Government responds to UN on ex-president’s terrorism trial

The Maldivian government, responding to the UN working group on arbitrary detention today, contended that a terrorism conviction against former president Mohamed Nasheed was not politically motivated and said allegations over lack of due process are factually incorrect.

Nasheed’s family had lodged a petition with the UN in April requesting a judgment declaring the opposition leader’s detention illegal and arbitrary. The government was asked to respond before the first week of July.

“Mr Nasheed has not been a victim of a politicised process. He has been properly charged and faced trial for an extremely serious offence, one that was aimed at interfering with an independent judiciary and circumventing the rule of law. The law cannot be applied selectively,” said Ahmed Shiaan, the ambassador of the Maldives to Belgium.

Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail over the military’s detention of the criminal court chief judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.

Shiaan and Toby Cadman, a barrister and partner at London-based Omnia Strategy, delivered the response to the UN in Geneva today.

Cadman said any lapses in due process were not “so serious individually or collectively so as to render the entirety of the proceedings a flagrant denial of justice. And thus render the former president’s detention arbitrary. Moreover, it is important to note that any of the irregularities, actual or perceived, are capable of being addressed on appeal.”

The 19-day trial was criticized by foreign governments and UN rights experts. The UK Prime Minister David Cameron, the EU parliament and high profile US senators have called for his immediate release.

Omnia Strategy, a London-based law firm chaired by Cherie Blair, the wife of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, was employed for an undisclosed fee to write the response.

Nasheed was transferred to house arrest in late-June in exchange for opposition backing on a constitutional amendment that will allow President Abdulla Yameen to replace his deputy. Talks are now ongoing between the Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party and the government.


Speaking to the press in Geneva, Shiaan contended Nasheed’s petition to the UN was an attempt to divert attention from his “abduction” of a sitting criminal court judge.

Nasheed’s lawyers have argued that the trial was rushed and that the criminal court had withheld trial records to block an appeal. Lawyers have also raised concern over the denial of legal counsel at some hearings.

Shiaan, however, said the allegations are factually incorrect and a mischaracterization of reality.

Cadman stressed the trial was “conducted under a process recognized under national and international law” and “not arbitrary by any standards.”

“We are confident they will dismiss the communication by the former president in its entirety,” he said.

Cadman insisted Nasheed could still appeal his conviction at the High Court and denied that the criminal court had deliberately withheld trial records to block an appeal. Nasheed and his lawyers had refused to sign the records, he contended.

Admitting that Nasheed was not given legal representation at the first trial, Cadman claimed the process was legal under Maldivian law. The former president’s lawyers had later boycotted hearings, he said and suggested Nasheed refused to make use of opportunities provided by the criminal court to appoint new counsel.

Nasheed was brought to trial a day after his arrest. He wasn’t allowed legal counsel at first hearing with the criminal court saying it’s regulations requires three days to register lawyers for defendants. Nasheed’s lawyers later recused themselves claiming they could not mount a proper defense with the criminal court rushing the process.

Hearings were often held late at night. The verdict was delivered at 11:15pm.

But Cadman today insisted the trial was not rushed as no new evidence had been submitted against Nasheed.

All the materials had been provided in 2012 when Nasheed was first charged with ordering an arbitrary detention of the judge. “The only difference was the qualification of the offence under national law,” Cadman argued.

While the first offence only carries a few months in prison, the latter charges of terrorism carry at least ten years in prison. Nasheed’s lawyers argued they required more time to weigh the evidence in light of the harsher charges.

The opposition leader contends the criminal court had blocked him from filing an appeal within the shortened 10-day appeal period. The new provisions, dictated by the Supreme Court shortly before Nasheed’s trial commenced, are silent on accepting late appeals, his lawyers have said.

The appellate court, citing lateness, refused to accept an appeal of a murder acquittal filed by the Prosecutor General’s Office in June. The PG office told Minivan News the delay was caused by the criminal court’s failure to provide a record of trial proceedings within the 10-day appeal period.

