Torture in detention increasing, says Human Rights Commission

The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) 2013 annual report has revealed that incidents of torture in detention are increasing in the Maldives.

Among the issues noted during the commission’s visits to places of detention – in particular, prisons and police detention centers – and from the cases submitted to the commission were:

  • Detainees being held in cuffs for 24 hours – sometimes for 15 – 30 day – with removal only for using the toilet and for eating
  • Detainees not being provided with necessary items for cleaning themselves, or with pillows and blankets for sleeping
  • Overcrowding of cells
  • Police officers cursing and hurting detainees inside vehicles during transfer
  • Serving of rotten food
  • Not keeping proper records of detainees including medical, search, and solitary confinement records.
  • Not providing family meetings and phone calls
  • Police not providing details of arrested people to HRCM
  • Police entering homes without a court order
  • Addressing underage detainees inappropriately

According to the report, out of the a total 596 recommendations regarding state detention facilities made by the HRCM – including prisons, detention centers and homes for people with special need – only twenty percent have been fully implemented.

The report also noted that the commission faced “huge obstacles” in conducting investigations, resulting in delays the completion of research.

These obstacles included the failure of relevant institutions to provide documents, delays of state institutions in implementing commission recommendations, and the refusal of some government ministries to meet with the commission.


With forty cases initiated by the commission, a total of 719 cases were received in the year 2013 – of which 218 were completed. With pending cases from 2000 -2012, the commission completed investigations for total 352 cases within the year.

The rising incidence of torture was reflected in the number of cases submitted,and a total of 72 cases of degrading treatment and torture were submitted within the year.

Among them were cases submitted by victims and their families stating that they were tortured during the police custodial department detention during investigations. Detainees also submitted cases of being denied parole, the detention of persons released under the ‘second chance’ program, and the implementation of sentences which contravened court verdicts.

The highest number of cases – 134 – were submitted regarding the right to a good standard of health care; 77 case related to the right to fair administrative action; 86 cases concerned children, the elderly, and persons with special needs; and 90 cases submitted regarding labour rights violations.


“Citizens had many concerns about the condition of the judiciary in 2013 as well,” read the report, which reported the slow speed at which cases are attended to by the courts and the failure to take action against judges accused of misconduct.

In the report, the HRCM called on the Judicial Services Commission to increase and strengthen it’s role in reforming the judiciary, and for the People’s Majlis to pass important laws such as the penal code, and the criminal procedure and evidence bill.

The HRCM is currently working on an assessment of the Maldives human rights obligations in the judicial sector – with the financial assistance from UNDP – to ensure the judicial system in the Maldives is independent, just, and accessible.

The report mentioned, however, that courts had refused cooperate with the commission’s monitoring programme as the commission “did not get the cooperation of the Supreme Court”.

Freedom of assembly and MP’s behaviour

Notable achievements listed in the report were the passing of a number of bills such as the prisons and parole bill, the anti human trafficking bill, anti-torture bill, access to information bill, the sexual offences bill, the political parties bill, and the freedom of assembly bill.

Regarding the controversial Freedom of Assembly Act, the commission stated that “citizens were relieved” when it was passed and enforced, and that the legislation aimed to minimise restriction of the rights guaranteed by the constitution.

The bill had been criticised prior to its ratification, with local NGOs stating that it impinged upon a number of fundamental constitutional rights and “significantly challenges the entire democratic system of governance”.

The bill was also criticised by the the Maldives Journalists’ AssociationForum Asia – a regional human rights organisation -and the Tourism Employees Association of Maldives. The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) argued that it was a reactive measure against the MDP-led anti-government protests calling for an early presidential election.

The “irresponsible acts” of parliament members throughout the year – including violence within the Majlis premises and demonstrations during 2013 presidential address, were mentioned as an issue of concern. Another issue raised regarding MPs was the proposal of amendments to laws in order to “protect personal interests”.

Other prominent issues concerned the large number of child abuse cases,  including sexual abuse and use of children in crimes, along with an increased incidence of rape and other crimes against women.

Violation of the rights of migrant worker, including non-payment of wages, the withholding of their personal documents, and reports of inhumane abuse by their employers and the public was also noted.

The HRCM Annual Report 2013 can be downloaded here.


Maldives “needs radical changes”: UN Human Rights Committee

The UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) has recommended “radical changes” to Maldivian law to ensure compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). These changes include the abolition of the death penalty, compensation for “systematic and systemic torture,” withdrawal of reservations to the ICCPR’s Article 18 regarding freedom of religion and belief, and reforming the country’s judiciary.

