human rights groups.

At the same time, an online petition calling for her sentence to be revoked has been being signed by over two million people.

Despite today’s hearing being held behind “closed doors” (as per Article 42 of the constitution), the High Court later released a statement with details of the verdict.

According to the statement, the High Court decided to revoke the minor’s sentence after she denied confessing to having consensual sex with an unknown partner during the Juvenile Court trial.  Authorities previously said the minor had confessed to having consensual sex during a separate investigation into her sexual abuse.

According to Islamic Fiqh scholars, a confession of fornication can be retracted before the resulting sentence is carried out in full, the High Court statement added.

It was further noted by the court that there were discrepancies in the statement given by the girl to the Juvenile Court. The High Court concluded 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 argued that its verdict had been based on the evidence that the girl was ‘unfit for trial’ during investigations into her alleged abuse and the subsequent Juvenile Court hearings against her.

The court said that the minor had provided her original statement in the capacity of a ‘victim’ and not a suspect, and that authorities had therefore not given her the fundamental rights legally required of a suspect in a crime.

The statement concluded by saying that the panel of judges presiding over the case did not believe that the Juvenile Court had enough evidence to prove beyond any doubt the charges against the girl.  ‘Hadd’ sentences cannot be issued unless a crime can be proved beyond any doubt, the High Court argued.

To date, the girl remains under the care of the state, serving the sentence of house arrest at the children’s shelter on Vilimale’.

Successful appeal

The High Court verdict was issued after the conclusion of an appeal case against the Juvenile Court’s ruling, which was submitted by the Attorney General’s Office on March 27.

In January, the Prosecutor General’s Office claimed that charges of fornication had been raised against the girl “after extensive assessment of the case”, and that they had “no intention of reversing the decision”.

According to local media, Attorney General Azima Shakoor and officials from the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) were present at the closed door hearing held today (August 21).

Vice President of the HRCM, Ahmed Tholal, stated that the commission had worked to protect the victim from the beginning of the case.

“It is due to the negligence of all state authorities that the case went as it did, subjecting her to an undeserved sentence while she was already a victim of abuse,” he said.

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad described the High Court ruling as a “fantastic” development that he believed vindicated President Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s stance to have the flogging sentence overturned through the Maldives’ court system.

“The president has continued to stress his intention of having the case overturned by following the process of law. He has got it done by law, which is fantastic,” he stated.

Masood added that the government’s determination to have the sentence overturned was “typical” of President Waheed’s tenure as head of state since coming to power in February 2012.

Asked what impact today’s judgement might have on the government’s previously stated commitment to overseeing legal reforms of the treatment of sexual abuse victims and the use of flogging as a punishment, Masood requested contacting the Attorney General’s Office.

Attorney General Azima Shakoor was not responding to calls at time of press.

Victim accused

In June 2012, the victim gave birth to a baby that was later discovered buried in the outdoor bathroom at her residence. Her stepfather was subsequently charged with sexual abuse of a child, possession of pornographic material, and committing premeditated murder.

Meanwhile, her mother was charged with failing to report child sexual abuse and with concealing a crime.

In January, an official of the Prosecutor General’s Office stated that the charges of fornication were levied in relation to a separate offence of premarital sex that had emerged during the police investigation into the baby’s death.

Sources from Feydhoo, in Shaviyani Atoll, where the girl is from, previously told Minivan News that islanders had raised concerns regarding 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, but also by a number of other unidentified men from the island.

The Attorney General’s Office appealed the case on March 27.  The announcement was made on the back of appeals from international human rights advocacy organizations and, which launched an online petition – gaining over two million signatures.

The UN at the time released a statement which noted allegations that the child had been a victim of long-standing sexual abuse:

“Under international legal human rights obligations of Maldives, corporal punishment, including flogging, amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or even to torture.”

Meanwhile, the religiously conservative Adhaalath Party, which heads the Ministry of Islamic Affairs in the current administration, previously declared that the 15 year old rape victim “deserves the punishment”.

“The purpose of penalties like these in Islamic Shariah is to maintain order in society and to save it from sinful acts. It is not at all an act of violence. We must turn a deaf ear to the international organisations which are calling to abolish these penalties, labeling them degrading and inhumane acts of torture,” said the party.