A ruling by the UN working group is expected in September or October, Nasheed’s lawyers have said.


Maldives judiciary hammered in UN human rights review

Countries across the world have blasted the Maldives for it’s politicized judiciary and expressed alarm over threats to journalists and human rights defenders at a UN periodic review of human rights in Geneva today.

The imprisonment of former president Mohamed Nasheed on terrorism charges was also noted with concern by Norway, Germany, the United Kingdom, Denmark, the United States, Canada and Australia.

But many countries welcomed new anti-torture laws and laws protecting migrant worker and women’s rights in the Maldives, and applauded progress in healthcare and education.

The UN’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) comes amidst heightened international scrutiny of the Maldives over political turbulence triggered by Nasheed’s arrest in February. Hundreds were arrested this weekend in a 20,000 strong anti-government protest.

Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon said the Maldives is training and building capacity of judges, and said criticism of Nasheed’s trial had “mainly focused on the process and not the merits.”

Many countries also slammed the Maldives for the Supreme Court’s decision to try members of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) for treason over a submission to the UPR.

Despite the strong criticism, the foreign ministry in a statement tonight said the human rights council had “praised Maldives for the tremendous progress it has achieved in the promotion and protection of human rights.”

Judicial reform

Expressing concern over a “lack of respect for the most basic principals of fair trial and due process” during Nasheed’s trial, Norway called on the Maldives to release the opposition leader immediately.

Germany noted a climate of growing fear in the Maldives due to increasing gang related violence, religious intolerance, and attacks and death threats faced by journalists, politicians and civil society groups.

The UK meanwhile called on the Maldives to ensure administration of justice is “fully consistent with international human rights standards” and take urgent action to protect journalists, NGOs and to investigate and prosecute individuals behind the threats.

The UK also expressed concern over arrests of opposition leaders during the mass antigovernment protest on May 1, and called for dialogue between the government and opposition parties.

Denmark noted irregularities and rushed processes in Nasheed’s trial, and recommended the “Maldives restore confidence in its legal system by ensuring the clear and unambiguous division of powers, including the indisputable independence of its judicial processes and judges.”

The United States urged the Maldives to end politically motivated prosecutions, including the Supreme Court’s prosecution of members of the human rights watchdog.

The US said it was concerned about fair trial guarantees and said Maldives must strengthen the independence of the judiciary by reforming the process by which the judicial watchdog – the Judicial Services Commission – selects and appoints judges.

Adding its voice to calls for Nasheed’s release, Canada said Maldives must reaffirm its commitment to democracy and rule of law, and institute an independent bar association.

Meanwhile, India said the judiciary must adhere to due process to maintain public trust and said the space for legitimate political dissent must be safeguarded.

Botswana, Brazil, Argentina, Slovenia, New Zealand, Ghana, Switzerland, Italy, Ireland, South Korea, Bangladesh, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, Trinidad and Tobago, Kenya and France also spoke on the need for judicial reform.

International spotlight

Responding to criticism of Nasheed’s trial, foreign minister Dunya said the case “has highlighted the profound need to work together and strengthen oversight institutions, including the judiciary and the need to bring urgent reforms to the judiciary.”

She censured Nasheed for his decision not to seek an appeal, stating appellate courts were set in place to address shortcomings by the lower courts.

Nasheed’s lawyers had decided not to appeal after the criminal court failed to provide the necessary documentation within a shortened ten-day appeal period. The opposition leader has instead appealed to president Abdulla Yameen to reduce his sentence and release him through special procedures in the Clemency Act.

On the Supreme Court’s prosecution of the human rights commission, the Maldives representative in Geneva, Geela Ali, declined to comment, stating: “as the matter is yet to be decided, we deem it inappropriate to comment on the matter just yet.”

The charges were brought in September last year under new suo moto regulations that allow the Supreme Court to prosecute and pass judgment. The case is still pending.

