Maldives celebrates historic penal code

A new penal code came into effect today, repealing a law written in 1968. Government offices, the opposition and influential figures have welcomed the law as a momentous change that will usher in major reforms to the Maldives’ criminal justice system.

The landmark law is hailed as one that is compatible with both the Islamic Shari’ah and international human rights standards. The penal code comes into effect nearly ten years after it was first drafted and despite recent efforts by the judiciary to overhaul it.

Attorney General Mohamed Anil today said the new law would bring the Maldives criminal justice system on to equal footing with that of other developed nations. Thanking all stakeholders involved in its enactment, Anil said the penal code is the most well-researched law to come into effect in the Maldives.

Law enforcement officers and public prosecutors have now been trained in its application with the help of a legal resource center set up by the UNDP, he said.

“The Attorney General asks all government institutions and the Prosecutor General to complete all the tasks in order to fully comply with the new penal code,” he said in a statement today.

Anil also called on Majlis to expedite the criminal procedures bill and stressed the need for laws on evidence and legal aid to complete reforms to the criminal justice system.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) said: “We believe the enforcement of the new penal code is a progressive step for a better criminal justice system. It brings to an end to the injustice wrought by the old law.”

Foreign minister Dunya Maumoon said: “I am extremely proud that with this significant move, the Maldives becomes the first Islamic country to bring into place a penal system that is in line with the principles enshrined in both Islamic Shariah and the common law.”

Ahmed Faiz, the former chief said: “Never will a more significant change happen to the Maldivian criminal justice system. “

The PG office and the police have said that they are fully prepared to implement the new penal code.

“The PG office was actively involved in training of lawyers, the police and other institutions for the penal code. We are well prepared,” a spokesperson said.

According to the police, some 3100 officers have been informed on the provisions in the law.

Amidst all the celebration, former Attorney General Husnu Suood was more cautious. “The people will benefit from the penal code provided that judges are god fearing, selfless, loyal and uphold the most sincere ethics,” he said.

The first draft of the penal code was prepared in 2006 at the request of then-Attorney General Hassan Saeed by Professor Paul H. Robinson, a legal expert at the University of Pennsylvania.

However, the legislation was stalled at the 16th People’s Majlis. It was resubmitted to the 17th Majlis in late 2009 where it remained with a committee until December 2013. In the first vote, the bill was rejected 36-34 and sent back to a committee.

It was finally passed in April last year, but its enforcement was delayed by a year to provide state institutions time to prepare. Ruling party MPs this year delayed the penal code’s enforcement by a further three months, claiming more time was needed to raise public awareness.

The decision was made against the wishes of the Attorney General and the Prosecutor General.


MDP slams foreign minister for giving false information regarding Chinese silk route

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has criticised the foreign minister for providing false information while responding to questions put forward in the Majlis regarding the Maldives’ participation in China’s Maritime Silk Road initiative.

“The party severely condemns foreign minister Dunya Maumoon for intentionally providing false information about Maldives and its diplomatic relations with other countries,” read an MDP press statement released yesterday (November 8).

President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jingping has called on the Maldives “to get actively involved” in the creation of a maritime trade route linking China to the east coast of Africa and the Mediterranean.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has today released a statement seeking to clarify any confusion caused by these remarks, saying that Dunya had “noted her concern if her choice of words had led to any confusion”.

When asked about the potential impact of the scheme on India-Maldives relations, Dunya told the parliament last week that India had also discussed participating during the recent state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinpeng.

However, Indian Diplomats in Malé promptly refuted the claim, releasing a statement containing comments from the Indian External Affairs Ministry which denied such talks having taken place.

“[T]his matter was neither raised, nor discussed, nor is it reflected in any of the outcomes of the visit of President Xi Jinping to India,” the ministry official told Indian media on Thursday (November 6).

The Maldives foreign ministry today said that Dunya had mentioned various discussions having taken place between India and China “on a wide range of issues” as an example of the excellent relations between the two nations.

The MDP also noted that it was “shameful” that the Indian Government had to re-clarify the public after “lies” from the foreign minister, and warned the government that such actions will weaken Maldives’ relations with other countries.

