Maldives failing to uphold international human rights obligations: Forum Asia

The Maldives has failed to uphold its obligations to core international human rights treaties related to freedom of expression, assembly and association, the regional NGO Forum Asia has concluded.

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum Asia) – a regional human rights NGO with 47 member organisations from 16 Asian countries – evaluated the promotion and protection of these core human rights in the Maldives in regard to September’s presidential elections during their recent mission to the Maldives.

Forum Asia noted the “shortcomings in the laws relating to freedom of assembly”, particularly relating to the “shrinking space” for the exercise of the right to assemble as well as the right of all workers to associate and assemble, during their press conference held Saturday (June 22).

Reports of security forces engaging in excessive use of force to prevent and disburse assemblies, also “concerned” the Forum Asia mission.

Security personnel were urged to exercise restraint and refrain from using excessive force, irritants, or dyes on assemblies, while the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) has been asked to closely monitor and prevent such situations, said Forum Asia.

“We hope that the PIC and the security forces will work together to ensure they are able to resort to reasonable and internationally accepted means while engaging with assemblies,” said Forum Asia’s South Asian Programme Officer Gayatri Khandhadai. “Similarly we hope that all protesters also resort to peaceful and democratic means while exercising their right to assembly.”

“We are particularly also worried about the restrictions placed on journalists covering these protests,” she added.

Khandhadai highlighted that it is unrealistic for journalists to seek accreditation for different types of events – protests, cultural events, etc – given the time and energy involved in the registration process.

“Media is the platform that brings information to the people, so media must have free access. we have requested to amend the laws on the basis of practicality because Maldives also belongs to the civilized world of the 21st century,” said Forum Asia Chairperson Subodh Raj Pyakurel.

“It may be legal to put some kind of regulation and restriction process etc, but this is not legitimate, because one journalist can go anywhere, anywhere, informally,” he noted.

Forum Asia also identified “difficulties faced by the various associations”, including NGOs, professional associations, trade unions, community based organisations, and political parties, in the Maldives attributed to “unclear regulations, especially relating to registration.”

Human rights perspective needed

The limitations codified in the ‘Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act’ “must be amended to meet constitutional guarantees and international norms”, the organisation stated.

“There has to be a method – on paper and in practice – for what are the different peaceful engagements you have to have with the crowds,” said Khandhadai.

“These rights are particularly important to ensure ahead of elections” and to guarantee peaceful and inclusive elections occur, she added.

The Government of Maldives was also compelled to implement recommendations made by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) and PIC.

Additionally, political parties were requested to “adopt a human rights perspective and formally include the promotion of human rights in their official agendas and manifestos prior to elections”.

The Forum Asia mission also “implored the Maldives’ government, judiciary, legislature, independent commissions and media to develop and strengthen their engagement with civil society organisations, which are essential for a healthy democracy”.

Meanwhile, civil society and human rights defenders within the Maldives were encouraged to unite in solidarity and engage with the state to promote a culture of human rights in the country, said Forum Asia.

Use of force disastrous

Having less than 10 percent of Male’ available for protests is “quite a worrisome issue”, said Khandhadai.

Unprovoked actions against demonstrators have been seen in the Maldives and it is necessary to identify whether that use of force could have been avoided or not, as well as whether the crowd was posing a threat, noted Khandhadai.

“The points to be taken into consideration are what would have happened if that force was not used,” she explained. “If any other means could have been put in place to disperse that crowd, or even if that crowd needed to be disbursed to start with.”

“I’m particularly worried about the sanction of the use of irritants in a space like Male, which is particularly small… and shrinks the already small area where people can protest,” she continued.

Sanctioned or encouraged use of force within that small space “will become very, very difficult and disastrous even,” Khandhadai added. “The only solution is to promote a culture of peaceful engagement.”

Pyakurel echoed these sentiments and emphasised that holding democratic elections means maximising public mobilization.

“During the elections we always expect that each and every citizen has the opp to interact and understand,” he noted.

“People [protesting] become destructive only when they are restricted, if you don’t restrict them they don’t become destructive,” he continued.

“Discipline is a must but it should be regulated through a very concrete and specific law, not the will of the [police] officer – that creates a problem,” he added.