Following a “Incendiary” session focused on the state of human rights in the Maldives on July 12 and 13, the committee published a preliminary statement calling on the Maldives to “be serious about bringing itself into compliance with all aspects” of the ICCPR as a “critical step” to respect and protect human rights of all the people in the Maldives.

The Human Rights Committee will make a final report at the end of its session on July 27.

The Maldivian delegation to the UNHRC was headed by Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel, a former Justice Minister during 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.

Dr Jameel was accompanied by State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dunya Maumoon – Gayoom’s daughter – as well as the Maldives’ Permanent Representative in Geneva, Iruthisham Adam.

Article 18

The UNHRC raised concern over the state’s reservation to Article 18 regarding freedom of religion and belief, claiming the reservation “implicates a host of intertwining social, political, and cultural issues” which will not be resolved until the state agrees to withdraw this reservation.

During the committee session, Dunya had said the Maldives did not plan to withdraw the reservation to Article 18 as the Maldives Constitution stipulated that rights and freedoms be interpreted according to Islamic Sharia.

However, the statement noted that allowing Islamic tenets of the Constitution to definitively supersede the human rights enshrined in the ICCPR “will mean a continued lack of protection for the human rights of the people of the Maldives.”

The Maldives delegation had stressed that the country was a homogeneous society and spoke one language and followed one religion, adding there was therefore no debate in Maldivian society regarding the removal of the provision relating to freedom of religion.

“This is not dogmatic government policy or preference, but rather a reflection of the deep societal belief that the Maldives always has been and always should be a 100 percent Muslim nation. Laws, like government, should be based on the will of the people,” Dunya said.

“Systematic and systemic torture”

Incidents of torture in the Maldives “appear systematic and systemic,” the UNHRC statement noted, and expressed “grave concern” about the low number of cases that have undergone investigation.

The committee has urged the Maldives to set up an independent Commission of Inquiry to conduct criminal investigations and ensure compensation for all victims of torture.

The panel also drew on a report submitted by anti-torture NGO REDRESS, containing testimonies of 28 victims of torture while in state custody.

“Forms of torture and ill-treatment included the use of suspension, lengthy use of stocks, being beaten with fists and bars, kicked, blindfolded, handcuffed, the dislocation of joints and breaking of bones, being forced to roll and squat on sharp coral, being drowned or forced into the sea, being put in a water tank, being burned, having bright lights shone in eyes, being left outside for days while tied or handcuffed to a tree, being covered in sugar water or leaves to attract ants and goats, and in one case being tied to a crocodile’s cage. Sexual assault and humiliation was also routinely used. Many testimonies suggest the only limit to the torture and ill-treatment imposed was the imagination of those whose control they were under,” a UNHRC panel member read at last week’s session.

“Surely this is something that refers to before 2008,” the panel member stated, “but the [present government] has a responsibility to pursue and investigate and bring to justice if these [allegations] are indeed correct. If there is an atmosphere of impunity regarding torture, I would offer that the present situation would not be treated differently by those who would want to violate the office they have, and abuse those under their care, or those going peacefully about their business.”

In response, Jameel said any citizen could bring their grievances before the judiciary and said any question of compensation could jeopardize the Maldives’ state budget.

Death Penalty

The UNHRC has asked the Maldivian state to enact legislation to officially abolish the death penalty. “The state itself has admitted that capital punishment does not deter crime,” the statement noted.

Jameel himself has previously stated the government was prepared to implement the death penalty following the murder of lawyer Ahmed Najeeb. Attorney General Aishath Azima Shakoor and the Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz have publicly endorsed their support for implementing capital punishment to deter increasing crime rates.

However, Jameel told the UNHRC no official government discussion existed on the matter.

“This year alone we have had seven murders in a country of 350,000. The country is really struggling to address this surge of crime. It is in the light of these occurrences that this debate has occurred. There is no official government discussion, but there are scattered debates across every section of society,” Jameel said.

Judiciary Reform

The committee is “deeply concerned about the state of the judiciary in the Maldives,” the statement noted.

“The state has admitted that this body’s independence is seriously compromised.  The Committee has said the judiciary is desperately in need of more serious training, and higher standards of qualification,” the statement read.

The Supreme Court in particular needed “radical readjustment,” the committee said.

“As 6 of 7 Supreme Court judges are experts in Sharia law and nothing more, this court in particular is in need of radical readjustment.  This must be done to guarantee just trials, and fair judgments for the people of Maldives.”

A panel member during the UNHRC session also noted the “troubling role of the judiciary at the center” of the controversial transfer of power on February 7.

“The judiciary – which is admittedly in serious need of training and qualifications – is yet seemingly playing a role leading to the falling of governments,” he observed.