Fifteen year-old’s appeal of flogging sentence for fornication stalled in High Court

State and judicial authorities have failed to provide a timeline for the appeal of a 15 year-old rape victim sentenced to flogging for a separate incidence of fornication, despite repeated pledges and promises of wider legal reform.

The 15 year-old minor from the island of Feydhoo in Shaviyani Atoll was convicted to 100 lashes and eight months of house arrest in February 2013, after confessing to fornication with another man during an investigation into allegations she was sexually abused at the hands of her stepfather. Those allegations arose with the earlier discovery of a dead baby buried in the outdoor shower area of the family’s home.

A month after the sentence was delivered, sources on Feydhoo told Minivan News that islanders had been raising concerns to the authorities over the girl’s abuse by other men on the island since 2009.

Sources at the time accused law enforcement officials, civil society and successive governments of failing on every level to protect the minor.

Widespread international coverage of the sentencing has since led to over two million people signing an petition calling for her sentence to be quashed, a moratorium on flogging, and reform of laws to protect women and girls in the Maldives.

Despite the country’s international reputation as an romantic island getaway for couples, fornication (sex outside marriage) is illegal in the Maldives and is subject to Sharia punishments under the 1968 penal code.

However, statistics from the Department of Judicial Administration show that flogging sentences are overwhelmingly issued to women. Of the 129 fornication cases filed last in 2011, 104 resulted in sentences – 93 of whom were female.

Meanwhile, the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) has dismissed calls to suspend Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed following the judge’s appearance in at least three recently-leaked sex videos appearing to depict him fornicating with unidentified foreign women in a Colombo Hotel room, citing “lack of evidence”.

15 year-old’s appeal stalled

The opening hearing of a High Court appeal of the girl’s flogging sentence, filed on her behalf by Attorney General Azima Shukoor, was held on April 29

The High Court has confirmed to Minivan News that there had been no further hearings in the three months since, and no further hearings scheduled.

However, a legal source speaking this week on condition of anonymity said the hearing in April was believed to have been the last, with the court expected to deliver a verdict on the case the next time it reconvened on the issue.  The appeal is being heard behind closed doors.

The flogging would be administered when the girl turns 18, although local media has previously cited a court official who claimed it could be implemented earlier should the minor request so.

Deputy Solicitor General Ahmed Usham confirmed that the sentence had not been carried out, and reiterated that no date had yet been set for a verdict on the minor’s appeal.

Usham added that a process to oversee legal reforms into the treatment of sexual abuse victims involving state bodies including the Attorney General’s (AG’s) Office was ongoing at present.

“Hopefully something concrete will be announced on this soon,” he said, but could not speculate on a timeline.

President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s government has previously pledged to review and “correct” laws it says victimise young women and minors who have suffered sexual abuse.

President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad previously expressed hope that the use of punishments such as flogging would be among practices debated as part of reforms.

“I’m sure when we debate [punishing suspects for fornication with lashes], we will find an acceptable solution for all parties,” he said.

More recently, the President’s Office said current legal practices involving the treatment of victims of sexual offences could not be changed overnight, and required gradual implementation.

“We cannot go any faster on the matter than this, we don’t want to see any trouble like in the past. We can’t just go and ask a judge not to [give sentences like this] anymore,” Masood said in May.

The President’s Office today confirmed that Dr Waheed had established a “special committee” as part of efforts to try and oversee the requested legal reforms, referring any specific questions on its work to Spokesperson Ahmed ‘Topy’ Thaufeeq.

Thaufeeq was not responding to calls or text messages at time of press.

Recently appointed Gender Minister Dr Aamaal Ali meanwhile requested Minivan News contact the office of former Gender Minister and current AG Azima Shukoor concerning the current status of attempts to reform laws on the treatment of sexual abuse victims.

Azima was not responding to calls or e-mails to her office at time of press.

Local newspaper Haveeru meanwhile last weekend interviewed the judiciary’s official flogger, Abdul Khalig.

“According to his memory, Khalig has enforced flogging sentences of over 300 people which amounts to thousands of lashes with his leather whip,” reported Haveeru.