Fears have been expressed by the opposition regarding the potential for the government’s willingness to participate in the scheme to damage relations with regional neighbours.

The party also called for the resignation of Dunya, stating that intentionally providing false information to the parliament was a crime under the Maldivian Constitution.

The Chinese president travelled to India after having visited the Maldives where numerous MoUs were signed between the two governments – most notably agreements promoting the Malé-Hulhulé bridge and the redevelopment of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

The new INIA agreement comes while previous developer, India’s GMR, waits to hear how much they are to receive in damages after a Singapore arbitration court ruled their prematurely terminated contract with the Government of Maldives to have been “valid and binding”.

As Chinese companies pledge assistance with major infrastructure projects, Indian companies continue to fall foul of the Maldives’ changing political currents.

Meanwhile, China’s rising economic presence in the Indian Ocean region has stoked concerns in New Delhi that China is creating a “string of pearls” encircling India, including Chinese investments in ports and other key projects in Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

*This article was amended shortly after publication to include an additional statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs


Gaza fund donations handed over to Qatar Red Crescent

A donation of MVR 29.4 million (US$1.9 million) to help Gaza has been handed over to the Qatar Red Crescent at an event held on Wednesday (August 27) at the Maldives Broadcasting Commission.

The unprecedented donation drive by Maldivians following the conflict in Gaza culminated in a 33 hour telethon aired across multiple participating broadcasters.

The cheque was received by Qatar Red Crescent President Dr Mohamed Bin Ghanim Al Madida.

Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon, Help Gaza association’s Steering Commitee Chairman and MBC Chairman Ibrahim Umar Manik, and Gaza Fund Maldives representative Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla handed the check over on behalf of the Maldivian people.

The donation is intended to be used to supply food and water and to help Gaza recover from damage sustained after the Israeli Defense Force launched an offensive in retaliation to rocket fire from within the territory.


No threat to Maldivians in Srilanka, assures Sri Lankan foreign minister

Sri Lankan minister for External Affairs G.L. Peiris has assured that there is no threat to Maldivians residing in his country from ongoing conflicts between Muslims and Buddhists.

Speaking during the official state visit of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Peiris said that the “happy and contented” Maldivian community living in Sri Lanka mostly reside in the southern parts of the country, far away from the zone of conflict.

“There is absolutely no problem in that area,” he said, adding that the conflict was going on in a very narrow area of Sri Lanka.

Rajapaksa’s two-day state visit is the first official visit of a foreign leader since President Yameen’s election, and has seen agreements signed related to health, investment, and search and rescue services.

Maldivian Foreign Minister Dhunya Maumoon – speaking at today’s press conference in Kurumba resort – said that the Maldivian government appreciated the steps taken by the Sri Lankan government to ensure the safety of the the 9,400 citizens in the Maldives.

“Not that there are no serious issues,” she said. “But the media sometimes sensationalise these issues.”

On June 16, 2014, reports emerged that hard-line Buddhists hurled gasoline bombs and looted homes and businesses during attacks in several Muslim towns in southwestern Sri Lanka, killing three Muslims and seriously wounding more than 50 people.

Dunya said that the Maldivian embassy in Sri Lanka was closely monitoring the situation on a daily basis. She also revealed that land in the Maldivian capital had been granted for Sri Lanka to set up a new diplomatic premises.

Following Rajapaksa’s arrival yesterday, official bilateral talks were held between the two governments as well as a private meeting between the two heads of state. A special banquet in honour of the Sri Lankan president and first lady was held at Kurumba yesterday evening.

Dunya today noted the close personal links between the two nations with Sri Lankan expatriate workers greatly assisting the Maldivian economy while more than 80,000 Maldivians visited Sri Lanka in 2012.

“We recognise and applaud the tremendous post-conflict reconstruction efforts of the Sri Lankan Government. We believe that the Sri Lankan Government and its people can address and overcome the challenges of post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation,” said the foreign minister.