Dunya said the Maldives had formulated a judicial sector strategic action plan with new benchmarks for increasing efficiency, effectiveness and public confidence in the judiciary.

“Almost everyone seems to have something to say, about what they think is good for the Maldives. As a result, every baby step that the Maldives takes is fiercely debated all over the world, including in the corridors of power in key capitals,” she said.

“It is easy to criticize, but we urge you to not only do that: invest in us, bring about meaningful change.”

She insisted Maldives’ institutions must have the space to grow organically, and said meaningful democratic change cannot be imposed. Change “can only be sustained if the change is locally owned, locally driven and locally shaped,” she said.


Global spotlight poses ‘enormous challenges’ to Maldives democracy

The global spotlight on the Maldives has exacerbated challenges to consolidating democracy following the introduction of a multi-party system of governance, the government has told the UN.

The 2008 constitution established independent state institutions and “diluted” the power of the executive branch, “posing considerable challenges to maintaining political order in the society,” states the government’s submission to the UN human rights council’s Universal Period Review (UPR).

“These challenges have been exacerbated by the realities of having to nurture and cultivate an entirely new system of governance under global spotlight,” reads the national UPR report.

“The level and depth of international scrutiny means that it has been an enormous challenge to ensure that the Maldivian state and its institutions are given the necessary space to make their own decisions, and emerge as an organic set of institutions tailored to provide local solutions to local challenges.”

The UPR process involves a periodic examination of the human rights situation of all member states based on submissions from the state, the human rights body, and NGOs.

Foreign minister Dunya Maumoon is currently in Geneva to attend the Maldives’ review scheduled to take place tomorrow. The country’s first review took place in 2010.

A working group comprised of the human rights council’s 47 member states will conduct the Maldives’ review. Several Western governments have submitted questions on judicial reform, former president Mohamed Nasheed’s trial, the reintroduction of the death penalty, and lack of religious freedom.

The second review comes amid a deepening political crisis and growing international and domestic pressure for the release of imprisoned opposition politicians, including Nasheed, ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim, and leaders of allied opposition parties arrested in a crackdown on a mass anti-government rally on Friday.

The national report went on to say that “prolonged political tensions generated by political opposition, and continuous international scrutiny of the government’s attempts in reducing such tensions meant that the government is required to spend more time in explaining its actions to international partners, instead of focusing on governance, and implementation of its political and international obligations, including those on human rights.”

The scrutiny has also led to “disillusionment in some quarters of the population about the true spirit and gains of democracy, and for others to believe that the ultimate remedy for any local political grievance is to be found at the international level, instead of through local institutions established by an ardours [sic], yet democratic, process.”

The conviction of ex-president Nasheed on terrorism charges after a 19-day trial was widely criticised by foreign governments, the UN, and Amnesty International over the apparent lack of due process. However, the government has remained defiant in the face of international criticism and “meddling” in internal affairs.

In contrast, the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party yesterday welcomed statements from the US, UN and Canada as well as a resolution by the European parliament calling for Nasheed’s release.

The government meanwhile stated that despite numerous challenges, the country’s “democratic growth trajectory is continuing in a steady upward momentum”.

The country has made progress with free education, universal health care, and 2,630 social housing units built to date, the report continued, while the Maldives has achieved three millenium development goals with infant and maternal mortality rates on par with developed countries and eradication of polio, malaria, and other vaccine-preventable diseases.

The report also noted the enactment of legislation on anti-torture, prisons and parole, anti-money laundering and terrorism financing, extradition, and the passage of a new penal code.

Legislation on anti-domestic violence, sexual offences, sexual harassment, and disabilities represented “significant gains in protecting the rights of vulnerable groups.”

The persisting challenges include geographic dispersion of the small population, climate change, lack of capacity and technical expertise.

“Emerging challenges such as religious issues posed by differing interpretations of religious teachings, the high prevalence of drug abuse, and closely related issue of gang violence will bring up new issues in realising human rights in the country,” the report stated.