“But Khalig to this day remains hesitant when it comes to flogging the elderly given their age. But he assures that no old person mostly sentenced for fornication and child abuse had come to any harm as a direct result of the flogging.

“No matter who the person is, this must be done. It is not a cruel punishment. Only one woman fainted whilst I was flogging her,” Khalig told the paper.

“I notice that people who have been flogged, repent and live good lives afterwards. Because this such a small society I see it quite often. People who have been flogged for fornication later go on to live very good lives,” he said, adding that he was now hoping “to impart what he has learned to the next generation before he retires.”

15 year-old’s case “tip of the iceberg”: Amnesty International

Speaking to Minivan News at the conclusion of a nine day visit to the country in April, Amnesty’s South Asia Director Polly Truscott claimed the treatment and controversial flogging sentence handed to the 15 year-old girl was the “tip of the iceberg” regarding the Maldives’ treatment of sexual abuse victims.

Earlier the same month, Maldivian NGO Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC) criticised child protection measures currently in place in the country as “inadequate”, urging government authorities to incorporate several key human rights obligations into domestic law.

ARC at the time told Minivan News that although the Maldives has signed and agreed to be legally bound by the provisions in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and its Optional Protocols, the commitments have yet to be adopted into law.

Minivan News meanwhile in June investigated reports of “widespread” child prostitution being conducted in Laamu Atoll, and was informed by a private clinical psychologist that the practice had become “so common” that the victims considered it “normal”.

Multiple sources told Minivan News the practice has prevalent across the Maldives, ranging from male benefactors grooming children with ‘gifts’ to parents actively selling the sexual services of their children – some as young as 12.

Official and public acknowledgement of the “systemic” child sexual abuse remains taboo, although Azima Shukoor – then Family and Gender Minister – in a statement on May 10 to mark Children’s Day revealed that “children being used as sex workers, where the children are sent to places as a means to pleasure people and to gain an income from such a trade. This is being practiced in the Maldives today. Both boys and girls are being used in this trade.”


Haveeru interviews fornication flogger Abdul Khalig

“Some may perceive a man who day in day out is tasked with whipping his fellows to be remorseless or even sadistic. However, Khalig, to the contrary is quite warm and extremely friendly,” writes Niumathullah Idhurees and Mohamed Visham for local newspaper Haveeru.

“He can be seen addressing the victims at the end of his whip outside of the courtroom with empathy even though he is at most times at the receiving end of verbal abuse and threats. His response to such abuse and threats is always a warm smile. For him, it is nothing new. For him, it’s just a job.

“‘It has to be done in a certain way. I was taught by judges and various other people before I was given this job. I see this job as a blessing. There aren’t many who want to do this job,’ the 33-year-old Khalig, who assumed his job in 2010, told Haveeru.

“According to his memory, Khalig has enforced flogging sentences of over 300 people which amounts to thousands of lashes with his leather whip.”

Read more


Two-thirds of Maldivians back moratorium on flogging: survey

Nearly two-thirds of Maldivians support a moratorium on flogging, according to the results of a survey conducted by Asia Research Partners and social activism website

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

Of those polled, 62 percent supported an outright moratorium on the practice of flogging, while 73 percent declared existing punishments for sexual crimes were unfair to women.

Moreover, only one in five of those surveyed said current systems and laws were “adequate or fair”, according to a statement issued by Avaaz.

“While honeymooners relax in paradise, a war against women is being waged in the Maldives which the government is refusing to stop. Over two million people from around the world want them to act and now 92 percent of Maldivians want laws against rape and sexual abuse. President Waheed can easily pass a law banning flogging but refuses to act to end this medieval practice,” said Avaaz Campaign Director, Alice Jay.

“The poll flies in the face of the country’s parliamentarians who have claimed it would be “political suicide” to outlaw flogging and have done nothing to stop the practice, but instead given in to hard-line Islamist calls for harsher Sharia punishments.”

The survey was conducted across Male’ and Hithadhoo in Seenu Atoll in May 2013 by Asia Research Partners, both over the phone and through face-to-face interviews. All respondents were aged over 18 years.

‘Horror in paradise’ petition

The survey comes months after a case in which a 15 year-old rape victim was sentenced to 100 lashes and eight months’ house arrest for a separate offence of fornication garnered substantial international attention and condemnation.

