Home minister violates Anti-Torture Act

Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer has failed to publicise a document as specified in the recently passed Anti-torture Act, thereby violating the articles of the landmark legislation.

The actwhich came into force on March 22 this year – states that within 15 days of coming into force (6 April), the minister must publish a complete list of places where people are detained in state custody.

“The deadline for the home minister to make public all places of detention designated as such has passed, and it is disheartening to know that the first violation under this act has been by the state,” Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) member Jeehan Mahmoud has said.

The ministry has confirmed that it was not published by the deadline, with one official explaining that this was mainly due to issues with obtaining information from other institutions with such centres under their authority.

The official said that the ministry is attempting to publish the list by Sunday (April 13).

Within seven days of publishing the list, the ministry was also required to submit a report to the HRCM with the locations of all detention facilities and details of persons held in those places.

The ministry has assured that the compilation of this report is also currently in progress.

The act gives the HRCM overall responsibility for the implementation of the new law, empowering the commission to prevent all crimes underlined in the act by taking direct action.

Jeehan has said the commission is monitoring the deadlines and will take action against any and all schedules that are disrespected by the state.

According to the commission, a written reminder was sent to ministry as soon as the law came into force and another reminder sent yesterday. The issue will soon be discussed in the commission which will then decide on next course of action.

Criminal charges

Commenting on the issue MP Eva Abdulla, who introduced the bill to the People’s Majlis, said it was “not surprising that a government controlled by the Gayoom family would be hesitant, even reticent to implement anti-torture legislation.”

Eva said that the bill has to be implemented on schedule to address the return of torture to prisons.

“We are very concerned about reports of ill-treatment and physical abuse in the prisons again. The legislation needs to be implemented on schedule to address this and to address the feelings of past victims. Implementation needs to be flawless,” said the recently re-elected MP.

The HRCM noted last month that incidents of torture in detention are now on the rise. Minister Umar, who himself served in the National Security Service (police and military service under President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom) has previously been accused of torture himself – an allegation he has always denied.

Under Article 23 (g)- 2 of the Anti-Torture Act, establishing, running or maintaining a place of detention other than those publicly announced is considered a crime.

Article 23 (g)- 3 states that failure to publish the mandatory report to HRCM is also a crime. The penalty for both is 1 – 3 years
imprisonment. Criminal offenses underlined in the act are to be investigated and forwarded to the Prosecutor General’s Office for prosecution.

The HRCM did not comment on the possibility of criminal charges against the home minister, stating that the commission will address the matter as mandated by the act.

Umar Naseer was unavailable for comment as he is currently abroad.


Human Rights Commission alleges police intimidation of its staff

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has alleged that the police are attempting to intimidate commission staff members following the start of its investigations into what they maintain is police obstruction of the October 19 presidential election.

“The commission believes that what we are facing now is serious, unprecedented and unjustifiable intimidation from the police. We will continue the investigation, while also ensuring that we continue protecting every one of our team members,” HRCM member Jeehan Mahmoodh has told Minivan News.

Jeehan stated that, after criticising the police for acting outside of their mandate when obstructing the Elections Commissions (EC) efforts to conduct the presidential election on October 19, they have been facing what the commission believes to be attempts by the police to intimidate its staff.

Jeehan said that the police had requested the HRCM provide “complete details” of the staff members who witnessed the police’s actions outside of the EC on the morning of October 19.

“In the history of HRCM, we have never before had such a request, where details of individual staff are asked for in relation to an investigation. This just cannot be done,” Jeehan said.

“We responded, invoking Article 27 of the HRCM Act and informed the police that the commission will not compromise the safety of any of our staff members. We also explained that as this is an ongoing investigation we cannot compromise it by providing detailed information regarding the matter,” she continued.

Article 27 of the HRCM Act has two parts, with part (a) stating that, “No criminal or civil suit shall be filed against the President or Vice- President or a member of the Commission in relation to committing or omitting an act in good faith whilst undertaking responsibilities of the commission or exercising the powers of the Commission or the powers conferred to the Commission by a law”.

Part (b) of the same article says “The Commission can only be questioned or a suit can be filed against the Commission in court regarding a component in a report published by the Commission following an inquiry, should sufficient evidence be available to prove the component is false”.

Speaking out on human rights violation is our duty: HRCM

After Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz tweeted saying, “HRCM to seek information after findings revealed!!”, Jeehan’s response echoed the HRCM statement released following the police’s initial suggestions that the HRCM had not made a balanced assessment.

“This is definitely not the first time HRCM has made comments in the instance that we observe a breach of human rights, regardless of who the instigators are. If a human rights violation becomes apparent to the commission, then we have both the right and the responsibility to promptly share this with the general public,” she said.

“For instance, after the events of February 8, 2012, HRCM immediately made a public initial statement on the matter…The police are well aware this is the norm,” she continued.

