February 7 and 8, 2012, was the beginning of a very violent period in the recent history of the Maldives inflicted by its own people, the police and the army, on unarmed civilians, writes former Deputy Health Minister Mariya Ali for Child Rights International Network.
The first democratically elected president was deposed in a coup d’état on February 7. Since then non-violent protests have continued mainly in the streets of the capital city, Male. So far, 412 people have been detained as political prisoners.
Testimonies of male and female detainees confirm that varying degrees of physical, mental and sexual abuse were perpetrated by the police. Violence from the police has been witnessed by children either through their families being directly affected by it or via images on television. Children who witness violence are traumatised with varying degrees of psychological damage that they carry throughout their lives.
This year, the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) celebrated Maldivian Children’s Day in their full army clothing, with a designated area created to look like a war zone, and with officers helping children to hold real firearms correctly in their hands and showing them how to use them. Although the MNDF declared that the firearms were not loaded, it failed to recognise the timing and the symbolic message behind the event.
Against the backdrop of continuing violence, growing religious extremism in the island paradise, combined with the message from the current President Mohamed Waheed – “Be courageous. Today you are all mujaheddin [those who fight jihad] who love the nation” – children are internalising the use of violence as a norm.
Whilst the UK government professed its commitment to the India-brokered road map talks in the UK’s House of Lords this week, in less official forums MPs appeared to have reached a damning verdict on the current Maldives administration, discussing punitive measures and demanding apologies for perceived sleights.
Lord Howell of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) avoided any conclusive statements in the face of questions from the House regarding the legitimacy of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s government, promising only support for the work of the Commonwealth and the Commission of National Inquiry.
This followed a meeting the day before of members of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the Maldives who used offices provided by the UK Parliament to hold a meeting entitled “Democracy Derailed: Political turmoil in the Maldives”. A source present during the meeting has given Minivan News their full account of the discussion.
The source, who wished to remain anonymous, said that those who spoke about the current situation in the country were the MP for Salisbury, John Glenn; Queen’s Counsel, Sir Ivan Lawrence; former Foreign Minister for the Maldives government and current UN Special Rapporteur on Iran, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, and former Deputy Health Minister Mariya Ali.
Also said to have contributed to the panel were Helen Grant MP, Mike Gapes MP, and former Maldives High Commissioner to the UK Dr Farahanaz Faizal.
Dr Faizal has actively opposed the current administration since resigning from her position, shortly after the departure of former President Mohamed Nasheed. She has since remained in the UK, working on behalf of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in raising awareness of perceived human rights abuses and democratic failings in the Maldives.
The former Deputy High Commissioner and brother to President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, Naushad Waheed, was also present as were Maldivian students and families from the UK. Representatives of civil society organisations including the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and Third World Solidarity were also in attendance.
Chairman David Amess reportedly opened the meeting by expressing his disappointment that the Maldives government had declined to send a representative from the UK High Commission, despite being offered the opportunity to do so.
This has been disputed by Acting High Commissioner to the UK, Ahmed Shiaan, who claimed that the UK High Commission had received no official invitation.
The MP from Salisbury, John Glenn, expressed “no doubt” that there had been a coup d’etat in the Maldives, our source reports.
“[The] democratic will of the people of Maldives has been tossed aside,” Glenn is alleged to have told the group before mentioning his distress at the comments recently aimed at both the UK and the Commonwealth by the Maldives’ new governing coalition.
Glenn’s Salisbury constituency served as the base for former President Mohamed Nasheed during his exile in the UK. The Friends of Maldives (FOM) organisation, responsible for a recent travel advisory which pleads with tourists to avoid any resorts associated with alleged coup conspirators, is based in Salisbury.
Perceived interference from the Commonwealth, whose Secretariat is based in London and whose figurehead remains Queen Elizabeth II, has attracted scathing criticism recently in the Maldives.
Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MP Riyaz Rasheed accused the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) as having been “bought by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)” after it had urged the current government to establish its legitimacy with early elections.
CMAG released a strongly worded statement last week, arguing that the “the earliest possible expression of the will of the people was required to establish universal faith in the legitimacy of those who govern the country.”
That the group had seen a “lack of progress” in this respect caused it to express “disappointment and deep concern.”
Special Envoy Sir Donald McKinnon, who departed on Friday, attended the Opening Session of the People’s Majlis on 19 March, emphasised the need for parliament to “function effectively so that parliamentarians can return to debating issues of national interest.”