The 15 year-old’s case attracted worldwide media attention and was widely condemned by international organisations and other nation states. Media condemnation was particularly strong in the UK and Germany, two of the Maldives’ most significant tourism markets.

In March, an Avaaz petition calling for the repeal of the sentence and a moratorium on flogging in the Maldives collected more than two million signatures – a figure more than double the number of tourists who visit the country annually.

“Since the campaign launched four months ago, Avaaz has been in discussions with the Maldivian government officials who have so far refused to take action on this issue,” the organisation said in a statement.

“Despite promises from the Gender Ministry, the President’s Office, the Attorney General’s office and the Foreign Ministry, this 15-year old child still faces the flogging sentence and far from ending this practice, some Maldivian political parties are calling for even harsher punishments.

“As a result of their failure to act, Avaaz is now planning to run hard hitting targeted adverts urging President Waheed and several parliamentarians who own some of the major Maldivian resorts, to act,” the organisation declared.


After the sentencing initially made international headlines, President Mohamed Waheed issued a statement expressing “deep concern” over the verdict and pledging an appeal.

At the same time his coalition partner, the Adhaalath Party, warned that “Allah has decreed that expressing disapproval of issues such as this contradicts with faith in Islam”, and cautioned that “If such sinful activities are to become this common, the society will break down and we may become deserving of divine wrath.”

Then-Attorney General Azima Shukoor – now Minister for Human Rights, Gender and Family – subsequently lodged an appeal of the decision in the High Court arguing that the girl’s confession to the fornication offence had been taken in violation of established procedure.

The first hearing was held on April 29 behind closed doors, with no apparent movement in the case since.

Avaaz meanwhile moved to pressure the government into entertaining a moratorium on the practice of flogging.

The most recent Avaaz statement cited UK-based religious scholar Sheikh Dr Usama Hasan, who said “Sharia is not a fixed set of laws that can never be changed. Modern penal codes are thus fully Islamic if they share the values of justice and compassion, even if they do not include amputations, floggings or stonings to death. The latter punishments should be seen as ancient cultural practices, not essentially Islamic.”

The government’s position has meanwhile wavered between broad support for a moratorium and legal reforms to suspicion over the motivations of the Avaaz campaign and allegations of politicisation.

President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad was not responding to calls at time of press, but has previously noted that the Maldives had for over 50 years turned away from practicing Sharia punishments such as stoning, amputation and the death penalty, and suggested similar space for a debate on flogging.

However he cautioned that all authorities involved in proposed legal reforms would have to tread “a very fine line” in order to tackle long standing “traditions” and beliefs in the country.

At the same time, recently dismissed Deputy Tourism Minister Dr Maleeh Jamal has called for “negative news to be minimised”, emphasising that “People should not be doing anything to damage the industry. In Switzerland, you would not see a campaign designed to damage Swiss chocolate.”

A parliament committee currently reviewing the new penal code has meanwhile come under pressure from conservative religious elements, including the Adhaalath Party, to ensure Hadd punishments were included in the code – including flogging and amputation.

Speaking recently to Minivan News, one member of the committee said he feared not including such punishments would lead to backlash from conservative groups and amount to “political suicide”.

“We want to remove it as well. But, our hands are tied. Only public pressure can stop it,” he said.

Flogging stats

Almost 90 percent of the people found guilty of “Zina” – fornication – and sentenced to flogging in 2011 were female, according to statistics from the Department of Judicial Administration.

A total of 129 fornication cases were filed in 2011 and 104 people sentenced, out of which 93 were female.

These included 10 underage girls (below 18), 79 women aged 18-40, and four women aged above 40 years.

Gender Ministry statistics meanwhile show 1 in 3 Maldivian women between the ages of 15 and 49 have suffered either physical or sexual abuse over the past five years. At the same time, there has not been a single conviction for rape in the last three years.

Read about the practice of flogging in the Maldives


Comment: Can the World Bank end gender-based violence?

This week, the World Bank South Asia Office gathered government officials, civil society, parliamentarians, academics and journalists from around the region  in Kathmandu to discuss the issue of violence against women. This is the first time in the bank’s 60 year history that it has joined the global cause to end gender-based violence.