Mariyam Shakeela appointed chairperson of WHO executive board

The Minister of Health and Gender Dr Mariyam Shakeela has been appointed as the Chairperson of the Executive Board of World Health Organisation (WHO).

This appointment took place at a meeting of the WHO Executive Board following the World Health Assembly in Geneva today (May 26), and will be the first time the Maldives has received this title, local media Sun Online reported.

The WHO Executive Board is composed of 34 persons who are technically qualified in the field of health, each designated by a member state who has been elected to serve by the World Health Assembly.

Member states are elected for three-year terms, and Maldives was elected in 2012.


Maldives re-elected unopposed to UN Human Rights Council

The Maldives has been elected unopposed to the UN Human Rights Council for a second term, despite controversy over the legitimacy of the government.

“The Maldives believes that increasing the human rights resilience of the new and emerging democracies should be a priority for the Council and the entire UN system. The Maldives, being an emerging democracy itself, is ideally placed to contribute to the Council’s efforts in helping human rights promotion in such countries,” read a statement from the Maldivian Foreign Ministry.

President Mohamed Waheed announced that he was extending his term in office past the November 11, half an hour before it was due to expire. The international community has expressed concern and alarm that this has left the Maldives in a constitutional void, including the US, UK, Canada and the Commonwealth, which today placed the country on the agenda of its human rights and democracy arm.

The Foreign Ministry meanwhile said the Maldives had “stood for the voiceless in the international society; for the issues that affect the very fundamental values of human rights yet, hardly get a mention in global human rights debate; and it stood for helping the vulnerable and emerging democracies to cultivate the values of human rights in their societies.”

The Maldives was elected unopposed with 164 votes, alongsi Vietnam and Saudi Arabia.

The Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) stated yesterday that the country’s re-election to the council in the absence of having a democratically-elected government “is a mockery and sends an absolutely wrong message about the UN Human Rights Council. The credibility of the United Nations can only be restored through suspension of the membership of Maldives from the UN Human Rights Council like Libya in 2011.”

Former Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed, currently UN Special Rapporteur on Iran who was integral to the Maldives’ first election to the council in 2010 with 185 votes – the highest ever – noted the “vastly reduced majority from 2010.”

“There was also competition that year. This year, there was no competition: only four countries stood for the
four vacant seats. So there really was no choice for the General Assembly but to vote for Maldives,” Dr Shaheed told Minivan News.

“Given that fact that an MDP government is likely to be voted in next week, the Council Members will then have in Maldives a very pro-human rights partner, certainly in terms of the debates and votes in the Human Rights Council,” he noted.

“Finally, the Missions in Geneva and New York have been taking reasonably pro-human rights decisions, with the diplomats there using the void in the top in the Foreign Ministry to support pro-human rights decisions,” he said, congratulating the Maldives’ Ambassador to Geneva, Iruthisham Adam “for doing a remarkably good job in representing the flag, notwithstanding difficulties placed in her way by an autocratic

“But having said that, it is ironic that Maldives should now go back on the agenda of CMAG just as it got elected to the HRC,” he observed.


“International actors should not undermine governments”: Maldives responds to UN Special Rapporteur

The Maldives government has issued a statement inferring that UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, undermined the country’s sovereignty and legal jurisdiction in her recent report on the state of the country’s judiciary.

Knaul’s final report to the UN Human Rights Council extensively outlined the political, budgetary and societal challenges facing the judiciary and wider legal community, as well as the politicisation of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) and its failure to appoint qualified judges under Article 285 of the constitution.

The Special Rapporteur also expressed “deep concern” over the failure of the judicial system to address “serious violations of human rights” during the Maldives’ 30 year dictatorship, warning of “more instability and unrest” should this continue to be neglected.

“It is indeed difficult to understand why one former President is being tried for an act he took outside of his prerogative, while another has not had to answer for any of the alleged human rights violations documented over the years,” Knaul wrote.