Details of the health MoU were also revealed yesterday, with three specialists per year travelling to the Maldives as well as places for five Maldivian students to study medicine in Sri Lanka.

“Maldivians have been long standing consumers of the excellent education and health services in Sri Lanka. Under the agreement signed yesterday, the Maldives looks forward to further enhancing cooperation in the health sector, including in investing in human resources, recruitment of medical doctors and health professionals, and procurement of pharmaceuticals,” she added.

External Affairs Minister Peiris told press today that the agreements reached would have positive practical results for both nations, in particular new agreements on investment.

Trade between the two states grew by 40 percent last year, said Peiris, currently amounting to US$76 million – a figure he described as “satisfactory” with room for improvement.

“Major Sri Lankan investors are investing in the Maldives in a big way, particularly in tourism infrastructure,” he continued.

As part of today’s trip, a networking session was held in Malé for Sri Lanka’s business delegation, with Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb and Economic Development Minister Mohamed Saeed revealing details of investment opportunities in the Maldives.

Asked about discussions on Sri Lankan fishermen’s access to the travel through the Maldives’ territorial waters, Peiris said that such close allies had no need to hold official discussions “formally” about the right of innocent passage.

President Yameen had promised to explore during his corresponding trip to Sri Lanka in January, during which MoUs were signed regarding combating transnational crime , vocational training, and sports cooperation.


President to discuss visa issues, business prospects with India

President Abdulla Yameen has said he will be seeking solutions to the difficulties Maldivians face in getting travel visas to India, and obtaining construction materials during his official visit to the country.

Yameen, however, claimed that the government does not intend to re-establish the contract with the Indian Company GMR to develop the country’s only international airport.

“One of the biggest obstacles faced by Maldivians travelling to India, especially those travelling for medical purposes, as well as students, is the difficulty in getting visa approval. That is something I will discuss during this trip,” Yameen told the press prior to his departure.

“The Foreign Ministry and the Immigration Department has already conducted a lot of work on this manner and we have hopes that there will soon be a solution to this,” said the president.

Yameen will be accompanied by the first lady on the official trip, taken after an invitation from Indian President Shri Pranab Mukherjee.

“In the context of businesses and general conditions, these are days when the country is facing trouble in getting construction material like building rocks and rock boulders. We have even previously talked about this,” he continued.

Yameen stated that, in addition to his own discussions, the government delegation travelling with him will also be conducting deliberations with their Indian counterparts, adding that he hoped the discussions would pave way for prospects beneficial to the Maldivian people.

He revealed that the main focus of the trip will explore ways in which India can assist in dealing with the difficulties currently faced by the Maldivian business and health sectors.

“Among the agreements, prospects for the health sector is included. Otherwise, we are generally going towards some agreements to seek assistance for the business sector. I believe that through discussions, there are numerous ways in which we can move forward together,” he stated.

“Similar to the Maldives, India too needs some time to make arrangements. Since our requests are large scale, it will take time for them to get approval from their parliament. However, the Indian government’s responses to us are very positive,” Yameen said.

Besides the Indian government, the Maldivian delegation will also be meeting key members of India’s business sector, Yameen said.

Also taking part in these meetings will be the leaders of ruling coalition parties, Gasim Ibrahim -Jumhooree Party – and Ahmed Siyam – Maldives Development Alliance. The two also chair the business groups Villa Enterprises and Sun Travels, respectively.

This is the president’s first official trip abroad since assuming office in November 2013.

Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon, President’s Office Minister Mohamed Hussain Shareef, Health Minister Mariyam Shakeela, Economic Minister Mohamed Saeed, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb, State Minister for Youth and Sports Gassan Maumoon and Foreign Secretary Dr Ali Naseer Mohamed will also be accompanying Yameen.

“No intention to bring back GMR”

Yameen said that the GMR issue is currently in the arbitration stage and has dismissed claims that the government may renew the airport development contract with the company.

“This government does not intend to give the whole airport back to GMR. I do not anticipate that the Indian government will discuss the GMR issue with us, it has not done so before. The GMR issue is not one which concerns the government of India,” Yameen stated.