Violence against women has been long recognised as a serious issue on the global development agenda. The United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in 1993 and since then international community have unanimously agreed on gender-based violence as a serious human rights issue and public health priority.

However, despite the international spotlight and years of support from UN agencies to advance women’s rights, the number of women and girls killed, beaten or raped around the world remains astoundingly high.

South Asia world’s “most gender-insensitive region”

Opening the panel discussion on gender-based violence at the annual spring meeting in Washington last April, the World Bank Vice President for South Asia Isabel Guerrero said “we cannot keep silent” in the face of such “horrific acts”.

“We have to add our voices,” she emphatically noted.

She was referring to the gang rape of a 23 year-old in India and the shooting of 15 year-old Malala Yoosuf by extremists in Pakistan. Both incidents are a striking reminder of the pervasiveness of violence against women in the region.

According to a 2003 UNFPA report, South Asia is the world’s most “gender-insensitive” region with one in two woman found to be a victim of physical and sexual abuse in their homes. Other forms of violence are also rampant.

In India a woman is raped every 22 minutes, 22 women are killed each day in dowry related violence, and 50 million women are ‘missing’ due to sex selective abortions.

In Nepal, 7000 women and girls are trafficked for sex every year, while in Bangladesh every week more than 10 women are attacked with acid. In Pakistan more than 450 women and girls die every year in so-called ‘honour killings’ while in Sri Lanka, 78 percent of victims of grave sexual abuse are women and girls.

Because of these atrocious forms of violence, the South Asian women’s fundamental right to health and bodily integrity has been severely eroded. They live less, work less and even eat less.

According to an OXFAM 2004 report, gender based violence has severely limited women’s choices in practically all spheres of life and explains the uniformly poor gender-related development indices of South Asia in crucial sectors like health, nutrition, education, political participation, and employment.

Ending the pandemic levels of violence against women remains one of the key challenges in achieving development in the region which has more than 500 million people living in extreme poverty.

So can the World Bank’s entry into the fight to stop violence against women make a real difference?

The bank’s leverage

At the Kathmandu discussions, several participants asked the bank what it could do to stop violence against women.

Undoubtedly, the World Bank is one the most influential global players with the power and resources to prompt changes.

Tahseen Sayed, Nepal Country Manager for the World Bank, acknowledged the bank’s lack of presence on issues such as gender-based violence, and described the conference as an effort to show its determination to change this approach.

Sayed revealed that the bank would be “leveraging our role as one of the largest development partners with the countries we are working on, at the policy level”, in addition to advancing research to identify the economic and social costs of violence and expanding funding to related projects.

However, she stopped short of explaining how exactly the bank will use its leverage as a development partner.

“I cannot tell you how precisely we are going to do this,” Sayed pointed out.“But the fact that we have two of our vice presidents here, and managers here at the World Bank in this room, we will be taking this forward and see how best we can bring this into our discourse on the concrete areas we work on whether it is assistance to the countries, whether it is regional dialogue or global dialogue.”

This is a critical announcement as the World Bank, similar to the IMF, has the power to deny assistance to countries that do not meet its conditions or requirements.

Feryal Ali Gauhar, political economist and feminist writer from Pakistan believes that denying bank’s assistance to countries where the state is deliberately neglecting to protect the the most vulnerable groups can certainly be effective in creating change.

“When the bank is the agency to deny or grant a loan, it can use data provided by credible institutions, which would indicate whether the state is fulfilling its responsibility to end gender-based violence or protection of most marginalised and vulnerable groups in society.” Gauhar noted.

“If [the World Bank] can make decisions to extend or not extend loan on political issue, why cannot they exercise or exert that same kind of pressure for other loans they are extending?” she asked. “Certainly money would a ring a bell.”

Flogging in the Maldives

The Maldives, despite its admirable progress in the areas of education, health and reduction of poverty, still continues to be plagued with widespread physical and sexual abuse of women and children. One in three woman aged between 15-44 the victim of sexual or physical abuse.

There is little or no access to sexual and reproductive health education and as a result,, unsafe sex, early marriage, unwanted pregnancy, abortion and a lack of reproductive health rights are highly prevalent among young people. These realities are reflected in the gender indicators which show low female enrollment in the higher education system, double the rate of unemployment among females, and under-representation of women at a decision making level.