President’s spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza last week went as far as to suggest to Minivan News that the Maldives may consider its position in the Commonwealth, although the reporting of his statement was later dismissed by Abbas in other media as “politically motivated”.
Addressing the all party group, Sir Ivan Lawrence is said to have spoken of his lack of faith in the Maldives’ judicial system, based on his visits to the country during the Maumoon Gayoom era.
“It is now surely important for the same international community that helped to bring about the first democracy, to underline the importance to the new regime of holding speedy free and fair elections, so that power may be restored as quickly as possible to the people of the Maldives,” Sir Lawrence purportedly quoted from a letter he had recently sent to UK newspaper, The Times.
Mariya Ali is alleged to have discussed human rights violations in the Maldives as well as police brutality, before giving the floor to Dr Shaheed who is reported to have suggested that the Gayoom coterie lost their grip on power as a result of attempts to placate the international community.
Dr Shaheed apparently expressed his opinion that they were unlikely to repeat this mistake, citing Dunyha Maumoon’s comments regarding “civil war” as evidence of this resolve. Shaheed stated that the current government will not hold early elections, but rather will work to enfeeble the opposition MDP between now and the scheduled poll date.
Shaheed is also said to have expressed his concern that the independently minded Election Commissioner Fuad Thaufeeq would now be targeted by the current government due to his reputation for impartiality.
Insult and injury
The debate is also said to have included mention of the recent insults leveled at the Queen, the Commonwealth, and the UK government.
During DQP MP Riyaz’s diatribe on DhiTV, he argued that the British public had funded the MDP in return for the establishment of churches in the Maldives and also that they hated the Maldives for gaining independence from Britain.
“The English hate us. Why? Because Ibrahim Nasir saved us from slavery and brought us independence, since then what have the English done for us?” he said.
Riyaz then turned his attention to the Queen herself, “After 50 years, the English Queen, she is physically challenged. But she is still Queen, and if she wants she can remove the Prime Minister. Where is democracy? Where is democracy? That is not a democracy.”
In agreement with the opinion of a member of the public in attendance, David Amess is reported to have said that the government of Maldives should issue a full apology for Riyaz’s outburst and, in concurrence with the other members of the APPG, he argued that the issue should be brought before Parliament.
Additionally, Amess is reputed to have stated his feeling that the attendance of President Waheed at the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations this year would be inappropriate.
Minivan News has obtained video footage of this section of the discussion and can confirm an unidentified voice from off-camera suggesting an early-day motion regarding this topic.
Early day motions are a tool used by MPs in the House of Commons to introduce a subject for discussion. They are often used to publicise certain events or subjects and to gauge the level of parliamentary support for such motions.
Finally, the meeting is said to have moved on to punitive measures. The alleged consensus was that European travel bans had greater potential to damage those alleged to be behind a coup. The option of resort boycotts was dismissed as too damaging to the Maldives’ economic lifeblood.
The video footage received also includes Mr Amess’s concluding statements and so the following quote can be confirmed:
“Ladies and gentlemen, we started off our meeting asking has democracy been derailed, is there political turmoil in the Maldives? Well, listening to the contributors before us this afternoon, the answer to the first part is ‘yes’. Political turmoil in the Maldives? Again we’ve heard the answer, ‘yes’.”
The validity of this meeting has been questioned by the Acting High Commissioner, Ahmed Shiaan.
“This was not a UK parliamentary initiated event. If this was an official APPG event, we should have been invited. It is very disappointing,” said Shiaan, “[If it were] they would have to get our perspective, even the Foreign and Commonwealth Office [FCO] wasn’t invited.”
Shiaan pointed out that the discussion initiated in the House of Lords on March 22, at which the FCO was represented, should receive more prominence as it better represents the official line of the government.
When Lord Howell of the FCO was in the Lords about the potential suspension of the Maldives from the Commonwealth, his response was that this decision was up to the whole of the Commonwealth to decide upon, not just one member.
“We must move to encourage democratic elections, and that is what is proposed in the India-brokered plan, which we welcome and support,” said Lord Howell.
One member of the House asked if Lord Howell felt the government was doing enough to ensure an independent international enquiry after what was regarded by some as a coup.
“We do not recognise this as a coup, although obviously there has been a change,” replied Lord Howell, “We still need to establish the full circumstances of what occurred and we hope that the commission of inquiry will do that.”