“The matter is between two companies, albeit the companies being ones important to both governments. Why the airport is important to us is because it is one of the major earning sources for us, and because the company is a 100 percent state owned enterprise. In the same manner, GMR might be important to the current government in power in India,” he explained.

Yameen said representatives from GMR may be present in meetings with the business sector, but denied that the government would be meeting specifically with the company to discuss the airport issue.

“GMR representatives have not even requested to meet them separately. Thus, the GMR matter is not a notable focus in this trip of mine,” he said.

Yameen said that instead of renewing the GMR contract, the government is currently focusing on how the state can pay the compensation fee to the company, and that the matter was being dealt with in the official arbitration.

GMR Chair G M Rao told Indian media last month that he expected the US$1.4 billion wrongful termination claim to be resolved by May.

However, India’s Economic Times has reported that “the Manmohan Singh government will seek the creation of a climate conducive to Indian investment in the Maldives when president Abdulla Yameen arrives in Delhi on January 1 on his maiden visit abroad after being elected head of state.”

“This includes the resolution of disputes relating to GMR’s airport project and the allocation of a site for a Tata housing project,” continued the paper.


Government and civil society highlight work needed to safeguard human rights

State institutions have both celebrated the current progress in the protection of human rights in the Maldives, as well as expressing concern about certain violations and restrictions in the field.

A series have statements accompanied the 63rd International Human Rights Day – December 10.

With this year’s Human Rights Day aligning with the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM)’s 10th Anniversary, the independent commission held an event on Tuesday night, attended by several cabinet ministers, alongside political and civil society actors.

“It is crucial to overcome obstacles in the protection of rights guaranteed to Maldivians through the constitution and the international treaties, and for all institutions to work justly and equitably to reach this goal,” said HRCM President Mariyam Azra at the event.

Furthermore, in a statement released on Tuesday, the HRCM president stated that while the commission is pleased that human rights has become a topic openly and often discussed over the past decade, there still remains much work that needs to be done in the country to adequately protect human rights.

“What leads to the violation of rights is the lack of respect for rights. The abuse of rights committed by those in high positions oftentimes as a show of power most often affects the most vulnerable persons who are already in need of special protection. That is to say, people who are sidelined by society itself,” the statement read.

While there are state institutions mandated to protect citizens from harm and to bring perpetrators to justice, Azra commented, “as it is humans working in these institutions, a culture of treating others in a manner you would wish yourselves to be treated needs to be better established”.

She also noted that, when intervening in the case of a 15 year old rape victim being charged with fornication and sentenced to 100 lashes by flogging, the commission realised the importance of interventions even at the court proceedings stage.

“When after we intervened, the High Court overruled the Juvenile Court’s sentence on the child, we realised the importance of intervention even at the stages of court hearings. Therefore, we have now planned to conduct further work in the field after seeking cooperation from the judiciary,” she revealed.

“President Yameen has an unwavering commitment to establish a consolidated democracy”

Meanwhile, Minister of Foreign Affairs Dunya Maumoon stated that the Maldives has given “greater impetus and focus to strengthening our systems and institutions to better safeguard human rights and fundamental liberties” since former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom began the introduction of democratic governance in the country in 2004.

While acknowledging that much work needs to be done to safeguard human rights in the country, Dunya stated, “I am pleased to reiterate the unwavering commitment of His Excellency President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom to continue the country’s journey, with greater vigour and determination, to its destination of a consolidated democracy.

She asserted that the government will focus on completing its human rights treaty reporting obligations and reducing the gaps that exist within the framework, among other related work.

She further spoke on the Maldives’ role in the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), emphasising among other points that the country had “always pledged to defend the Constitution, to strengthen our judiciary and independent institutions and to uphold the rule of law”.

“We have not minced our words in our calls to protect the rights of all Muslims around the world. We have stood up against Islamaphobia and risen to build the fallen bridges of tolerance and respect,” the statement read.

The minister pledged to continue the work through the country’s membership in the UNHRC and at the local level.