The World Bank recently granted US$10 million in aid to expand the higher education system in the Maldives. The decision came just weeks after Maldivian authorities were slammed for sentencing a 15 year-old rape victim to 100 lashes on charges of pre-marital sex under the country’s Sharia-based legal system..

Ninety percent of those flogged for fornication or adultery in the Maldives are women and underage girls. The United Nations and international human rights organisations have called for the Maldivian authorities to end this degrading form of punishment disproportionately meted to towards women and girls.

Other strict Sharia penalties such as capital punishment and amputation were suspended half a century ago.

But despite the calls from United Nations, human rights group such as Amnesty International and a global petition with over two million signatures, the Maldivian authorities have consistently shied away from changing their stance on imposing a moratorium on flogging. Much of this is due to their fear of voter backlash from rising conservative groups and their supporters in the country.

“It would be political suicide,” said a parliamentary member currently overseeing the revision of penal code, which includes flogging as a punishment. “We want to remove it as well. But, our hands are tied. Only public pressure can stop it.”

However, there is little visible support from the Maldivian public. In contrast, conservative groups are staging mass protests calling for flogging, beheading, stoning to death and amputation to be reinstated. The few who dare speak against these extremist views are slammed as “Laadheenee” (un-Islamic) and harassed online and on the streets.

So in this politically polarised climate, can a global player such as World Bank pull the plug on flogging in the Maldives by denying assistance to the country, unless it stops degrading and discriminatory practices such as flogging?

A civil society activist from Sri Lanka also highlights a recent case in which the world bank’s partner, International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a US$2.6 billion loan to Sri Lanka despite the widespread accusations of human rights abuses committed during its civil war.

“There are several reports and evidence of women and girls being raped during the conflict. Several more civilians, including children have been killed” he noted. “But the IMF still approved the loan, against the calls from human rights organisations because Sri Lankan government has done little to investigate these abuses and protect the rights of Tamil minority”

So can the bank, and IMF use its leverage as a donor to push negligent governments into taking meaningful action to guarantee the rights of women and other vulnerable groups?

A South Asian diplomat is skeptical.

“Unless we can shift the society’s view at grass roots level, no sanction is strong enough to stop violence against women,” he said, on condition on anonymity.

“If Maldivian public doesn’t want to stop flogging, how can the World Bank stop it?”


UN Special Representative calls for abolition of degrading and capital punishment against children

The United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence Against Children, Marta Santos Pais, has called on the government to find an alternative for, or abolish, capital and degrading punishment against minors.

Pais made the comments at a press conference held on Wednesday, together with Acting Minister of Gender, Family and Human Rights Azima Shakoor, at the conclusion of a six day visit to the Maldives to “support national efforts to address concerns” about the case of a 15 year old female rape victim sentenced to a 100 lashes on charges of fornication.

“My visit was sped up because of the case of this 15 year-old. As you know, the whole world is following this very closely with concern, for a number of reasons. The most important one is that we are talking about someone who is very young, who has been the victim of a sequence of situations that are very traumatic, and which has certainly affected her well-being. And which should not put at risk the way she looks at her future,” Pais stated.

“We have been concerned naturally about the opportunities that seem to have been missed in the process, in the first stages of the judicial procedures that were carried out. At the same time we feel encouraged by the fact that not only were there expressions of condemnation by the President, the government and the Maldivian civil society, but there is an appeal for her now,” she continued.

“We are very confident that the situation will be globally assessed in the light of the best interests of the child, and the assumptions made about the capability of a girl of 15 years of age to channel such decisions about one’s life will be taken into consideration,” Pais said.

“In her case, as well as the other case mentioned of capital punishment, as you know, there is a very important trend across the world. The first is to recognise that the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international treaties in fact consider that these forms of sentencing are not in conformity with human rights. And these are treaties ratified by the Maldives, and as you know, the Constitution of the Maldives recognise the primeness of these, providing guidance to act in line with these treaties including when courts are applying or interpreting laws and constitution,” the Special Representative continued.