The government, which made no response to Knaul’s initial statement in February, on May 28 issued a statement via its Permanent Representative at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Iruthisham Adam.

“Engagement between national governments and international actors should not undermine national jurisdiction and the court system of any country, especially relating to ongoing cases,” reads the statement.

In light of this the Maldivian delegation, said Adam, “wishes to discuss specific matters contained in the report with the rapporteur.”

At the same time the statement “welcomed” the UN Rapporteur’s report and “fully acknowledge[s] that the various challenges she has identified and raised in her report are in fact the residue challenges present in a system in the midst of democratic consolidation.The Maldives judicial system continues to be hampered by structural deficiencies and resource constraints in addressing the difficult challenges facing the country in general.”

Read the UN Special Rapporteur’s full report

Read the government’s response


Jameel and Dunya to defend Maldives’ human rights record at UNHRC

The Maldives’ government will on Thursday defend its human rights record to the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) in Geneva.

The delegation will be headed by Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel, former Justice Minister under the 30 year rule of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and co-author of a pamphlet entitled ‘President Nasheed’s devious plot to destroy the Islamic faith of Maldivians’, published in January 2012 while in opposition.

Dr Jameel will be accompanied by State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dunya Maumoon – Gayoom’s daughter – as well as the Maldives’ Permanent Representative in Geneva, Iruthisham Adam, Counsellor Marc Limon (formerly of PR firm Hill & Knowlton), Third Secretary Muruthala Moosa, and four interns: Marie Gabrielle Glock, Katherine Hamilton, Jessi Challis and Rinaldo Foncesca.

The UNHRC has already identified key issues to be taken up with the Maldives, concerning its International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) commitments. A document outlining these issues – drawn from the country’s Universal Periodic Review (with submissions from government, HRCM and civil society), was published in August 2011 – prior to the controversial change of government and fresh allegations of police brutality and attacks on journalists.

Issues identified in the 2011 document include counterterrorism measures, commitment to reducing discrimination (including on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, and religion), and prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

One specific issue identified was the move in parliament to make the enforcement of the death penalty mandatory where such a verdict is upheld by the Supreme Court, which would place the Maldives in breach of its ICCPR commitments.

Dr Jameel last week stated he was willing to implement death penalty in his capacity as Home Minister. Supreme Court Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz also said he was willing to enforce such verdicts, as the Maldives struggles to come to terms with a sudden wave of violent crime and murder this year.

The ICCPR document asks whether prison personnel responsible for the death of Evan Naseem – a watershed moment in Maldivian political history that sparked democratic reform – had been investigated, and faced justice.

The document challenges the Maldives’ commitment to combating domestic violence and sexual assault in general: “According to information before the Committee, in the absence of a confession, a man can only be convicted of rape if there are two male or four female witnesses to the act. How does this comply with the Covenant?”

It also asks the Maldives to clarify its position on corporal punishment, whereby flogging sentences are routinely given for offences under Islamic sharia. The topic is sensitive in the Maldives, with UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay widely condemned in the Maldives following her call in parliament for a moratorium on the flogging of women as punishment for extramarital sex.

The UN document – produced in August 2011 – also calls on the government to clarify matters surrounding the nine-day detention without charge of MP Abdulla Yameen, then “leader of the opposition”, and challenges the government on issues relating to prison conditions, overcrowding, and lack of a legal aid scheme.

The document calls for the government to explain the country’s treatment of migrant workers, and in particular, “explain the measures being taken to deal with the trafficking of individuals from Bangladesh and India, who are mainly trafficked into the State party for labour and commercial sex exploitation.”
The document also requests the Maldives justify its reservation to article 18 of the ICCPR concerning freedom of religion, specifically the practice of religions other than Sunni Islam by the country’s largest population of foreign nationals.

It also calls on the Maldivian government to respond to allegations of “widespread harassment and intimidation” of journalists.

