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.