“And secondly there is a trend visible in many countries, including muslim countries, to abolish this form of sentencing and also to find alternatives to deal with children and young people who are in such situations. So we are very hopeful that these options will be taken under consideration in Maldives in these particular cases, and other similar cases that may come up,” she stated.

Former Attorney General and Acting Gender Minister Azima Shakoor admitted that “there were a lot of misses in the 15 year old’s case”, adding that the matter could have been better handled if the state had acted earlier, and if the necessary systems were more strongly built.

Action by the state

The Special Representative welcomed the establishment of a Child Protection Committee by President Mohamed Waheed Hassan, noting the importance of pushing for change to prevent similar cases from happening again, calling the girl’s case a “paradigmatic of the wider situation of violence against children.”

Pais said that she had conducted discussions with government officials, parliamentarians from across the political spectrum, other political actors, members of the judiciary, national institutions and relevant civil society organisations during her brief visit.

While noting that she had observes a common “reaffirmation of the international commitments undertaken by the Maldives to safeguard the rights of the child and ensure the implementation of the CRC” and other ratified conventions, she added that the country “now has before it a critical opportunity to translate these commitments into tangible legal, policy and programmatic action”.

Pais also emphasised that “incidents of violence still remain hidden and concealed, and are sensitive to be raised as a public concern, and difficult to report.”

She noted that in the recent past, significant tools and studies have been developed to address cases of violence, abuse and exploitation, including pieces of legislation like the Domestic Violence Act.

“Steady action is of essence”

Special Representative Pais said that despite the current action being taken by the state, a lot more steady action needs to be taken in the country to protect the rights of the child.

She recommended that awareness campaigns be carried out to prevent social acceptance of violence against children. Additionally, she stated that it is crucial to focus on capacity building programmes for teachers, social workers, law enforcement officials, judges, prosecutors and other child protection actors as they are in a unique position to safeguard children’s protection from violence and intervene in case such incidences occur.

Also among her recommendations is the importance of building upon the country’s Constitution and passing progressive legislation for the protection of human rights and children’s rights.

“It is imperative to improve in the legislation a clear legal prohibition of all forms of violence against children, including in the home, in care and justice institutions, as well as a form of criminal sentencing,” Pais stated.

In conclusion, Pais referred to the upcoming September 7 presidential elections, and called on all political actors to refrain from involving children in politics and from sidelining children’s right issues.


Government claims committed to flogging reforms as UK omits Maldives from FCO’s list of human rights “concerns”

The government has said it continues to pursue legal reforms over the use of punishments like flogging as the UK Foreign Office opts against listing the Maldives as a country of concern for human rights abuses this year.

With foreign governments and international NGOs continuing to raise concerns about a flogging sentence handed to a 15 year-old girl in the Maldives, the President’s Office maintained that the matter had already been appealed by the state as part of efforts for wider legal reforms.

However, the government this week maintained its previous stance that any changes to current legal practices over the treatment of victims of sexual offences could not be enforced in the space of a single day – requiring gradual implementation.

The comments were made after UK High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and the Maldives John Rankin this month said that the Maldives had not been listed as a country of concern in the latest annual human rights report from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

Responding to a question about the omission of the Maldives from the list, High Commissioner Rankin, speaking in his 16th official video message, said the country did not presently fit the criteria of a country of concern in terms of human rights violations.

“In considering which countries to specifically mention in the report, the FCO applies a number of criteria. [These include] looking at the gravity of the human rights situation in a country, the severity of any particular abuses and the range of human rights that might be affected,” he said. “Under those and other criteria, the Maldives was not listed. That’s not to say we don’t discuss human rights issues in our meeting to the Maldives government.”

Rankin said that the FCO has raised two key issues with President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s government in recent months.  Among these issues was the case of the 15 year-old girl sentenced to flogging by the Juvenile Court after she admitted to having “consensual sex” with an unidentified man during investigations into her alleged sexual abuse.

Rankin added that the FCO had pushed for “a change in the legal framework” in order to ensure the protection of children’s rights in the country.

Another area of concern raised with the current administration was the effectiveness of investigations into alleged police abuse in the aftermath of the controversial transfer of power on February 7, 2012, he said.

“We continue to raise issues mentioned in the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) report, in particular the need for substantive results from the investigations into police brutality as called for in the report,” he explained.