On June 4, well-known blogger and journalist Ismail ‘Hilath’ Rasheed had his throat cut in what appeared to be the first targeted assassination attempt of a media figure in the Maldives. Rasheed, who had been attacked multiple times prior to the attempt on his life, survived, and has since fled the country. Rasheed claimed he was attacked by radicalised gang members who were operating with the consent of “senior political and religious figures.”

Government response

The government of the Maldives responded to the list of issues earlier this month, ahead of its session with the committee later in July.

It acknowledged “efficiency and effectiveness” challenges with the local Human Rights Commission (HRCM).

“Notwithstanding, the government believes that HRCM already possesses necessary human and financial resources. It is worth noting that at a time of severe
economic difficulties in the Maldives, the HRCM has a budget of 22 million rufiyaa ($1.4 million – an extremely large sum considering the small economy and small population of the Maldives) and a staff of over 50 officials,” the response noted.

The Maldives had made considerable progress on issues of gender discrimination, the government stated, and towards addressing domestic violence with the introduction of a relevant bill.

On the subject of discrimination based on sexual preference, the Maldives had no specific law banning homosexuality, the government noted, however “article 10 of the Constitution of the Maldives states that the religion of the State of Maldives is Islam and Islam shall be the one of the basis of all the laws of the Maldives. Therefore, no law contrary to any tenet of Islam shall be enacted in the Maldives.”

“This excludes the possibility of enacting any law protecting the rights of persons based on their sexual orientation,” the government stated, adding that 23 people had been formally charged for homosexuality between 2007-2011.

With regard to article 18 on the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, “the reservation states that the application of the principles set out in article 18 will be without prejudice to the Constitution of the Maldives,” the government stated.

“Chapter II of the Constitution on fundamental rights and freedoms does not include, among the rights guaranteed, freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”

Regarding concerns over the introduction of the death penalty, the government noted that the referred bill was a proposed amendment to the Clemency Act “which will make performing the death penalty mandatory in the event it was upheld by the Supreme Court.

“The amendment is proposed in an effort to stop crimes of murder and violence. The death toll in the Maldives has increased recently to a level of great concern and it is in the view that if death penalty or capital punishment is enforced it would reduce crime rate,” the government stated.

While corporal punishment was not explicitly prescribed in the penal code, it was administered for “certain offences prescribed in Sharia.”

“The government is, however, looking at ways to ensure that the punishment is not applied in a discriminatory manner. At present, women are far more likely to be publicly flogged than men – mostly because of outdated court procedures such as reliance on confessions rather than forensic evidence – though as noted above this is changing,” the government stated.

Yameen’s detention on the Presidential retreat at Aarah by the government of President Mohamed Nasheed “acted in contravention of the prescribed 24 hour rule and did not follow due process in dealing with political opponents on a number of occasions,” the government stated.

“Mr Yameen Abdul Gayoom‟s arrest and detention – by the police on an isolated island [Aarah] without access to a lawyer or to his family, were arbitrary and unlawful,” the government said.

On human trafficking, the government outlined measures it was taking to address international concerns and provide support for victims, including “a 24/7 toll-free help line to be announced shortly.”

“Language training is to be provided for the staff of Department of Immigration and Emigration and Labour Relations Authority (LRA) or translators are to be placed at borders to assist in identification of victims and providing necessary assistance to the victims,” the government stated. The country recently appeared on the US State Department’s Tier 2 Watch List for Human Trafficking for the third year running.

The government denied harassment and intimidation of journalists. Instead, “media freedom has remained steady with the constitution protecting freedom of expression but also restricting freedom of speech contrary to the tenets of Islam.”

While the government blocked websites controversial to Islam, ”the government is working to ensure the media is free to tackle any subject. It was by the current administration of President Dr Waheed Hassan who took office in February 2012 that Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation was handed over to the Parliament-created Maldives Broadcasting Corporation that had ended executive control of the media.”

A number of NGOs, including Redress, the Helios Life Association, the International Disability Alliance (IDA) and social services veteran and former State Health Minister Mariya Ali have submitted reports and evidence to the panel, which is to be webcast live.