Lord Howell was also anxious to make clear the view of the FCO that the Maldives remained a safe tourist destination. “At the moment we do not judge that there is any danger in the tourist areas.”
Next, Lord Howell was asked what steps CMAG might take if they were not successful in pushing for early elections, to which he responded:
“If they are not, of course we would have a new and more difficult situation that would require further resolution and effort. For the moment, we concentrate on following the plan which the Indians have so helpfully brokered.”
Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MP Riyaz Rasheed, part of the new governing coalition, accuses the Commonwealth of seeking to build a church in the Maldives, Special Envoy Sir Donald McKinnon of taking bribes from the MDP, and the Queen of being “physically challenged”:
A 28 year old man from the island of Kolamaafushi in Gaafu Dhaalu atoll was arrested by police for allegedly abusing an eight year old boy on Friday and later trying to rape his own mother that evening.
Police Sub Inspector Ahmed Shiyam confirmed that a man from Kolamaafushi had been arrested in connection with the two crimes but said at the moment police were unable to provide further details as the case was under investigation.
Police atoll commander for Gaafu Dhaalu atoll, Ali Mustafa, said the man was arrested last night around 10:30pm and had a recent record of child abuse. Mustafa said police discovered the man hiding on the beach of Kolamaafushi.
An official from the island office reported the man to police after he was called to the house in the course of his duties and discovered him lying on a bed naked with the child, watching TV.
Before he was arrested by police the man attempted to sexually assault his mother, the official said.
The woman jumped out a window and escaped to a nearby house, pursued by her son.
”[He] ran after her naked and tried to enter that house,” the official said, ”but a man from the house protected the woman.”
The neighbour was injured in a scuffle with the man, he said, while the woman suffered scratches to her neck.
Deputy Minister for Health and Family Mariya Ali said the ministry had received a report of one of the two incidents “but ‘would not like to mention which one.”
”These types of cases been occurring for a long time,” she said, ”but people have been very hesitant to inform [the authorities].”
She said to prevent such incidents from happening the ministry needed the help of the community.
”In every case there is someone from the community who know about it,” she said.
Securing womens’ rights is essential to protecting the rights of children, declared Deputy Minister of Health and Family Mariya Ali at a human rights function last night, moving the audience with her experience of handling a particularly insidious case of maternal child abuse.
“I first saw this case in 2000 when I started working in the childrens’ rights unit,” Maryia said. “At the time, the child was 11 years old. We had first accepted the case when he was six – he had bitten a classmate’s cheek and chewed off a piece of flesh, and his class teacher was despairing about what to do with him. He asked us to send him to the juvenile centre in Maafushi.”
The child had been diagnosed with attention-deficit-with-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), she said. “But his mother wasn’t told to avoid feeding him certain foods, or not to give him Coke or sugary things, or any information like that. So she gave him Coke. And then, when he stole a lump of sugar from a neighbour’s house when he was six, she poured scalding hot water on his hand.”
No assessments of the child’s family background had been made, and nobody “realised just how bad his life was,” Mariya said.
“Because he had ADHD he was difficult to control – so he was put in chains. When I went to the house, his foot was chained to a pole in the middle a dark room with nothing in it except a bed.
“He hadn’t been fed because he had misbehaved, so I asked him what he had done. He got scared and hid under the bed and started to cry, saying, ‘sister, please save me from this place.’ I touched his head and saw it was swollen all over – he said he was beaten by his brother.”
In later appointments, Mariya discovered that each of the other siblings in the family had some kind of psychiatric problem. It later emerged that the child had also been sexually abused.
“When I was evaluating the child, his mother told me ‘he only stays still when you show him horror films’ – she would show him five a day. She told me he couldn’t sleep without killing some kind of animal or living thing, and when the animals were buried, the next day he would dig them up and cut off pieces.”
Horrified, Mariya turned to child psychology experts in the UK for advice. She was told the damage could not be reversed even if the boy was given 11 years of therapy.
“A lot happened to this child,” she said. “It began with ADHD; that was something we could have managed. But [the situation] went beyond of our reach because we because we failed to assure his rights for him. When we consider the human rights conventions [that the Maldives has signed], here is a case where so many of those rights have been violated.”
The Ministry was now working to strengthen the mechanisms for child protection and fulfil its obligations under the convention, she said.
“Securing women’s rights is essential to protecting children rights: mothers have to be psychologically fit to take care of a child.”