Responding to the high commissioner’s claims, President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad said that the minor’s case passed by the Juvenile Court had already been appealed, while talks concerning legal reforms were ongoing.

“We cannot go any faster on the matter than this, we don’t want to see any trouble like in the past,” he said. “We can’t just go and ask a judge not to [give sentences like this] anymore.”

Masood added that he was convinced reforms would be made and that talks were gradually being held by state authorities to this end, but recommended further inquiries be made to Gender Minister Azima Shukoor.

Shukoor was transferred to the Ministry of Gender, Family and Human Rights earlier this year on the back of two million people signing an Avaaz petition threatening a boycott of Maldives tourism unless the charges against the girl were dropped and the country’s legal framework was amended to prevent similar sentencing.

Shukoor was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

Masood meanwhile claimed that any questions concerning the UK FCO’s concerns over allegations of police abuse in the Maldives should be forwarded to the Police Integrity Commission (PIC).

“They are the ones doing investigations into this matter. I understand they have identified those who have abused these people,” he added.

Assault cases

The Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) announced yesterday (May 6)  it was pressing charges against two police officers for allegedly assaulting Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik and Mariya Ahmed Didi on February 8, 2012, during a brutal police crackdown.

On that day, thousands of MDP supporters took to the streets after former President Mohamed Nasheed declared that his resignation the previous day was made “under duress” in a “coup d’etat” instigated by mutinying Special Operations (SO) police officers.

PIC President Abdulla Waheed’s phone was switched off at time of press.

In an official release published on December 9 last year, the PIC said 24 individual cases of alleged brutality had been reported to have taken place on during and in the immediate aftermath of the transfer of power.

The cases, said to be based on video footage, witness accounts and public requests for information, were all said at the time to be under investigation by the commission.

The PIC noted at the time that both a shortage of trained staff and “Inadequate cooperation” from alleged victims to provide evidence and witnesses had setback the investigation.

“Tip of the iceberg”

In an Amnesty International statement released last month, despite praising “considerable progress” made by the Maldives during the last few years in promoting and protecting civil rights,the NGO claimed “significant human rights challenges”needed to be addressed in the country.

The NGO has called on the government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed to end an alleged culture of “impunity for the arbitrary and abusive use of force by security forces against demonstrators” following the controversial transfer of power on February 7, 2012.

Amnesty’s South Asia Director Polly Truscott, speaking to Minivan News at the conclusion of a nine day visit to the country last month, claimed the controversial flogging sentence handed to the 15 year-old girl was just the “tip of the iceberg” in regards to wider issues over how sexual offence victims were treated in the country.


President Waheed slams efforts to boycott Maldives tourism over nation’s “shortcomings”

President Dr Mohamed Waheed has criticised unspecified groups that are calling for a boycott of the Maldives’ tourism industry, expressing concern that it is the largest source of income for the nation.

According to the President’s Office website, his comments were made during a visit to the island of Neykurendhoo as part of a wider tour of  South Thiladhummathi Atoll ahead of elections scheduled for September this year.

The president raised the concern on the back of over two million people signing a petition on the Avaaz website pledging to target the Maldives’ lucrative tourism industry in order to pressure authorities to drop the charges against a 15 year-old convicted of fornication, and to pursue wider legal reforms to prevent similar cases.

Minivan News understands that officials from Avaaz had visited the Maldives last week to meet with government officials and research the case.

Meanwhile, NGO Amnesty International last month raised concerns that minor’s handling by authorities was the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of the country’s treatment of victims of sexual offences

President Waheed told islanders on Neykurendhoo yesterday (May 3) that he didn’t believe “defaming” a country was the best way to ensure development of a nation, while also condemning the “efforts of a minority of people attempting to create animosity and hatred between families and societies”.

The president added that no matter how well developed any country was, all nations faced political and social problems that needed to be addressed, he therefore criticised any attempts to use such “shortcomings” as a means to back a boycott campaign.

President Waheed also used the visit to lay the foundation stone of the Neykurendhoo Friday Mosque on the island, while also promising wider infrastructural development to provide improved sewerage and water systems expected to be established in the near future.

The new mosque is being built with the assistance of Saudia Arabia, according to the President’s Office.