“Putting it in a different context, let’s say the police see a crime being committed, and arrests a person red-handed at the crime scene. They don’t wait for their full investigation to end, and nor does their investigation end there. But since they saw it happen, they get to make a stand. Similarly, when it is evident that a human rights violation has been committed, the commission will take a stand,” she said.

October 19

Jeehan also spoke to Minivan News about the HRCM’s work on October 19, the date intended for a fresh round of elections after the initial September 7 poll was annulled by the Supreme Court.

“Our team – it’s full strength including the commissioners – was on duty by 5:30am on October 19, as we were ready to carry out election observation. We then received reports of police obstructing EC officials, and immediately dispatched investigators to the EC offices. Our staff spoke with the EC Secretary General Asim Abdul Sattar, as well as a number of police officers there. Thereby, our staff are witnesses to the events that took place that day,” she explained.

“HRCM Vice President Tholal was in charge as Commission President Azra was away on hajj pilgrimage. Tholal tried multiple times to reach the police focal point – incidentally the same as the focal point for the EC – Assistance Commissioner of Police Ali Rasheed by phone, and finally sent a text message. ACP Rasheed did not respond to even the text until nearly midnight,” Jeehan continued.

“Tholal then called the Acting Home Minister [Ahmed Shafeeu], who is in effect the oversight over the police force. He asked the minister, and I quote, “why have police obstructed elections?”. The Minister informed us that the obstruction is not a police initiative or decision, and that they are following orders after much deliberation. Contrary to some media reports, the Home Ministry’s statement did not deny our claims that we contacted him and got this response, but rather confirms it,” Jeehan said.

“Police did not act in their own accord”: Home Minister

A press statement of the Home Ministry reads, “As the letter sent by the HRCM to the Police alleging that the police obstructed the elections scheduled for October 19 reveals that when they contacted the Acting Home Minister via phone and asked him why police had obstructed elections, he responded that the police had not acted out of their own accord but on orders that they had received, this ministry feels we must clarify what happened.”

“On the 19th of this month, in a phone conversation, Vice President of HRCM Ahmed Tholal asked why the police had acted in a manner against the government’s statement that it will provide cooperation to holding the election.”

“In response, the Minister had said that the police had not acted on their own accord, and that it had been in accordance with the advice of the relevant government bodies which was based on the verdict of the Supreme Court,” the statement concluded.

Police asks HRCM to identify officers they spoke with on October 19

Jeehan said that the police had also requested the HRCM provide identification details of the police officers that the commission’s investigators had spoken with on the morning of October 19.

“This is information that the police must have. They ought to know which of their officers they dispatched there, and what they did in their line of duty. That was the commission’s response to them, shouldn’t they know who it was?” Jeehan asked.

Jeehan also said that the commission has requested the police to provide an incident report on the events of October 19, as well as copies of all communication they have exchanged with any other institution after the date of the initial annulled election.

“It isn’t at all like the police are claiming on various media. We are not asking for information after reaching a conclusion. We made that initial statement that police obstructed elections based on our observations, and the fact that our staff were witness to it. We are now conducting a procedural investigation of the matter,” Jeehan explained.

“Furthermore, we have asked for copies of any communication between the police and any other institution from beyond the date of the obstructed election for an investigation that is based on other additional information we have received. We cannot yet reveal the details of this as it may compromise the investigation, but it will be made public upon completion,” she continued.


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.


Committee to review HRCM nomination

A temporary committee will review President Mohamed Nasheed’s nomination of Ahmed Tholal of Henveiru Adduge for deputy human rights commissioner. Parliament endorsed the committee today with 66 out of 68 votes.

The President made the nomination on Sunday.

The committee includes Dhidhoo MP Ahmed Sameer, Machangoalhi-North MP Mohamed Rasheed, Madaveli MP Mohamed Nazim, Kela MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom, Hithadhoo-South MP Hassan Latheef, Velidhoo MP Ali Mohamed, and Maavashu MP Abdul Aziz Jamaal Abu Bakr.

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has been without a deputy president for over a year. On October 4, 2010 Parliament unanimously approved Mariyam Azra as HRCM President but rejected the President’s nominee Jeehan Mahmoud by ten votes.

A coalition of local NGOs called the vacant posts “an immense obstacle to the effective functioning of the commission” at the time.

MPs said they opposed Mahmoud’s nomination for reasons of gender equality.

DRP Deputy Leader Ilham Ahmed told Minivan at the time that while he considered the people appointed for HRCM as capable, the role of President and Vice President “should include a male.”

“Even if you look at it from a religious perspective or from the perspective of good policy, there should be a male in either post,’’ he said.

Independent MP for Kudahuvadhoo, Ahmed Amir, said it was “against human rights” to have two females in the roles of President and Vice President.

“It is the woman who calls for equality most of the time,’’ Amir said, regarding the case.