State must take initiative to provide justice to those who suffered HR violations: MDN

Local Human Rights NGO Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) commended the current stability in the country, maintaining that it is the result of having an elected government in place after a politically turbulent period.

Thanking the Elections Commission for its work to defend the right to vote and the losing candidate Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s Mohamed Nasheed and his supporters for their ready acceptance of electoral defeat, the NGO called on security forces and the general public to ensure that the stability in the country is maintained as a peaceful one by refraining from committing acts of violence or injustice against any persons.

“This organisation believes that it is a responsibility of the government to take the initiative to ensure justice for all those who have suffered different manners of abuse and HR violations in these past days,” the statement read.

“It is crucial that state institutions act in accordance with the recommendations put forth by the Commission of National Inquiry,the HRCM and the Police Integrity Commission after concluding investigations into the events of February 7 and 8, 2012. This will be the most important and initial step towards establishing justice,” it continued.

“It is also important to learn of the injustices against separate persons being committed by the judicial, political and social sectors currently, and to ascertain that they proceed in a just manner. We call on the government and concerned state authorities to ensure this.”


Government to offer scholarship in name of late foreign minister

The government has decided to offer a new special scholarship under the name of late Foreign Minister Dr Abdul Samad Abdulla.

Dr Samad passed away this Sunday while undergoing treatment after kidney dialysis at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore. The 67 year-old died during treatment at 1:05am Male’ time on Sunday morning, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Dr Samad was first admitted to intensive care on August 20 in a critical condition after suffering a severe heart attack. The 67 year-old had undergone heart bypass surgery 15 years ago.

In a cabinet meeting held on today (25 August), the government decided to hold a special ceremony in appreciation of Dr Samad’s services to the country.  Funeral prayers were conducted in every mosque in the country today after Asr Prayers.

Cabinet members noted that Dr Samad was a very honest courageous person and had proven his capacity as the Foreign Minister who had faced the toughest time while in office.


Maldivian Foreign Minister dies during treatment in Singapore

Maldivian Foreign Minister Dr Abdul Samad Abdulla has died during treatment after undergoing kidney dialysis at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore.

The 67 year-old died during treatment at 1:05am Male’ time on Sunday morning, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Dr Samad was first admitted to intensive care on August 20 in a critical condition after suffering a severe heart attack. The 67 year-old had undergone heart bypass surgery 15 years ago.

On Thursday the Foreign Ministry reported that Dr Samad’s condition appeared to have stabilised, although he remained in intensive care in a state of induced unconsciousness after undergoing dialysis.

“On behalf of the Government and people of the Maldives, and on his own behalf, President Waheed extends his heartfelt condolences, at this time of national tragedy, to the family of the late Dr Abdul Samad,” read a statement from the President’s Office.

“The President recognises Dr Abdul Samad Abdulla’s sincere services to the government and the people of Maldives, especially as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Maldives, in strengthening diplomatic relations with other countries,” the statement added.

Dr Samad has served in numerous roles for both the Maldives Health Ministry and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

He has also served as the first High Commissioner of the Republic of Maldives to the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh and was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs in March 2012, by President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s new government.

Dr Samad’s funeral will take place in Singapore after Zuhr (afternoon) prayers. Vice President Mohamed Waheed Deen will attend the funeral, reports local media.

Dr Samad is survived by wife Ameena Ali and three children.


Maldives denies diplomatic snub by India, as High Commission issues list of consular grievances

The Indian government has rejected an official request from Maldivian Foreign Minister Abdul Samad Abdulla to visit the country, Indian media has reported.

According to the Indian Express newspaper, Samad sought to set up an official visit for Maldivian President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik through formal channels but was rebuffed.  He then reportedly visited Delhi in a personal capacity to try and arrange meetings.

“With elections expected in the next three to six months, [the Prime Minister’s Office] was wary about Waheed or his foreign minister wrongly projecting a meeting for domestic political gains in the name of rapprochement with India,” the Indian Express reported.

The Maldives’ relationship with India has been strained since the Waheed government evicted Indian infrastructure giant GMR from the country with seven days notice, declaring its US$511 concession agreement ‘void from the start’.