Minivan News will review these submissions this week ahead of the Maldives’ appearance in Geneva.


Maldives moves into Commonwealth’s Small States Office in Geneva

The Maldives is one of several small island states being provided subsidied office space by the Commonwealth’s Small States Office when it opens in Geneva on January 17.

The Maldives, the Bahamas, Solomon Islands, the Organisation for Eastern Caribbean States and the Seychelles will operate from the new office, which includes a business centre for visiting delegations attending meetings in Geneva. Tenants will also have access to a resident technical expert on trade and human rights.

“We are delighted to open this new office to assist our small states that could not otherwise afford the full cost of a Permanent Mission in Geneva,” said Commonwealth Secretary-General, Kamalesh Sharma.

“The office will allow these countries to establish a diplomatic presence in the region for bilateral accreditation in Europe and to the many multilateral organisations in Geneva. It will also act as a global hub for small states to work with other countries on issues such as trade, private investment, human rights, health and labour.”


Maldives gets highest number of votes for Human Rights Council

The Maldives has been officially awarded a seat in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, receiving historic support from the UN General Assembly members.

The votes, which were cast on 13 May at the UN Headquarters in New York, revealed the Maldives came in at the top of the Asian group running for the Council.

The seat was also highly endorsed by a group of international NGOs, with UN Watch and Freedom House reporting that out of fourteen candidate countries from all regions, only five, including the Maldives, have human rights records that merit a seat in the Council.

The report said only the Maldives, Guatemala, Spain, Switzerland and Poland have a worthy human rights record, while the remaining nine countries have either “questionable” or “unqualified” records.

The seat had already been secured after Iran withdrew its candidature last month, leaving four countries–Malaysia, Thailand, Qatar and the Maldives–running for four seats.

But the unprecedented support from Member States show the “enormous respect for the Maldives, its government, its people, its national human rights institution, and the work that we have all been doing to strengthen the respect for human rights,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Ahmed Shaheed.

He said “we topped the whole list. It was the highest number of votes ever on the Council.”

Dr Shaheed told Minivan News last month he believed the Maldives would be number one in the rankings.

Speaking in New York, Dr Shaheed said “this is a proud day for the Maldives,” adding that “five years ago we were a human rights pariah, today our bid to secure a Council seat has won almost universal support from UN Member States.”

Dr Shaheed added he was “delighted” the seat was won on merit; “today the world’s governments and human rights NGOs have joined together to recognise and endorse the enormous strides that the Maldives has taken in the realm of human rights.”

Press Secretary for the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair, said President Mohamed Nasheed was “very happy” about the seat in the Council, “especially because Maldives was elected with a very high award.”

He said he believes the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) “should become strengthened on this kind of endorsement.”

Zuhair added “human rights issues in the Maldives will be more highlighted” and said the votes show “international recognition of the Maldivian government in human rights issues.”

Speaking to Minivan News last month, President of the HRCM, Ahmed Saleem, said winning the seat was “a very good opportunity for the government to realise [they have] to make necessary changes.”

He added membership in the Council should improve human rights in the country “because the government also will have to act very positively now, there has to be room for improvement in the way the government reacts to human rights issues.”

Saleem noted he was “very delighted” the Maldives won a seat in the Council, as it “reflects well on us, as well.”

Human Rights Council

Seats for the Human Rights Council are voted upon by all forty-seven Member States of the Council, and seats are awarded with over 51% of votes, cast on secret ballots, by the General Assembly.

The Maldives secured 185 votes out of 192 Member States, making it the highest number of votes for a state in any region. Coming in second was Thailand, with 182 votes.

The Council, working out of the UN Palais des Nations in Geneva, is responsible for promoting human rights, addressing violations of human rights and promoting the effective coordination within the UN system.

This is the first time the Maldives has won a seat in a major UN body. The country will serve a three-year term. Countries are not eligible for immediate re-election after two consecutive terms.