Maldives hails “new dawn” in Libya, increases international pressure on Syria

Maldives Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem has welcomed “a new dawn in Libya” following reports yesterday that the rebel Transitional National Council (TNC) had all but taken control of Libya’s capital, Tripoli.

President Muammar Gaddafi remains nowhere to be found, but early reports yesterday – confirmed by the International Criminal Court (ICC) – suggested that the rebels had detained his son, Saif al-Islam.

Saif however appeared in front of journalists later in the day declaring that the rebels had “fallen into a trap”, and “screw the criminal court.”

The Maldives was among the first countries to formally recognise the TNC rebels as the sovereign representatives of the Libyan people, and helped organise several UN Human Rights Council resolutions increasing pressure on Gaddafi and legitimising Western military intervention.

“The Maldives took these steps because of our conviction that men such as Muammar Ghadaffi should not be allowed to check, through violence, the recent march of democracy and human rights across the Muslim world – the Muslim Awakening,” Naseem said.

“For decades, the government of Muammar Ghadaffi has ruled through a system of patronage, repression and fear. The Muslim Awakening brought hope that this system could be dismantled peacefully, through dialogue, reform and free and fair elections. However, instead Muammar Ghadaffi chose to use his security forces to attack and kill civilians.

“With the imminent fall of Ghadaffi, the Muslim Awakening lives on, and the Maldives looks forward to welcoming a new, democratic Libyan State into the international family of nations,” Naseem said.


The Maldives is taking a similar line on Syria it took with Libya earlier this year, insisting on democratic reforms and yesterday spearheading an emergency session of the UN Human Rights Council.

“The Maldives considers itself a friend of Syria and its people, and has watched with increasing alarm as the government there has responded to peaceful protests calling for democratic reform with violence and intimidation. Thousands have been arbitrarily detained and hundred of our Muslim brothers and sisters, including children, have been killed. Worse, these gross human rights violations have intensified during the Holy Month of Ramadan,” Naseem said, in another statement.

Syria, which has failed to respond to the Council or cooperate with the UN, is backed by Iran and has taken a hard line against civilian demonstrators calling for President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

Protests began in January 26 as the ‘Arab Spring’ demonstrations began to sweep through the Middle East, escalating into an uprising in which over 2200 people have reportedly been killed.

Involvement of the Maldives

At a press conference held yesterday in Male’, the Maldives Ambassador to the UN Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed said that the small size and relative isolation of the Maldives was “no impediment” the country’s pursuit of an international human rights agenda.

“I think we have shown that size is not everything in international relations,” Ghafoor said. “Even if you are a small country your commitments, your principles, and how you work with others can help you achieve many of your goals.

“Our relations with other countries and our record of promoting human rights both at home and in concert with other countries, and our cooperation with the Human Rights High Commissioner has given us respect and legitimacy in the international community, and we have been at the forefront of a number of resolutions that has been initiated on matters of grave concern,” he said.

Asked about the Maldives’ commitment to human rights locally, and whether he concurred with the Maldives’ recent delegation to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives was the “most active national institution in Asia”, Ghafoor observed that “I don’t think there’s any country that has a perfect human rights record.”

“Without exception I think all countries have human rights issues and problems, but what is more important is how do we deal with it and how do we address these issues,” he said.

“I think Maldives has shown that it is willing to address the shortcomings it has in its human rights promotion and making every effort possible within the resources we have to improve our human rights record.

We are willing to work with other countries, with the international human rights organisations, even with NGOs to make the human rights issue a non-issue hopefully some time in the future. But that maybe a bit too much to hope for. So long as there are human beings interacting with each other there’s likely to be human rights issues.”

Speaking as to the Maldives’ position on the UN report detailing war crimes in the closing days of Sri Lanka’s civil war, Ghafoor said he did not think the matter would create friction with the Maldives’ neighbour.

“I do not see the government having any issues at this stage with the Sri Lankan government,” he said.

“[Naseem] has stated that we would like to see the UN take a more comprehensive review of what has happened in Sri Lanka, rather than concentrate on the last few days. This could skew the whole issue. So we do not see our memberships of the Human Rights Council making it difficult for us to have good relations with Sri Lanka or speak on issues of sensitivity. I think as good friends Maldives can speak very frankly with Sri Lanka and I’m sure they would happy to listen to our views.”