CMAG divided: Two hours of fighting before agreement on Maldives’ fate

A source close to the recent Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) meeting in New York has told Minivan News that severe divisions within the group regarding the Maldives’ status resulted in two hours of fierce debate before the wording of the final statement was agreed upon.

After discussing the meeting with three of the group’s delegations, the source revealed that it was the final paragraph regarding the Maldives’ situation which resulted what was described as prolonged “fighting”.

Paragraph 19 detailed the decision to “move consideration of Maldives in future to its agenda item ‘Matters of Interest to CMAG’”.

The reported divisions within the group shed further light upon the confusion which followed the release of the CMAG statement last week – five members were described as being “vehemently opposed” to removing the Maldives from its agenda.

“It was basically the Bangladeshi Chair versus the rest,” said the source.

After senior government figures as well as local media in the Maldives announced that the country had been removed from the agenda, CMAG member and Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird released a statement declaring his satisfaction that the Maldives remained on the agenda.

Earlier this week, Commonwealth Spokesman Richard Uku, told Minivan News that the Maldives was off the formal agenda and would resume its seat at the next meeting which is scheduled for April.

One of eight members in CMAG, the Maldives was suspended from the group in February after being placed on its investigative agenda.

“Being under the ‘Matters of Interest’ category simply reflects CMAG’s wishes to remain positively engaged. It should not be considered as a negative or punitive measure, because it is not,” said Uku.

“CMAG recognised the outcome of the Commission of National Inquiry report, reflecting the Government’s legitimacy,” he continued. “It recognised that there is more work to be done to follow up the CONI report recommendations to strengthen institutions.”

The source gave their own opinion of the outcome based their discussions with those present.

“The Maldives has been moved from one part of the agenda to another,” said the source. “The key wording in paragraph 19 was that the Maldives will resume its seat in April ‘in the absence of any serious concerns’.”

The source was told that this caveat alludes to Waheed’s agreement to pardon all politicians currently under investigation after allowing legal proceedings against them to be quickly concluded – Waheed reportedly told the group he could not stop legal proceedings.

The paragraph also hints at an alleged commitment made by Waheed to follow through with the CNI’s recommendations including prosecutions in relation to well-documented police brutality.

It is alleged that two of the group’s ministers have promised to walk out of April’s meeting should Maldivian Foreign Minister Dr Abdul Samad Abdulla resume his seat without these agreements having been adhered to.

Insulting CMAG

The meeting had been preceded by intense lobbying from both government and opposition groups regarding the Maldives’ inclusion on CMAG’s investigative agenda, reserved for those suspected of violating the Commonwealth’s core values of human rights and democracy.

Prominent figures in the government had suggested that, after having its legitimacy seemingly validated by the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) report, the country should walk away from the Commonwealth should it not be removed from the agenda.

President Waheed echoed these sentiments in a speech given before a meeting during the United Nations General Assembly days before the CMAG meeting.

During the speech, Waheed took aim at the certain “powerful international actors”, describing them as serving “small justice to small states”.

Conversely, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) argued that CMAG’s revised mandate provided it with a remit to look beyond questionable changes of government to persistent violations of core Commonwealth principles.

Last week Foreign Minister and UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, Dr Ahmed Shaheed had predicted that CMAG would only remove the Maldives from its agenda if guarantees of free and fair elections were given.

The informed told Minivan News that Waheed was “grilled” by the panel for around 75 minutes, at one point being told that he was insulting CMAG with his seemingly contradictory answers.

The frustration of the Canadian representative when asking Waheed about persecution of opposition politicians was made clear in the press release the following day.

“President Waheed offered no substantial defence of these questions, which is a telling response in itself,” he said.

The source reported that some in the panel had felt the government’s argument for removal from the agenda due to the negative publicity it generated was “stupid”.

Regarding the reported agreement to pardon those politicians convicted in order for them to participate in next year’s elections, the source expressed concern that CMAG ministers may still have been “duped”.

“Ministers are not aware of constitutional clauses saying one year must pass after the pardon [before being eligible for elected office],” said the source.

The President’s Office had hinted previously that Waheed may consider clemency in the case of former President Mohamed Nasheed who currently faces charges of illegally detaining a judge and defaming senior members of the current government.

Nasheed failed to appear at the start of his criminal court trial yesterday, defying a travel ban to sail to the southern atolls for electioneering purposes.

Last week Nasheed’s MDP announced it would refuse to observe the authority of the courts until the judiciary is reformed as recommended in the final CNI report.

President’s Office spokesman Masood Imad was asked to give a government reaction to these allegations but had not responded at time of press.