“Waheed has lost all credibility with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as he had specifically assured Singh during his visit to India last May that Malé will not rescind on the GMR contract despite political pressure,” the Express added.

However Foreign Minister Samad told local media that the Maldives had not been snubbed by India, and had last met the Indian Foreign Minister in November.

“I did not request a meeting in an official capacity. They facilitated our request for a meeting in a personal capacity,’ Samad told Haveeru. “So why would they snub a request for an official meeting? They facilitated it.”

The foreign relations between the two countries were “quite strong”, Samad insisted: “The Foreign Minister told me that he was reachable 24 hours.”

“Issues will arise diplomatically. But the ties between India and Maldives are strong. The relations won’t be affected as it remains cordial,” Samad added.

Whatever impact the government’s sudden eviction of the Indian investor had on foreign relations, it did not appear on a full list of 11 grievances handed to all senior Maldivian reporters by the Indian High Commission earlier this week:

Consular issues affecting the India-Maldives relationship

1. Discrimination against Indian expatriates

In recent past, several cases have come to the notice of the High Commission of India regarding the arrest of Indian nationals on various charges. In most of these cases, the Indian High Commission was not even officially informed.

In a recent case, an Indian national was arrested and kept in detention for several weeks, but we did not receive any official intimation despite a letter sent by the High Commissioner to the Home Minister.

2. Keeping passports of Indian nationals by employers

It is unfortunate that despite many references and high level meetings with Indian delegations, no progress has been made to eliminate this illegal practice which effectively results in the restriction of movement of Indian nationals. In several cases Indian nationals are not able to reach India in times of extreme emergency such as critical illness of family members and relatives, due to these practices.

It is unfortunate that even government authorities such as the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health keep the passports of Indian teachers and medical personnel in their custody.

It is also reported that deposits and original certificates are kept illegally by the Ministry of Education before returning the passports of Indian teachers needing to visit India in emergency situations.

3. Exploitation of Indian workers

In the past 12 months there have been more than 500 cases regarding the suffering of Indian workers due to various acts of their employers. These include non-payment of visa fees, non-payment of salaries, keeping workers in inhumane conditions, and not allowing workers to go to India even for medical emergencies or after the death of their relatives.

While so many Indians suffered – including one who died waiting for his return to India – there is no information of any action taken against employers/agents. Furthermore, the salaries of many workers who have left India still needs to be recovered from employer/agents.

In another recent case, several nurses working out in the islands had to finally cancel their scheduled weddings because their permit and visa were not renewed by the Ministry of Health even after three weeks of waiting in Male.

4. Repatriation of mortal remains

While the departments of the Maldivian government such as the Ministry of Education do repatriate the mortal remains of Indian teachers at their cost, some private employers refuse to do so resulting in serious difficulty repatriating the bodies of Indian expatriates who die while in the Maldives.

5. Issue of dependent visa for old parents of Indian employees

While India readily provides dependent visas for the parents of children, the Maldivian government requires a request letter from the Indian High Commission to entertain such a visa request from an Indian expatriate.

6. Visa fee

While all visas for Maldivian nationals to travel to India are free, there are steep fees for visas for Indians in the Maldives, including newly born babies. There are very high penalties of MVR 15,000 (US$1000) even for a one day delay in the return or renewal of a visa.

7. Repatriation of salary

Indian professionals are complaining that they are not allowed to repatriate salaries of more than US$1000 a month, putting them at great disadvantage and difficulty.

8. Threat calls to diplomats

Threat calls have been received by the First Secretary. Authorities have given no feedback despite the lapse of one month.

9. Reopening of cases relating to sentenced Indian prisoners

Three Indians who have been convicted on murder charges have represented against their conviction based on forced confessions and requested reopening of their cases or presidential pardon.

10. Payment of deduction of salary

Fifteen percent of salaries and allowances were deducted [for some workers] during the economic recess. We have received representation for payment of the amount.

11. Pension contribution

Pension/contribution entitlement for Indians who have died, retired or returned to India should be paid to them.

President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad was not responding at time of press.